Thursday, June 05, 2008

Top Chef: Season 4, Finale Part I

Guess Who Got Pigeon (Pea) Holed?

Previously: The five remaining cheftestants take over a steak house and cook a lot of meat. Spike uses frozen scallops and that leads to the honor of being the last cheftestant cut in Chicago. But who really cares when we’re all heading to Puerto Rico for a finale stretched over two weeks!? Woo-hoo!

What’s at stake? Since it is the finale, I’m going to give you the run down (via the lovely Padma) because now it matters: a feature in Food and Wine magazine, a showcase in the Food and Wine Classic in Aspen (which is actually next week), a culinary dream vacation in the French Alps, $100,000 in moolah and the title of … TOP CHEF.

Opening scene is of this really blinding sun and splashing waves. We’re not in Kansas, darlings. This is Puerto Rico, the 51st state. The final four start to arrive at the airport, and it must have been a nice long break because they look really relaxed. Or maybe it’s those cut-off jeans they’re all wearing.

Stephanie says she spent her break traveling in Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia. Antonia opened up a restaurant and has been cooking 100 hours a week. (Now, if she has a restaurant already, why does she need the $100,000?) Richard arrives all ready to get the game started and he’s happy to see Stephanie and Antonia, who he knew would be in the final four. He doesn’t show the love for Lisa, who arrives last with a new shorter haircut. Lisa forces them all into a group hug. Awkward.

We get the obligatory shots of the sandy white beaches that the cheftestants won’t get to play in, and they arrive at a deck where Padma is waiting along with … is that Tom Colicchio’s brother?

It’s actually Wilo Benet, chef and owner of Pikayo Restaurant, which is supposedly the best restaurant in Puerto Rico. I’ve never been, so I’m just taking Padma’s word for it. Their quickfire challenge is to make the traditional Puerto Rican beachside treat of frituras (fritters), and Chef Benet says they have to incorporate the signature gastronomical ingredient of the islands—plantains (which really look like bananas on steroids).

They have 40 minutes and everyone runs up to the table and start picking away at the plantains, but Lisa is showing some smarts as she runs to the kitchen to check out the protein, opening a mini frig to see containers of prawns and stuff. She grabs some chorizo and duck.

BTW, this is not the Top Chef kitchen. So no shiny and new GE professional chef’s appliances. This looks like the kitchen of a beachside taco stand. Lisa starts making tostones, which she learned during her break. Again, she’s really showing that she did her homework for the finale. Tostones are green plantains that are pulverized and pushed through some wooden mold and then deep-fried until their nice and crispy. I think we’ll be seeing a lot of fried stuff in Puerto Rico.

Woah, Richard almost burned off his faux hawk lighting that gas stove. (BTW, I heard Richard and his wife just got a new baby girl. So he really got busy soon after he finished filming!)

The cheftestants serve up their offerings one at a time to Wilo and Padma. Most of them made tostones, treating it like a chip and adding stuff like ahi tuna (Stephanie) or duck (Lisa). One of Antonia’s dishes didn’t use plantain in it, other than serving a plantain salsa on the side. But in the end, Chef Wilo says his least favorites were Richard’s pork meatballs and green plantain chips. He says the plantain had a raw taste. Antonia was his second least favorite, also because of some raw plantain taste with an added boost of “slimy.”

That, of course, leaves Stephanie and Lisa as his favorites, and he names Stephanie the winner. She’s stoked because this is her first quickfire challenge win—ever!—so she hopes that gives her momentum going into the elimination challenge.

Instead of getting into details of the challenge, Padma and Wilo invite the group to old San Juan for a party, Puerto Rico-style. That means a lot of colorful costumes and dancing, and a whole pig roasted on a spit. Puerto Rico seems to have a lot of forts because everything looks like some Spanish battle.

Anywho, the cheftestants are dancing in the streets, except Richard who says he doesn’t dance. Then the editors do this slow-mo thing, which I have to say they used a lot this season. Mostly it’s when they’re talking about being tired or if something bad is about to happen. But I totally don’t see the reason for it here. The cheftestants are just talking about gearing up for battle the next day. It’s not like someone’s going to drop out or something. They make it seem like this is a “very special episode of Top Chef” where we find cheftestants in rehab.

Commercials. Does everyone own a Blackberry? Oh, and those eco-shaped Arrowhead
water bottles aren’t going to save the Earth. It’s carrying less water because of the handle for the grip, so that means people will have to buy more plastic bottles to drink more water. Just get a regular SIGG water bottle, people! (See my Amazon shop to your right. ;-)

The cheftestants arrive at La Fortaleza, which in recent years have been the official home of the territorial governor. Is that Tom Colicchio with Padma or still the guest judge? I’ve never seen Tom so early in an elimination challenge. He needs a tan.

Padma says 100 VIP guests will arrive at the fort for a cocktail party and they each have to make at least two dishes with Puerto Rico’s favorite ingredient. Hope it’s not plantains. Tom says it’s a whole pig. And they each get one, which they have to butcher. Antonia makes a face like, “Whatchoo talkin’ about Willis?” She wants to go back to the deep dish pizza challenge.

Tom says they’ll have some help, so you know what that means. That’s right, bring on the rejects! In come Dale, Nikki, Spike and Andrew. (Andrew, I miss him! He’s always so funny!) Of course, Lisa in her mind knows she doesn’t want to be paired with Dale because of their “history.” Same goes with Andrew, who questioned her integrity. So really, who can she work with?

Stephanie, having won the quickfire, has the power to pair the chefs with the sous chefs. And if Stephanie was really hungry to win, she would strategically do a “Survivor” evil trick and pair the worst people with the frontrunners. Of course, Stephanie’s too nice. And nice is boring. So we get safe matches of Stephanie and Dale (because he’s actually a good cook), Richard and Spike, Antonia and Nikki and Lisa and Andrew. OK, maybe that last one was to throw Lisa off her game. Andrew interviews that he plays with honor so he’s going to be the best damn sous chef for Lisa because that’s how he rolls.

The sous chefs will go to the local market to buy the fresh ingredients while the cheftestants stay back to hack up their pig. They spend a few minutes with each other making a game plan, and already Richard is being innovative doing a “head to tail” concept while Lisa’s trying to go local and doing Latin cooking instead of her typical Asian style.

The sous chefs go to the local market with $250 and this segment is mostly about Andrew working his way around trying to speak Spanish. Do all the others speak Spanish because they don’t seem to have as much problems as our poor Andrew? He’s so funny. I wish I could hang out with him.

Back in the kitchen, the cheftestants start hacking away. The tops of mallets are flying off and people are sweating in that tiny kitchen. Then Richard stops to call Spike at the market because he remembers drinking malta with this Haitian kid when he was growing up. And it’s some kind of popular malt beverage like caramel beer. So he asks Spike to find some, and I’m thinking Richard sure know how to party when he was growing up.

When the sous chefs come back, everyone’s excited about the ingredients they find and they start prepping the food. Stephanie does a pork belly with a dry rub, and Lisa is busy micromanaging my man Andrew. Richard, again with the hate on Lisa, says she’s like a grey cloud in the kitchen. After they’re all done, everyone leaves for the day and then we get a zoom of Stephanie’s pork belly sitting under the counter in a tray. Dun-dun-DUH.

The next day they arrive to finish up prepping for the party and Dale realizes that he left the pork belly sitting out. Stephanie says she has to throw it out because she doesn’t know how warm the kitchen was overnight. I’m wondering is there really a debate? That pig is a goner. So her pork belly dish is a scratch and Dale is totally totally sorry about it. He really feels bad and I’m sure it was an honest mistake since the refrigerator was so crowded. Stephanie says that she’s been able to pull off last-minute things in the past, so hopefully she can do it this time.

Richard is torching some pig’s feet and we learn that he’s making four dishes, the most of all the three. Antonia is doing three dishes, and one of it is pigeon peas (never heard of that) and rice. She’s having problems with her rice not cooking evenly, so she has to start over. Nikki, her sous chef, senses that Antonia is off her game. She’s not focused. She’s not paying attention to the details. Nikki is quite observant.

Stephanie and Dale are trying to think of a third dish and he suggests crispy pig skin because that’s her style, and she decided to make chicharones with fruit and prosciutto salad. Now she’s all psyched to churn that out along with her Coconut Pork with Plantain Pancakes and Pork Satay in a sugar cane (very Vietnamese).

Commercials. LOL, that Flat Earth chips commercial has a flying pig in it. I bet that little pig is sure glad it’s not in Puerto Rico right now.

The cheftestants arrive at the backyard garden of the fort, and they start setting up and cooking. Stephanie is making her plantain pancakes, which looks like the blinis from the first episode. Guests start to arrive and I don’t know who they are, but supposedly that woman is the first lady of Puerto Rico. And Padma is wearing this really bright light blue toga outfit.

Padma, Chef Wilo, Chef Tom and Gail walk around the stations and this is how it all broke down:

Stephanie’s Pork Satay on Sugar Cane with Miso Almond Sauce, Coconut-braised Pork with Black Plantain Pancakes and Tropical Fruit Salad topped with Chicharones. Gail thought the salad was refreshing and Chef Wilo asks Stephanie for her recipe for the black plantain blinis.

Richard’s Fresh Ham with Local Beans, Pressure-cooked Pork Belly with Pickled Watermelon Rinds, Malta-caramel Pork Ribs and BBQ Pork Shoulder with Braised Greens and Mango. The judges didn’t really say much, but Richard’s faux hawk is battling the humidity of Puerto Rico, trying its best to stand at attention but it’s a losing battle.

Lisa’s Citrus-braised pork belly, Tostones with Black Beans and Onion, and Yuca Rellena with Pineapple Mojo. Tom makes some remark to Gail about the sweetness but I couldn’t make out what he’s saying and the editors didn’t do the captioning like usual. So it could have been something like “Gail, how much more pork and beans do we have to eat?”

Antonia’s Picked Sweet Pepper Salad with Pork Belly, Curried Pork with Pumpkin and Yuca, and Pigeon Peas with Pork Sausage. Padma asks how long she soaked the peas and Antonia says overnight. Antonia also combined the curried pork dish with the pigeon peas and that doesn’t seem to go over well with the judges. I also notice that after the judges leave, Antonia’s standing there with Nikki waiting for guests to come up to her but there’s no line at all. Not a good sign.

The cheftestants arrive at the Puerto Rico version of the “stew room” while the judges are sitting at this really grand table with dramatic lighting. They talk briefly about what they liked and then Padma goes and gets Richard and Stephanie, leaving Antonia to shit in her pants and Lisa to stew angrily like she typically does.

Richard and Stephanie walk in like they’re scared. They look worried like this will be the first time of the entire season that Padma brings in the loser firsts. Even though we’ve had more than 11 episodes and not once did that happen. They’re the favorites. Hugs all around. And Chef Wilo names Richard the overall winner and gives him a brand new 2009 Toyota Corolla. Good luck driving that baby home to the states, Richard!

So then it’s Lisa and Antonia. Lisa says she felt her dishes tasted strong, but she tried Stephanie’s and Richard’s and knew theirs were way better. Tom asked why she didn’t cook Asian, and she says she cooked Latin before living in South Florida. Gail says the puree was too sweet and the dish seemed to be more focused on the garnishes rather than the pig.

Antonia says she realizes her pigeon peas could have been cooked more, and Tom corrects her and says it was undercooked. She then backpedals and says she likes her beans a bit al dente. Gail didn’t like the combination of all the food into one plate.

Deliberations. Chef Tom says that at this stage, it all comes down to who screwed up the most. He says it’s Lisa with her sweet plantain puree and the poorly executed tostone. In the stew room, Lisa is feeling the hate as she says she’s going home too.

Tom says Antonia’s mistake was trying to be rustic but it came off unsophisticated. Plus, there’s no such thing as al dente beans.

Commercials. I notice this episode sure has a lot of beer commercials. Huh, didn’t realize so many frat boys and football fans watch Top Chef.

Antonia and Lisa faces judgment and everything seems to lean toward Lisa going because she’s the most deserving to go. Tom says they needed to bring their A-game but instead they brought their B+-game. Then he says the judges considered which table had the fewest people wanting to eat the food and thinking back to Antonia’s quiet table, I knew she was a goner. Sure enough, Padma sends Antonia packing, and ugh, you can see Lisa trying her best to hide her smile but you know she wants to bust out and celebrate. What a bitch. She tells the judges that they won’t be disappointed. Famous last words, if you ask me.

Antonia feels sad that she’s leaving for these mistakes. And she whispers to Stephanie as they hug goodbye, “kick their asses.” Anywho, Antonia now goes back to her new restaurant and the disappointing face of her young daughter who told her not to come home unless she wins. Oh well, I guess someone’s going to have to learn the hard lessons of disappointment at an early age.

Then you think it’s over when Lisa suddenly turns to Stephanie and Richard and says, “you know, it would have been nice for you to congratulate me. … It just makes me feel like you think the wrong person went home.” Uh, HEL-lo. That’s exactly what they’re thinking. Stephanie gives a half-hearted, congrats, almost as a whisper, but mostly as a shocked reaction to the demanding Lisa. And Richard has the funniest line when he says “what do you expect? You won the fucking bronze metal. Congratulations!”

Next week: It’s the finale of Season 4 and will it be the first female Top Chef with Stephanie? The gastronomical wonders of Richard? Or will Lisa just piss on them all. I wonder if they’re going to cook pig again.

The season finale of Top Chef airs next Wednesday at 10 p.m. (9 p.m. Central) on Bravo TV. Check out videos and multiple blogs at the Top Chef Web site. Photos courtesy of Bravo TV.

1 comment:

Nanc Twop said...

Wow - just watched Pt.2.

Not going to spoil it for you if you haven't seen it yet... but I was amazed by who the bronze medalist of S4 truly was...

Not what I expected at all.

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