Thursday, December 10, 2009

Top Chef Las Vegas Finale Part Two Recap

Here we are at last, finally the final finale for Top Chef Las Vegas, a season of sheer professionalism and relative lack of drama. Honestly, I miss the shenanigans of past seasons - they made for more entertaining recaps.

It's been a long, long, long season and our three remaining cheftestants are looking forward to their final battle. Kevin is both "pumped" and "stoked." And the Brothers Voltaggio are bickering amongst themselves. At least neither of them says "awesome" or walks around with hugemongous umbrellas.

They stop needling each other long enough to put on their chef coats and head out to the Rutherford Hill Winery, where they find Tom and Padma standing in the blazing sun.

Tom gives them their final challenge - prepare a three course meal. Sounds simple enough, right? But this is Top Chef, so there's a twist. The first course must be prepared from a Chopped-style "Mystery Box." (The Food Network has been ripping off Top Chef in their competitions for a few years now. Turnaround is fair play, I suppose.) For the second course, the cheftestants can prepare anything they wish from any available ingredients. And finally, the third course must be dessert. The meal will be prepared and served at Cyrus, a Michelin 2-Star restaurant in Healdsburg, and served to top restaurateurs. Tom says that this meal can make their careers.

Then Padma tells the cheftestants they will have help, and from the surrounding vineyard emerge the first 437 eliminated chefs, from Jen Z to Jen C. Jen C. is carrying the knife block, the sight of which causes Michael to say that there are a couple of names he could pull that would make him slit his own throat.

It would have been fun had he picked Robin, but the ensuing bloodbath would probably have been too much of a distraction for Kevin and Bryan. And one of those two is going to win this thing, right? Instead, he gets Jesse and Eli. Kevin ends up with Preeti and Ash, and Bryan gets the best of the bunch with Jen C. and Ashley. One of these sous chefs will help them with prep, the other will help them cook the next day.

With 15 minutes to plan, the chefs head to the kitchen to examine their Mystery Box [insert dirty joke here]. It contains Pacific rockfish, kabocha squash, Dungeness crab, Meyer lemon, matsutake mushrooms, and anise hyssop.

I love the way my spell check is recommending different words for kobocha (kaboom, kabob), Dungeness (dungeons, dungarees, strangeness), and matsutake (matchmaker, mistake) but seems to think that "hyssop" is just fine.

Kevin is upset at getting stuck with "I'm a Lesbian But I Can't Shuck Clams" Preeti. He doesn't have much faith in her abilities so gives her very few things to do, none of which involve pasta salad. Bryan, on the other hand, is quite pleased with his own personal lesbian helper, Ashley. And Michael is on his knees thanking the heavens that he didn't pull Robin.

The next morning, Kevin is upset because he feels he lost the whole first day being mad at Preeti. Michael is still contemplating the contents of the Mystery Box. Suddenly, there's an ominous knock on the door. Immediately they speculate that it's Padma announcing another twist, but instead they find...

Mom Gillespie reminds me of a faded country singer, with her sparkly eye shadow and blue eye-liner.

Voltaggio Mom helps her little boys button their jackets and roll their sleeves and reminds them that they are brothers and best friends, no matter what happens. :::sniff:::

Mom Gillespie lets her little boy roll his own sleeves, but tells Kevin to be himself and that he's got what it takes to beat the Volt Boys.

They then leave their Moms behind and head to Cyrus to finish prepping and cooking. Tom meets them there and finally gives them the expected extra twist. Instead of a three-course meal, they must now prepare a four-course meal, with the first course being an hommage to their mommies. Something inspired by a childhood dish.

Kevin decides to make something with chicken skin, since that was his mama's favorite part of the chicken (a woman after my own heart). Bryan says his parents divorced when the kids were very young, and if that wasn't bad enough, their mom made a lot of tuna casserole. And he was going to make it even yuckier by using sardines. Michael said he likes to transform things he doesn't like to eat into things he does like to eat, so he opts to play with the hated broccoli.

With three hours left until they must plate the first dish, they have to get cracking, especially with a fourth course on the table. Michael has finally figured out what he wants to make with his Mystery Box, and calls it a "scavenger hunt" of flavor. Later, when it's time to plate his first course, we hear him say that it's "bold and rustic" as he's spooning some spooge-like foam onto the broccoli. Doesn't get more rustic than foam....

The cheftestants enter the dining room with their first dishes and notice their moms seated at the table along with Tom, Gail, Toby, and Padma, plus restaurateurs Douglas Keane of Cyrus, Donatella Arpaia, Stephen Starr, Drew Nieporent, Sam Nazarian, and wine guy Bill Terlato. Padma then apologizes to the moms, saying that the judges' comments to their baby boys may seem a little harsh.

After the first course, the moms are unceremoniously kicked out. Next up is the Mystery Box course. Kevin's dish is merely ok, and features a tough mushroom. Bryan's dish is bland and safe and is compared to a "blind date you don't want to go on." As if anyone ever looks forward to a blind date. (I had one and it was a nightmare. The guy didn't make eye contact, nor did he speak to me even once. Thank goodness it was a double date with my then-best friend. Believe me, bland fish would have been far preferable.) Michael's dish is the best-received of the three, although nobody mentions scavenger hunts.

The third course is "Chef's Choice" and of course Kevin chooses to make pork. Unfortunately, it seems that his pork belly didn't get cooked long enough. And at this point I'm realizing he's not going to win this competition. That means Bryan is going to be victorious, right?

Bryan, who reveals to all assembled that he hunts, is told that his venison dish is perfectly cooked, "rich and pungent," and not at all bland. That gives me hope. Michael's squab is excellent, but Gail thought the sundry mushroom and pistachio garnishes were gimmicky. Ok! Go Bryan!

Finally - the dreaded mandatory dessert course. Kevin had worried earlier on that dessert was not his strong suit, so he opted to use an ingredient that was more in his wheelhouse - bacon. Bacon desserts are starting to be a bit played out, I'm afraid, and there were mixed emotions about Kevin's bacon and bananas among the judges. Michael's cake was overbaked and dry, but overall it was "almost very good." Bryan's cheesecake with fig sorbet, on the other hand, showed real finesse. Yay! Bryan is going to take this competition! Right? Right?

Despite my wishful thinking, at this point I'm positive Kevin has lost. I'm (obviously) rooting for Bryan, but a small sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach tells me that Michael is going to end up winning this thing.

Next we see the cheftestants once again stewing in the Please Buy Chimney Rock Wines Stew and Sip room, this time without the wine to take the edge off. I need a glass myself, at this point.

Bryan, Michael, and Kevin all head off to Judges' Table by themselves, like big boys, without Padma having to come in to get them or their mommies to re-roll their sleeves.

The judges tell the cheftestants about their successes and mistakes. And then Padma asks the always-stupid question "why do you deserve to be Top Chef?" Bryan seems a bit flustered, but tells the judges that he thought he expressed his cuisine well throughout the competition. Michael wants to win because he doesn't want Bryan to win. Then he adds, "Food is me. Food is how I express myself." Damn good thing he has food, because grammar isn't his strong suit. And we hear from Kevin that he loves food (no!) and its ability to comfort people.

Back at the stew room, all three seemed slightly depressed.

The judges make their decision and call the cheftestants out to stand before them one last time.

Padma fakes us out by saying, "Kevin..." (long pause) " are not Top Chef." At which point he hugs everyone and goes back to the stew room to be comforted by his mom.

It's down to the Volt Boys. And the winner is....

Bah. Oh, he deserves to win alright, unlike Hosea. He's a talented chef, but he was my fourth choice to be Top Chef, after Bryan, Kevin, and Jen C. Sigh.

Next week: A Top Chef Reunion where we, no doubt, will hear how much certain people hated Robin. Yawn.