Greetings, Top Chef watchers. Liz and Justine here to chronicle the last week before the competition moves from its cozy home of Las Vegas to the finale in Napa Valley. Most of the fat has been trimmed from the ranks of the cheftestants but one more still has to be cut.
Enough with the cheesy cooking plays on words. On to the cooking!
(Photo of Bryan Voltaggio presenting to the judges from bravotv.com)
The show barely starts before we're faced with two major fashion moments -- Did you see Bryan's sparkly silver rock-star belt? How about Kevin wearing a rosary under his T-shirt? Like all of the chefs, they're missing their families and doing it for them. Eli reveals to the viewers at home something Liz knew all along: that he's friends with past cheftestant and finalist Richard Blais! Eli was even best man at Blais' wedding! (Liz saw them compete together on Iron Chef America a few weeks back, so she was hoping they'd talk about that in this show.)
Today's guest for the quickfire challenge is Gavin Kaysen, noted young chef who has represented America in the ultimate culinary competition, Bocuse d'Or. We learn through some very retro looking stock footage that the Bocuse is like the Olympics of cooking (but they spared us any mentions of the most famous Olympian to date, Michael Phelps) where everything's meticulously prepared and served on giant mirrored platters.
As the quickfire, the chefs must make a protein within a protein within a protein (think turducken ... Justine wanted someone to actually make one, but alas, they're more creative and snobby than that).
During the cooking, it's a chance for the producers to take us inside the heads of the chefs. Bearded Kevin says the Voltaggio brothers take risks with their food (welcome to the competition, Yukon Cornelius. Where have you been?). Michael Volt says there's not a lot for Jen to do left in the competition. But, probably much to his chagrin, when Padma goes to sample Jen's dish, she says "Welcome back."
And Jen wins! That was a huge shock, especially since she's been flaking out a lot in the past few weeks. Is she back on the fast track to winning? For winning, she gets an extra 30 minutes to cook in the elimination challenge.
(The most notable dish for Justine and Liz during the quickfire, though, was Eli's Scotch egg. We had never seen such a dish before going to this year's Maryland Renaissance Festival, where one of our traveling companions ate one. It totally grossed Liz out. She still feels the same way about Scotch eggs, even though dreamy Eli was cooking it this week.)
It's time for the Top Chef Bocuse d'Or! This is arguably one of the most challenging tasks posed before cheftestants in any season, not because of what they actually have to cook, but becuase of the high standards they will be held to. They have to prepare one protein (their choice of either salmon or lamb) and two garnishes. You know, a typical garnish like a zucchini woven into a basket with something served in it. Or at least that's what Chef Kaysen wanted us to think about when he mentioned garnihses. They have to serve to a panel of 12 tough judges and members of the American Bocuse d'Or panel and noted chef Thomas Keller. The mention of his name alone was enough to make some of the chefs noticably cringe.
Off to Whole Foods! (Not that anything important or funny happened during the shopping trip. We just haven't been able to say that in what seems like a few weeks)
Back at Casa de Chefs, everyone's busy planning their menus. Everyone, that is, except Michael Voltaggio. He goes to bed instead of watching the painfully retro Bocuse d'Or DVDs. (Justine wonders aloud why they serve their dishes on mirrored platters? Liz thinks it's because they can't rely on a streak of gastrique and call it presentation.) Bearded Kevin asks for Bryan's advice on how to successfully sous-vide lamb. Bryan, as saintly as he is, helps the bearded one out, but mentions that some other chefs (like his brother) may not have been so generous with their knowledge.
While the chefs are busy in the kitchen, they're hit with a plot twist: Chef Tom says the winner will get $30,000 courtesy of the M Resort! A collective panic surges through the kitchen.
During the service, the diners are harsh. They're holding the cheftestants to Bocuse d'Or standards and criticizing every little thing about the dishes. Bearded Kevin's dish was too simple (and what's with his random plug for sustainability? What is this, green week?). Michael's Mediterranean dishes didn't have enough flavor. Bryan's lamb was undercooked. Eli's lamb was also undercooked and carved poorly (at least he let his meat rest unlike Hector earlier in the season). Jen's food wasn't well thought out even though the food tasted good.
The hits keep on coming: Chef Keller tells the cheftestants the winner will get a chance to compete on the 2011 Bocuse d'Or American team! (Justine wonders if they were holding out on that gem until they saw everyone didn't completlely screw up their dishes.)
We're down to the wire, folks, so no top and bottom this time. Everyone's called before the judges. They reiterated the diners' comments and critiques, but no one's dishes really stood out as a clear favorite.
And the winner is ... Bearded Kevin! Kind of a shock, seeing as how they were calling his food simple and he tried a technique he doesn't have that much experience with so late in the competition. But, as we know, simple doesn't always mean bad. Simple food can be good if done well. To gear up for the 2011 Bocuse d'Or, he gets a few cookbooks and chef's jacket from the son of the competition's founder.
The judges then tick down the line of cheftestants, citing the redeeming qualities of the dishes (like how Bryan's would have been much better had he more time to cook). Michael gets a scathing review of his food, but apparently the judges were taking their season performance into account because Eli gets the boot. (Justine said he got Eli-minated, but Liz was too distraught to laugh. The loss is especially hard for Liz to take, since Friday is her birthday and seeing her man make it to the finale would have been the ultimate gift from Bravo. She shrieked in a combination of sadness and horror when he got sent home, and her dog appeared worried at the mournful cry.)
Who's going home next: We're down to the final four we've been predicting pretty much all season, so choosing who's going to get kicked out is tough. Justine thinks they'll get rid of Michael because he get distracted by his own arrogance. And, despite Jen's comeback this week, Liz still thinks Jen is a target, unless she's focused herself during their hiatus before the finale.
Who's going to win it all: Justine thinks Kevin has a really good shot but is still rooting for Bryan, probably just because it ticks Liz off that she's rooting against her favorite. Correction: Justine is rooting for Bryan because he's the cutest. (Apparently the show changed to be called "Top Hot Chef" without anyone knowing.)
Will you be adding a huge mirrored tray to your holiday wish list so you can stage your own Bocuse d'Or competitions at home? Who of the eliminated cheftestants would you want to come back as your sous chef in the finale? Did you see Padma has bangs in the preview for next week -- are bangs back???