Top Chef Masters 4 – Finale – Go Big Or Go Home

Season 4 comes to a close with, in my opinion, the correct outcome taking place. CC and Kerry did not have to go through any pointless Quickfire this week, but instead had ample time to plan a menu based on four letters. Each course would be inspired by a letter each man will write – presumably during the planning stage of the meal. They are given a helper – a chef buddy of Kerry’s (Nick) and CC’s chef de cuisine (Manfred) – to assist in the meal. The meal would be judged by an all-star panel of critics.

Which immediately led me to believe that somewhere down the road, Bravo is developing Top Critic. Twelve of the nation’s best critics compete to see who can be the snarkiest, who can turn a phrase better (ie – quilt of flavors), and who could be the most pompous in their opinions. Although, no one would beat this guy. Or if you want to expand it to movie critics competing – this guy.

Anyway, the chefs’ four letters would be a love letter, an apology, a thank you, and a letter to themselves. As the episode developed, it became clear what each of their strategy would be. Kerry basically chose to barely skirt within the parameters of the challenge, and just went flat out for a safe, delicious meal. As a very talented Master, that should be no problem for him to accomplish. Meanwhile, CC decided to forego the safe double, and swing for the fences and try to knock it out of the park. The dishes he put out were bold, to say the least. If he was going to win, he was going to do it the hard way.

Interestingly, the first three letters the chefs wrote were very similar in theme. Both wrote their love letters and their apologies to their wives. The first being obvious, and the second because each of them are essentially married to their restaurants. Seems like an occupational hazard with chefs and restaurant owners. The thank you letters are each going to parents or grandparents for instilling a love for food at a young age.

The big differences between the two menus are the self letter and the food. Kerry’s letter to himself is basically just an excuse to make some high class food. CC’s letter has a theme of it being his last meal – so it’s an excuse to make his favorite foods. I think that resonated a LOT more for the critics. The food that Kerry made were all standard stuff – steaks, seafood, short ribs, etc. Meanwhile, CC made hearts, tripe and fried eggs. Bold, bold, bold.

The differences come down to the shopping plan too – Kerry goes to Whole Foods and heads right back to the kitchen to use the six hours more on prep and cooking. CC heads to Whole Foods, 99 Ranch (I think I heard that right) and Butcher Block (again, I think I heard that right) to get all of his specialty meats and other supplies. He gets back and has only three and a half hours to cook. Kerry also failed to get everything he wanted – such as lobster – and CC rubs it in a bit that he should have branched out more.

During prep, CC breaks out the hearts, the stomach, and even the blood. He’s making blood sausage as part of his “Last Supper” that he would want as his final meal. And CC officially becomes really weird. More so.

The Critics: In addition to Senor Sweater, Ruth, Stone, Lam and Katniss (welcome back), we have John Curtas of Eating Las Vegas. Known as Bowtie from this point forward. Jane Goldman of Chow – our friend the Rachel Maddow cousin. Alan Richman from GQ – which is awesome to me, a loyal subscriber to GQ. Not Michael Ian Black – Alan Sytsma from Grubstreet is back. So is the female henchman from Austin Powers – also known as Karen Brooks from The Mighty Gastropolis. Lesley Bargar Suter of LA Magazine rounds out the group, after apparently visiting Missy Franklin and borrowing all of her gold medals.

The Amazing Race, Sept. 30 – And How Do YOU Pronounce Abacus?

It's time to see how the rules behind this new season of The Amazing Race. The eleven teams this season will take off from a starting line on the Colorado Street Bridge Pasadena, California. They seem to be arriving in the Partridge Family bus. Groovy. The teams are:

Trey and Lexi. Dating, from Austin, Texas. He was a football player for the University of Texas, and she was a cheerleader. They're traditional people and don't want to live together until they get married. One of their dreams is to win the Race and get married to start their lives together. I have a feeling they'll be annoying.

Natalie and Nadiya. Twins born in New York, but raised in Sri Lanka. They feel the stuff they have experienced together is amazing, from taking each other's exams and mid-terms to stealing each other's boyfriends. They can admit it now, as they've already graduated, so aren't in fear of getting in trouble. They feel lucky to be twins.

James and Abba. Rock star and lawyer from Los Angeles. James is a rocker, starting out with the band White Lion and moving on to Megadeath. He's played with Ozzy and Slash. Adam is an entertainment attorney based around the hard rock and heavy metal side of things. They've traveled around the world extensively and are comfortable being uncomfortable.

Josh and Brent Goat farmers from Sharon Springs, New York. Hey, I recognize these guys. They had a show of their own on the Planet Green Network, The Fabulous Beekman Boys. They're two city guys who ended up owning this farm in the country. They both lost their jobs within a few months and had to figure out how to make the farm pay for itself, but are now a Grade-A Goat Dairy.

Amy and Daniel. Dating on and off for ten years, from Crested Butte, Colorado. When she was 19 she contracted bacterial meningitis. She lost her spleen, kidneys, hearing in her left ear, and both of her legs. It was a mission to get a new pair of legs in order to start snowboarding again. She's the top-ranked female snowboarder and this year won three World Cup golds. He says she's such a beautiful person and inspires him every day.

Caitlin and Brittany. Best friends from the midwest. Caitlin played soccer at Auburn, and Brittany played basketball. She was always getting technicals while Caitlin was getting yellow-carded. They think they're pretty mean when it comes to being on the court. She realizes they aren't signing up for a beauty pageant.

Rob and Sheila. Engaged from Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. He started a lumberjack sports career at 6 years old and was a champion at the age of 17. She spent the last fifteen years as the director of sales at a major cosmetics company and gave up that job to move to Pigeon Forge with Rob. And that, Folks, is love. He's the boss of the relationship and has taken over the planning of the wedding. She just hopes he picks out a cute dress for her.

Gary and Will. Substitute teachers and best friends for thirty-five years. They have applied for the race seven times. Gary is 6'6″, while Will is 5'1″. Will corrects him that it's 1-1/4″. People laugh at them and call them Mutt and Jeff, but they're secure in their friendship. If they don't win, Will wants a divorce.

Abbie and Ryan. Dating divorcees from San Diego. Physically speaking, he thinks they're both very strong. She's a dance instructor and choreographer, and he not only trains, but also competes, in jujitsu. Having that competitiveness, when someone's arm is wrapped around his throat, it will be a metaphor for how he expects to win the Race. He wants world domination and to be bowed down to. Sigh.

Jaymes and James. Chippendale performers from Las Vegas. Most people probably think they swing around stripper poles with dollar bills in their pants, but they don't. It's a production show, and one sings, while the other plays guitar. If need be though, they will slap on the cuffs and collars to draw attention. James refers to the look as “I'm here to party, but I want to be formal.”

Rob and Kelley. Married monster truckers from Boston, Georgia. They are one of the top independent teams in monster trucking, and he has four world championships. She talks about the crazy adrenaline she gets from monster truck driving. He predicts the other teams will either think he's arrogant and an ass or they're going to love him.

Phil welcomes all eleven teams to the Race, telling them there are twelve legs on the race taking them to nine countries and over 25,000 miles. There are a lot of surprises along the way. The fact is, he'll be eliminating most of them. If they make it to the final leg, for the firs time in Race history, they have a chance at doubling their money. If they win the first and last legs of the Race, they will win $2 million.

They will start this Race right out of the gate with a ten-story rappel off the bridge. Once they get the clue, they'll get behind the wheel of an all-new Ford Escape and be on their way. Good Luck. Travel Safe. Go!

Jaymes and James (James2 for easier reference) are deciding it's a long way down off that bridge. Trey and Lexi start their rappel, and Josh and Brent struggle early on. James2 gets it going. Josh and Brittany are nearly at the end, as are Caitlin and Brittany. Trey and Lexi land first. Gary is trying to talk himself through it, and Abbie is doing some weird yodeling thing. James and Abba try to talk each other through it, and Amy and Daniel jump off. Gary yells at Will right out of the gate for trying to help him mentally through the jump.

James2, Trey/Lexi, Josh/Brent, Caitlin/Brittany, get the first clues and find out they're headed to Shanghai, China. Rob/Sheila and Natalie/Nadiya start their rappel. James2 get to the Escapes, as do Trey/Lexi and Caitlin/Brittany. Turning on the cars they find a video message from Phil, saying that they may fly to Shanghai on one of two flights, China Airlines Flight 7, scheduled to land at 10:50 AM and Flight 15, scheduled to land at 12:05 PM. Only the first seven teams to check in will get Flight 7.