Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Top Chef Season 6: Episode 13 Recap

So no new episode last week, but tonight is officially part one of the season finale, and we'll be saying goodbye to one more chef before the final showdown next week. The chefs reunite at a Napa Valley train station after an extended break from the competition. The atmosphere isn't exactly 100% friendly, but what do you expect?! A very pregnant Padma hops off the train with guest judge Michael Chiarello and introduces the season's final quickfire, which is to use Napa's signature crop: the grape. But wait, these dishes will have to be prepared on the Napa wine train, and because it's a high stakes quickfire, the winner also gets a new Prius. I'd say that's worth a little motion sickness. The kitchen on the train is huge, but it's long and skinny, making for a lot of awkward passes back and forth. Kevin opts for dessert with a honey and fromage blanc mousse. Michael put together some sort of stuffed grape leaf with grapes all over, and his brother went for a delicate hen. Finally, Jen sauteed some chicken livers (possibly my least favorite food) and clams with grapes in a creamy sauce. Michael's incorporation of the grape in basically every aspect of his dish won Chiarello over, and he walks off with a new car as a result.

The dynamic duo of Padma and Michael is back and Padma announces the elimination challenge as catering a "crush" party (that would be crushing grapes) at a local winery. The chefs have to use all local ingredients "except for salt and pepper," and they have to prepare two dishes, one meat and one vegetarian, for a crowd of 150. It seems like the break from competition didn't do much for Jen's psyche; she seems as frazzled as ever while shopping for groceries at a local market that is certainly not Whole Foods. That said, most of the chefs seem confident, as they have pretty much free reign to do whatever they want within the guidelines, so hopefully, we'll see some impressive dishes tonight. With five hours to go, the cheftestants seem totally in the zone, obviously well aware of the importance of tonight's challenge. Michael's egg custard could be a make or break dish, and as he says, "It's all up to the egg at this point."

Well, Michael's egg turns out perfectly, according to him, and preparations reach the end just as the guests and judges arrive. Bryan prepared a goat cheese ravioli and fig-glazed short ribs, both of which lack a little bit of seasoning, according to our esteemed panel. The vegetable pisto with egg and turnip soup with foie gras from Michael certainly comprise the most ambitious menu of the night, and they judges seem to like, but not love, it. Simple as usual, Kevin prepared a beet and carrot salad and a grass-fed brisket and polenta, both of which totally wow the judges, all but securing Kevin his spot in the final three. Last up is Jen, who cooked up a chevre mousse and a braised duck leg with squash. The vegetarian dish is a little salty, but gets a decent reception, and her duck is certainly her standout for the night. It certainly won't be an easy decision tonight, so it will be really interesting to see who the judges put through to the finale.

As expected, Padma summons all four chefs to judges' table, for what should be a tough discussion. Besides his somewhat tough brisket, Kevin earns raves all around. Just as they did when they were sampling his food, the judges come down on Bryan for going a little bit short on seasoning, but they praise the layers of flavors in his dishes. Michael's dishes get a lot more criticism at the table than he did during the judges' tasting. Could he be in danger tonight? Jen admits to her mistake in not grilling the duck as planned, and Tom looks extremely disappointed. Is THAT the face that signifies a knife-packing? With such mixed feedback tonight, it's hard to say what will happen after the break, but I'd say it's between Michael and Jen for the elimination tonight, with slightly higher odds for Jen going home just based on recent disappointments.

Well here we go, who's going home one week short of the finale after such a tough season? The chefs return to the table and wait anxiously as Padma obviously draws out the decision as long as possible. Bryan is the first to seal his spot in the final with a win, and it's especially impressive considering that he was never in the bottom over the course of 26 challenges. In a non-shocker, Jen gets the boot. She excelled all season, but she didn't have the same level of consistently winning food as Kevin or the brothers. So we've got the brother vs. brother showdown that has been looming since episode one, and when you throw Kevin in there it should be a really strong finale. Next week everything wraps up, and there appears to be a formal dinner party with some extra cranky guests. Come back next week, and we'll "watch what happens."

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