We're in the home stretch of this season of Top Chef, loyal readers. Justine and Liz will be sad to have their Wednesday nights free, but until the winner's declared, we'll still be watching.
We had a lot of time to speculate about how this week (the first episode in Napa Valley) would turn out, when we weren't thinking about when we're making our reservation to Volt. We're down to the final four cheftestants we've been singing the praises of all season long -- Bearded Kevin, the Brothers Voltaggio and Jen. Choosing the final three going to be tough for the judges.
Enough dreaming about eating at Volt. On to the cooking!
(Photo of the final four -- Bearded Kevin, Bryan, Jen and Michael from bravotv.com)
The finals are in Napa, and we get lots o' dreamy shots of vineyards and misty clouds. Jen says the top four is nothing to her, that she wants to win (yeah, good luck beating the boys). Michael looks like he just got off his motorcycle as he approaches the train stop where Jen is waiting. Bearded Kevin's goal was to make it to the finale, and he seems a little less cutthroat. Also, doesn't his hair seem like a different color from his beard? Weird.
Justine remarks that Bryan looks super cute! Swoon. She's gone through withdrawl since she hasn't seen him in two weeks.
Padma in boots, bangs and baby bump gets off the train. She introduces Michael Chiarello, who was on Top Chef Masters. Whoop-de-do. We think this is the first good look we've gotten at Padma's bump...wonder how long ago this was filmed and how much bigger she is now (if at all).
They'll be cooking with Napa's "signature crop" -- the grape. They'll have 30 min. to cook aboard the Napa Valley Wine Train. Bearded Kevin says he gets motion sick, so he's worried that they'll be shaking around in the train. Throwing up would the ultimate party foul, Yukon Cornelius.
They're playing for what Michael describes as a "sick" 3rd Generation Toyota Prius. He tells Bearded Kevin the car isn't his color. When will Michael's trash talking end? Why can't we all just get along?
The hardest part about cooking, the chefs say, is the sway on the train. Did you catch Bryan saying he was pissed off that Michael took his planned prep spot? He's the calmest angry guy we've ever seen on a reality TV show.
Bearded Kevin serves a mousse, Michael serves a grape leaf stuffed with couscous and scallops, Bryan made a roasted hen and Jen makes chicken livers. Michael's notable for using lots o' parts of grapes (including a stem as a skewer), but to the viewers in Liz's living room, it comes off a sucking up. Bryan gets dinged for using Concord grapes, which aren't native to Napa.
The winner is Michael because he used all parts of grapes in his dish. Liz wants a ride in his Prius. (That's what she said.)
Fashion moment: The brothers, in their black jackets, white shirts and jeans, are twins!
They have to cater a crush party for 150 people. Crush parties in Napa, so we're told, take place in the fall to celebrate the grape harvest and when the stomping of grapes can begin. Liz hopes it's like the episode of "I Love Lucy" where Lucy and Ethel stomp grapes, but those Napa people are probably too fancy for something like that. The cheftestants are limited to using ingredients grown or raised only in the Napa Valley (except for salt and pepper). One dish has to be vegetarain, and the other has to be a local protein. They have five hours to prep and cook after stopping by a local farmers' market.
Bearded Kevin says he cooks 100 percent locally at his restaurant in Atlanta so that might give him an advantage, but it seems to us that the local stuff in north-central Georgia might not be the same as the stuff in Napa. But that's just us.
There's lots of Jen this episode, and us non-Jen fans aren't thrilled. Yeah, you got your game back, sweetie, but give us more Voltaggio action.
Michael touches on the sibling rivalry, but it seems that the sibling rivalry might be in only his head.
They're all stressed because five hours isn't much time for them to cook two dishes for so many people. Not many antics in the kitchen to report, other than Jen not checking that the coals on the grill were hot enough. She had time to change her plan to cook the duck, but didn't get to grill it like she wanted.
Bryan's goat cheese ravioli and braised short ribs are first up. The squash flavor and texture are good. Both dishes need a little more salt and pepper. Guest judge Chiarello said he was surprised with how much flavor Bryan developed in such a short amount of time. Gail "totally fell in love" with Bryan's ravioli. Guest judge says he took two dishes with a high degree of difficulty and delivered. Justine gave a fist pump.
Michael serves a vegetable pistou with a 63 degree egg. (Yeah, not 62 or 64 degrees.) His protein is a fois gras turrine served with turnip soup. The egg slightly overwhelms the veggies. The turnip soup is great, Tom says, and the dish is better than the sum of its parts. The veggies might have been chopped too finely.
Bearded Kevin makes roasted beets and carrots, and his protein dish is brisket with pumpkin polenta. He gives a nice speech about how he wants to please everyone including the diners at the crush party, not just the judges. The vegetarian dish is perfectly seasoned and "stellar." Tom some of his competitors might say it was nothing special, but in fact it was a study in simplicity. The briskey is "ropey" and has a tinny quality but the polenta is great, Tom and Gail agree.
Jen serves chevre mousse with mushrooms for her vegetarian dish. She <3's duck, so there's lots o' that. The goat cheese is too salty, and the judges were surprised that it went so well with the basil she used. Tom says the duck dish is "very ducky," not too sweet like typical duck dishes. They liked that she used as much of the bird as possible, but it wasn't as developed as it could've been.
In the stew room, did you laugh when Bearded Kevin said he'd call his brisket "toothsome" when they called it tough, so they couldn't argue with him. HI-larious.
The winner is the "chef who made the most of the farmers market" and "let the ingredients sing": Bryan! Justine's arms go up in a V for Voltaggio Victory!
For the remaining three, both Bearded Kevin and Michael had one dish that worked well but the other fell short. Jen didn't do well planning because she let the fire die when she'd been planning to grill the duck breast.
And Jennifer goes home!
Padma sounds reluctant to say it, and Michael drops his head in mourning. Jen doesn't cry in her interview … until the second part.
Bearded Kevin's thrilled to be in the finals with the Bros. V! Liz points out that his eyes "twinkle like Santa Claus." Justine guesses Christmas has come for the Bearded One.
After service, the chefs go to the Terlato wine cave. Anybody want to take us to a wine cave?
Did you notice that Jen packed up her knives in the original Top Chef Vegas kitchen? Does that mean that Bravo made everyone sheepishly pack up so they'd have footage? We wonder if they'll give the winner footage of his packing up.
*Sniffle* Our last predictions. Justine's still pulling for Bryan, and Liz rooting for the simplicity of the Bearded Wonder. Lackluster predictions, we know. But we're firmly entrenched in our loyalties.
Is there anywhere that seems to be snobbier about food than Napa? Who's the father of Padma's baby? Who will you be saddest to see go home next week?
(Editors note: We got sidetracked while finishing this recap by this video montage tribute to Kevin's beard on BravoTV.com. Listen closely for the incorrect reference to Yukon Cornelius.)