Saturday, February 18, 2012

Top Chef Texas Finale Part 1 Recap

Sorry this is late, but I spent six hours on Thursday in a hospital waiting room and had absolutely no desire to do this when I got home later that evening. I'm not really in the mood now, to tell the truth, but I shall endeavor to do my best.

Oh, and Bravo must have completely lost control of their internmonkeys, as there are no episode photos on the site yet again.

This week's episode presented part one of what is apparently a three part finale. THREE parts. Why, Bravo, why? That makes 17 weeks of near-torture, as this has been one of the most uninteresting seasons with the most unlikable cast of characters yet. Except for Ed, who didn't make the cut last week, much to my chagrin. (And his too, I'll bet.) Sometimes the finale of a season is its saving grace, because who doesn't like to watch the three or four strongest chefs in magnificent battle? But this year it looks to be all style and no substance. I can't stand either of the Mean Girls, bland-faced Lindsay or gummy Sarah. Paul, however, is adorable and, with five Elimination Challenge wins under his belt this season, should have this competition in the bag. Should. Unfortunately, I do believe Stefan also had five E.C. wins in season 5 before he did something stupid in the finale, ultimately losing to that other bald know, that chef who is so damn popular that I can't remember his name. Um...he's really really famous. In some remote town in Colorado.

And then there's Bev. Honestly, I'd LOVE to see Bev win this thing. But of course she doesn't.

The cheftestants meet up in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The Mean Girls are thrilled to see each other, happy to see Paul, but none of them seem particularly pleased to see that thorn in their sides, Bev. Once loaded into their Toyota Sponsormobile, they're instructed via Post-It on the steering wheel to meet Padma and Tom at Whistler, a ski resort. At Whistler, the four catch one of those slow-moving death traps called a gondola up the mountain. Yes, I've probably seen too many disaster movies in my lifetime, but I must admit that if I was one of the remaining chefs, I'd have to forfeit the prize right then and there. I have such a fear of falling, particularly from suspended objects like ferris wheels and those chair rides in amusement parks, that I couldn't set foot one onto the gondola. Not even if you promised me that George Clooney was waiting for me on the other side with a big mug of hot chocolate and a smile. I'm staying on terra firma, y'all. None of the four seem to have my issues, although Paul does admit to motion sickness, and they manage to make it to the top in one vomit-free piece.

At the top, it's hella windy, and we are nearly treated to a scene of Padma's legs being snapped like twigs in a gale (not a Gail). She and Tom gleefully welcome the Final Four to Whistler and tell them that since this was a site for the 2010 Winter Olympics, they will be holding a Culinary Games there. (Here's where the style over substance thing comes in.) This week's challenge will feature three events; the winner of each event will win $10,000, and, at the end of all three, one chef will be eliminated. The first event involves cooking a dish in a moving gondola. They are already 7000 feet above sea level, and it's cold, so the cheftestants will have to take that into account. Plus, a death trap gondola ride is only 22 minutes long, so that's all the time they have to cook. Additionally, at one point during the ride, they will have to jump out of the gondolas and choose another ingredient to add to their dishes.

Each basket of doom gondola is equipped with induction burners and piles of random food, so the chefs have to think on their feet while trying not to look down. Paul makes lamb chops which don't brown as well as he'd like; Sarah is scattered; Bev wisely chooses to make a cold salmon tartare dish; Lindsay has trouble getting her shit together, but manages at the last minute.

Olympic Snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler is the guest judge for this event. The four dishes are sampled and Lindsay's is chosen as the winner. She gets 10K and an automatic spot in the next round of the finale. Whee.

Mean Girls 1, Bev 0.

Paul, Sarah, and Bev must then compete in what might be the stupidest and most dangerous event in Top Chef history. All of their raw ingredients are frozen into giant blocks of ice which they must remove with the aid of ice picks. Tom provides the soundbite,"flash-frozen food is the next best thing to fresh," and I'm surprised that he doesn't add a plug for Healthy Choice or Schwann's or maybe his own brand of pre-packaged comestibles. (I'm thinking that a kid-friendly dish of hoop-shaped pasta--ColicchiOs--with either mini meatballs or chunks of hot dog, could be a big hit.) The chefs have one hour to retrieve their food and cook, outdoors, in the cold. Presumably medics are standing nearby with such necessities as frostbite medication and bourbon.

Paul manages to hack his ingredients out of the glacier first, then helps the girls somewhat by pushing the ice blocks down on the ground for them. Beverly, probably because she is so small and doesn't have a lot of arm strength, needs almost thirty minutes of their alloted time, many ice picks, frying pans, and screaming, to rescue her items from the ice. It's amazing she didn't stab herself in the process. Or oops!--stab Sarah. (I'm betting that if Heather were still around, she would have contemplated disemboweling Bev. Accidentally!)

Eventually everyone completes the stab-and-grab portion of the program and cooks their dishes. The guest judge for this event is Canadian Skeleton medalist Jon Montgomery. Sheesh. They can't even get interesting guest judges for this episode. How about Apolo Ono, people?  Heck, even Dorothy Hamill would work. Anyhoo...Paul wins with his crab and mango dish, grabs his money and guaranteed spot in Finale: Part Two, and goes off to find a heating pad and a bottle of Jack.

For the final challenge, Sarah vs. Bev, they have to run a "culinary biathlon" in which they cross-country ski for a few hundred feet for no good reason at all, then score ingredients at the shooting range. The teaser before the last commercial break is pretty special. First, Bev is on the ground, gun in hand, shooting at something. Next we see Sarah falling off her skis and onto her ample ass. It's very Claudine Longet. If you don't get that reference, you're too young. Also, you're lucky you didn't have to live through the 1970s, the period I like to call the "Harvest Gold Years." (Thanks, Kristine!)

Neither of them has ever skied, and Bev has never shot a gun, but she smokes Sarah in both parts of the competition. Once they've scored as many ingredients as possible by shooting the corresponding target with one of their ten shots, the two race to a kitchen to cook a dish for the judges, including Olympic Skier Cammi Granato. Both Sarah's and Bev's dishes are delicious, but both have problems with their protein. Bev's is a bit hidden under all of her other ingredients, overcooked as well, but she's gone out of her Asian-fusion comfort zone and that impresses. Sarah's rabbit is dry, but her combination of cherries and hazelnuts is a big hit.

And the loser is...Bev. Of course. She was a fierce competitor in this finale, and she should be quite proud of herself.

Next week: "Only two of you will go to the finale." What? I thought this WAS the finale?

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