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'Top Chef' season finale, part 1 recap, 'Maui Wowie'

Aloha! It’s the "Top Chef" finale part 1, in Maui.After some time off, the cheftestants all reunite in beautiful Hawaii to battle it out for the title. They are greeted on the island by Padma, Tom and Sam Choy.Shirley, Nina and Nicholas will soon be joined by the winner of Last Chance Kitchen. In a very dramatic reveal from behind an array of palms, it’s…Louis!  After beating out eight other chefs in a row on Last Chance Kitchen, Louis earned his place in the finale.They jump right into the Quickfire Challenge. For this challenge, the chefs must create a unique dish using “Hawaiian Steak,” aka Spam! Hawaii is the number-one consumer of Spam, so the locals know what they are looking for. The winner of the QF will score $10,000.After the 30-minutes are over, Padma shouts out “Time’s Up, Spam Down!” (Hilarious, Bravo writers…).For his comeback dish, Louis pulls together a Spam mousse with garlic, snap peas and mushrooms. Sam and Padma really enjoy the texture he was able to achieve. Let’s think about that again…Spam. Mousse. Whipped up meat from a can. Good luck enjoying lunch today.Shirley, who mentions that she makes Spam-fried-rice because her husband likes it, creates a Spam Musubi. She also prepares a Spam-infused rice with nori and a cucumber slaw. Sam enjoys the crunchiness and the flavor she was able to create.Nicholas prepares a Spam broth with pancetta, dried shrimp and a quail egg. Tom gives him kudos on this dish.Nina creates a breadfruit and spam croquette with a sour orange and mango slaw. Both Padma and Sam enjoy her dish.After debating the Spam-rific dishes, Sam chooses the winner and it’s…Nicholas!  What!? He actually pulls out a win and scores a quick $10k! For tonight’s Elimination Challenge, the chefs will honor ingredients known as “Canoe Crops.”  These are items that were originally brought to the islands by the Polynesian people.The chefs will be creating dishes for a party the next day to celebrate these canoe crops. They will have one hour to prep that day and two more hours the following day. Oh, and one little thing…this will be a DOUBLE ELIMINATION! Two chefs will be hula-ing their way off the island at the end of the show.The catamaran containing their ingredients pulls ashore and the chefs run down to gather up their goods. Nina feels like she has an advantage because of the similarities in ingredients in Hawaii and her homeland of St. Lucia. Shirley is excited because she is the only person who selected pork. Louis chooses opah, a fish similar to tuna and not to be confused with Oprah.In the kitchen, things are heating up. There is a lot of pressure on this challenge, and it is showing. Nina starts to break down her fish, only to discover that it is actually Nicholas’ fish, opakapaka. Say that 10 times fast!  Nicholas “jokingly” yells out to her that he’s not going down because she butchered his fish. The following day, the chefs arrive at Merriman’s Restaurant and will have two hours to finalize their dishes. Tom makes his rounds to see what the chefs are working on. He asks Louis if he thinks he can come back from "Last Chance Kitchen" and take it all.The ladies want the finale to be all them and Nicholas yells out that he’d give up the $10k he just won for immunity. Hey Nick, remember a few weeks back when you were asked to give up your immunity because you sucked? I don’t think that trade will pan out.With about an hour left of cooking time, a rainstorm rolls in and the chefs must continue to work though the rain and wind. They make the most of the situation, which is timed perfectly for an Elimination Challenge.The judges, including Padma, Tom, Emeril, Gail (+1), Sam and Peter Merriman, arrive just as the dishes are being completed. It’s luau time.Louis has put together grill opah with a sweet potato and coconut sauce. The judges enjoy the dish overall, but there is some inconsistency with the fish.Tom’s plate is slightly undercooked. Gail is impressed by the purple sweet potatoes that she had never seen before.Shirley creates a honey-glazed pork with a sweet potato and turmeric puree. She is the only chef to cook a meat dish. Tom loves the way that the pork is braised. The dish is well-received, but a bit too sweet. If I wasn’t still so thrown off by the Spam puree, this dish would be my pick!Nina also makes an opah dish. Hers includes a taro-root-and-coconut puree with some habanero. The fish is cooked perfectly, but the sauce is very bold and a bit overly spicy.Nicholas puts out his opakapaka with jalapeno and crispy chicken skin. Peter enjoys the contrast in textures. Some judges enjoy the spice in the jalapenos, while others think it is too much.The judges debate the dishes. They all agree that everyone did a great job overall and that it will come down to the small mistakes. Padma goes to get the chefs for this final elimination.The winner of this Hawaiian challenge goes to…Nicholas! Again, What!?  If you are anything like me, you yelled out at the TV. Well, good for him I guess, he was slightly less annoying this episode – maybe he pulled it together.Now it’s time to eliminate two chefs. The first who is asked to please pack his knives and go is…Louis. Though he battled it out on LCK, he will not be in the finale. At least he got a trip to Hawaii!At this point the final chef to make it is obvious.Padma, suddenly very emotional, asks Shirley to go. WHAT!? NO!! Well, I was way off! I, again, yelled at the TV. I thought for sure that Shirley was in it to win it. She says her goodbyes to the judges, and it is particularly sad, especially with Emeril. She is happy to have found her chef voice and can now go out and be Shirley. But still, it's so sad to see her go.So, the finale comes down to Nicholas and Nina. I’m team Nina. She has done a great job bringing it all season. As long as she can keep her fish straight next week, she will be the one to beat.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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