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Top Chef: Las Vegas, Ep. 12 – The Final Four is Set


Elimination Challenge
Make a platter of one protein and two garnishes to compete in a Top Chef version of the Bocuse d’Or. The garnishes need to be intricate – Gavin’s example is to make zucchini in the shape of a basket and then put something in it. The proteins to be used will be lamb or salmon. They must be served on a mirrored platter to the 12 judges – among them are Gavin, Daniel Boulud, Jerome Bocuse (the son of the creator of the competition), and a man introduced as the best American chef, Thomas Keller. Kevin goes apeshit over this and has some serious hero worship for the guy. Tom reveals in his blog that Keller does not appear at Judges Table later on because he will not sit in judgment over other chefs. Tom would know; it seems Chef Tom was Chef Keller’s sous chef many years ago!

The show does the recipes in a strange way – we get four of the five menus midway through the episode. For some reason, Eli’s does not get a listing. I have done my best to describe his based on Eli’s own description when he served.

Hawk – Salmon with cauliflower chickpea tart and zucchini tzatziki. He claims that as he was creating the dish he was inspired to do Mediterranean flavors. Chef Traci Des Jardins (owner of Jardmiere) thinks it is pretty and has a lot of great components. Tom is baffled on how cauliflower and salmon can be considered Mediterranean. Salmon doesn’t swim in that sea. Chef Alex Stratta (owner of Alex, where they held the competition) found a bone in his fish. That could disqualify him if it were a real Bocuse d’Or. Boulud thinks it lacked harmony, and Gavin is unimpressed by Hawk’s cucumber tart.

Jen – Salmon and caviar, shrimp flan with truffle, celery root and shiitake. Even with the extra 30 minutes she says she didn’t finish. Traci thought it tasted good, but not well-thought-out. Keller likes the shrimp, and Padma found it to be the most visually intriguing. I must agree with Padma and her stunning white evening gown. Tom agrees with Traci.

BryanBot – Crusted lamb loin, lamb shank crepinette and orzo au gratin. Bryan has concerns with his braise and finishing on time, Jen helps him out. Jerome is impressed that this is a complete dish and all the judges rave about his technique, especially the garlic chips. Keller sadly notes that the lamb was undercooked. Traci feels that if The Bot had more time, he would have had a winner. Chef Timothy Hollingsworth (Keller’s chef de cuisine at The French Laundry) says that Bryan is coachable as a competitive chef.

Kevin – Poached lamb loin, sherry-glazed beet and asparagus in sunchoke cream. Kevin does something daring and a bit crazy; he cooks the lamb sous vide, despite not having any experience. He even solicits help from BryanBot, who gives it, even though he knows it is a competition. It’s the chef’s code – even though he doesn’t think Hawk would have done it. Regardless, Kevin must have forgotten what happened to Carla last year.

Anyway, Tom loves the fact that you can taste the Swiss chard. Boulud, Keller, and in fact most of the judges, think that it looks nice, tastes great, but is a bit simple for this challenge. Given that Kevin eventually wins the challenge, I think that the other dishes were all fatally-flawed, and the judges felt that if Kevin could make it taste good and look good in 12 hours, that he could work some real magic with four months.

Eli – Lamb sausage crusted with pistachios, with several words in my handwriting, which I am not even sure are actually English. Somewhere on there is carrot puree, yogurt foam and something with tomato and pepper marmalade. No matter, it seems Eli has failed to actually cook the lamb. It is so raw, not this raw, that nobody has actually finished their meals. That was enough to cost him and send him home.

At Judges Table, they do a great job in editing the five of them together so that each has a clear-cut fault. Kevin wins, but the simplicity of his dish is really hammered home. The best part was the massive praise heaped on the five before deliberation by Tom. Kevin turns around on the way out and says that it meant a lot to hear Tom say that. Class and more class.

So, before the Quickfire hits, congratulations to Jen, Kevin and the Voltaggio Brothers. They certainly earned it. I feel badly for one of them who will face the final elimination in Napa Valley in the next episode.

Quickfire hits

• Eli quoted The Princess Bride in regards to his buddy Richard Blais. I forgave him for all of his past sins. That was worth it.
Can you imagine Robin competing in this challenge?

• Padma and Gavin standing next to each other reminded me of Gandalf and Bilbo. Except, it was a very, very hot Gandalf, and not Ian McKellen.

• Hawk’s Kevin-dissing has gotten all of the attention, but I like Kevin’s version of smack talk – “Michael and Bryan do things that I would never consider doing in 90 minutes of time.” Burn. And regarding his and Eli’s style, “We are the balsiest; we are doing home-style cooking on Top Chef because we believe in the food we grew up eating.”

• Another from Kevin, about why he went simple with the elimination challenge, “I don’t want to do a super elaborate presentation, I want to do elaborate flavor, wrapped up in a nice bundle.”

• Kevin upon winning his $30,000 from the M Resort, “The M Resort, my favorite place on Earth.” He claims that is almost what he makes in a year. And that fact, in a nutshell, is why Top Chef is so great and why the Masters version did not work so well. The sense of desperation. If Kevin is making what he just implied, then these prizes and this competition is life-altering. More so than Survivor, Amazing Race or other such shows. Top Chef, with Project Runway and American Idol, truly make dreams come true.

Next episode – Jen wants to cook her ass off. I hope that is not the dish. And, yawn, the sibling rivalry plot comes back.

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