Thursday, December 03, 2009

Top Chef Las Vegas Finale Part One Recap

This week on Top Chef - the Finale, Part Un!

The chefs are in the verdant, grape-filled Napa Valley, ready for the penultimate battle. In a confidential, Jen tells us she is excited to be in Napa and says she's on Top Chef for her mom, who taught her how to cook. And apparently gave her a quick make-up lesson when she got back home.

We then cut to Jen hanging out at a quaint old train station. Michael shows up and tells us he thinks the competitive level is equal among the four. Notice he said "competitive level" not "quality of chefs" because you know he's still thinking he's better than Kevin. And everyone else.

Kevin arrives next. He made a promise to himself to not be happy accepting anything other than a spot in the finals. So he would be happy coming in second, third, or fourth? Doubt it.

Finally, Bryan comes strolling down the platform with a huge fucking umbrella, big enough for the four of them and a small herd of cattle. Suddenly I'm annoyed, remembering how big umbrellas on crowded sidewalks piss me off. It happened just yesterday afternoon, in fact. And then Bryan tries to charm himself back into my good graces by talking about how his son greeted him at Dulles when he flew back home after all those weeks in Vegas. Yeah, right. He probably started rifling through his bags while saying, "What did you bring me?" like all kids do when their dads get back from business trips.

Meanwhile, back at the station....

A train pulls in from which emerges a pregnant Padma wearing a tight sweater dress that shows off her baby bump. With her is my least favorite Top Chef Masters finalist, Michael Chiarello.

We then hear Michael Voltaggio proclaim Chiarello "awesome," which only adds to my Voltaggio-fueled annoyance.

Padma then breaks it to the four remaining cheftestants that, since they are in wine country, they will be using grapes as the main ingredient for the Quickfire Challenge.

They will have 30 minutes to cook and serve their dishes to Padma and Chiarello - all on the train. This is also the final "High Stakes" Quickfire, this time the prize is a 2010 Toyota Prius. I can't see "Prius" without thinking of the South Park episode "Smug Alert!" in which everyone drives a "Pious" and loves the smell of their own farts.

We then see the chefs in their whites, scurrying about on the moving train.

Accidentally. Of course. Poor Kevin suffers from motion sickness and ponders how to incorporate vomit into his dish.

Michael runs off and snags a quiet corner to himself before Bryan can steal the same area; this pisses off Big Brother who is forced to work in a confined space with two other people. One of whom is worried about knives slipping and the other of whom is trying not to puke.

The cooking is over in the blink of an eye. All four chefs serve Padma and Chiarello at once. Kevin goes first with his mousse-and-spew combo. Michael then serves his stuffed grape leaves. Bryan serves a game hen with Brussels sprouts and concord grapes, which gets a raised eyebrow from Chiarello - although concords were on the Table O' Grapes, they are not really a Napa product. Jen does a chicken liver and clam dish that sounds kinda gross but turns on Chiarello enough that he says he may steal it for his restaurant. But he's not turned on enough to give her the win, which he instead awards to Michael. Padma tosses him the keys to the car, at which point he farts and bends over to inhale.

Come on! You had to have seen that coming!

The next morning, we find the chefs at the Meritage Resort and Spa where they are allowed cellphones - for product placement reasons, of course. They then head to the Rutherford Hill Winery where they once again find Padma and Chiarello. The Pregnant One tells them they will be catering a "Crush Party" for 150 guests. Each cheftestant will have to create one vegetarian and one meat dish, in five hours, using only local ingredients. Part of the 5 hours will be spent sourcing the food, conveniently located at a faux farmers' market set up at Long Meadow Ranch. Bryan tells us he chose his restaurant location because it's near fresh ingredients. He thinks farmers markets are fun. And Jen tells us she has 5,000,000 ideas in her head but she's choosing to work with duck.

They cart their vegetable bounty to the kitchens at Brix, where they will be cooking and serving their food.

Jen, as always, is a little scattered.

I guess with 5,000,000 ideas in one's head, it's easy to forget things.

Kevin wants to beat Michael to show him that simple cooking can win.

The man is ready, can you tell?

Jen sets up her station near Kevin, who asks her if she has her ideas straight. Between the two of them, at least, there's comraderie.

On the other side of the room, however, the Voltaggios are secretly seething at each other. Bryan thinks that since he uses local ingredients all the time, this challenge is more up his alley than his brother's. But honestly? I don't want to know what's up Michael's alley.

Tom comes in for his Sniff 'n' Sneer and surprisingly doesn't have anything particularly snide or superior to say to any of the chefs.

Soon the cooking time is up and they must carry their wares outside to feed the impending hoardes of hungry guests.

The judges - Padma, Chiarello, Tom, Gail, and The Boobies - descend upon Bryan's table first, where he serves them goat cheese ravioli and short ribs. Despite general undersalting, both dishes are successful. Michael is next. His foie gras and turnip soup is good (a partygoer called him a genius, if I remember correctly), but the poached egg in his vegetarian dish is a little too snotty around the edges for Padma's taste. And you know if Padma doesn't like something, we're going to hear about it for the rest of the episode.

Kevin's simple vegetable dish of beets and carrots was a "brilliant" use of seasonal vegetables. His polenta was also appreciated, but his still-not-tender brisket was called out as being too ropy. Jen's goat cheese with radishes and basil was an interesting combination of flavors but suffered from too much salt. Her duck, which she confitted rather than smoked as she had originally intended, "tasted like duck." Which one can assume is: 1) what it should taste like; 2) a good thing. But you never know with these judges.

Fakeout Scene!

The four cheftestants go to wine caves and meet Tony Terlato who tries to get them drunk. Jen admits to having a high alcohol tolerance.


The stew room and Judges Table are held at the Chimney Rock Winery. It's a much classier stew room than the cheftestants are used to - they get to sit on real chairs at a real table and there are no piles of Glad products in the corners. Padma comes into the Please Buy Chimney Rock Wines Stew and Sip Room and asks for the presence of all four cheftestants at Judges' Table.

Kevin's vegetarian dish was "stellar" and "stunning in its simplicity" but his beef was tough. Bryan's pasta dough was perfect, and his dishes had a surprising level of flavor, although there wasn't enough of the advertised fig glaze on his beef. Even still, it was enough to get him the win. And Chiarello didn't even give him a cheesy cookbook.

Michael's vegetarian dish suffered from the brunoise of vegetables which Gail suggested could have had a more rustic cut for more texture, and of course Padma's runny egg was the big issue. His foie gras was great, but Gail thought there was too much of the bitter turnip green soup.

Jen's cheesy course was good, albeit too salty. Once again her duck was pronounced to have great duckiness. But that's apparently the best thing they could say about the dish.

Although it seemed that Michael's errors were more egregious - after all, how can one forgive a runny egg? - Jen's dishes had more flaws. Or something like that. I think they all drank too much wine, although presumably not Padma. She's pregnant, after all.

Next week - the final three duke it out for $125,000 and Padma wears more tight clothing!