I don't cry at movies or television shows. Ever. Not in Steel Magnolias, not in that Hillary Swank boxing movie where she was all buff and manly and scary-looking, and certainly not in Bambi. Yet last night, as I watched the final scenes of the twelfth episode of "Top Chef" season 5, I felt a stirring in my chest. An odd sensation descended upon my throat... was there a lump in there? For a minor moment I thought I might actually be able to squeeze out a single tear.
And then the moment passed, and I went to bed.
In case it wasn't clearly established in the dozen or so times the chefs mention it throughout last night's episode, the stakes at this point in the season are like really high now, guys. Like way higher than the weeks before when there was "no room for error," and Hosea was nervous about being the "last American male chef." That was all just playtime in the sandbox. (Or at least it was for Stefan.) Last night's sparing was it for the final five -- the last chance for romance before one unlucky chef gets kicked to the curb just shy of making it to the final four that will proceed to New Orleans.
In Stefan's words, "If you slip, you are in the bottom."
Of course, he's not worried at all. Oh no, he's Stefan -- he skinned eels as a young boy in Germany. "There is nothing that can go wrong" for him. But more on that later. Leah, on the other hand, is pretty worried. Like really worried, because guess what? "Cooking is the only thing [she's] ever been able to do really well." Apparently, she wasn't so good at college. Me thinks that she may have been spending a little too much time bending over for the frat boys instead of bending her head over her books like a good little student. But that's just me. Maybe I'm wrong about her. I mean if Carla used to be a model then maybe Leah is the monogamous sort who doesn't cheat on her boyfriend in front of television cameras. And maybe it really does make sense that Carla would start buying cookbooks when she was modeling. Because models just love eating and all.
With all the usual "back at the ranch" hi-jinks and sound bytes complete, the chefs are trooped into the kitchen for their final New York Quickfire Challenge with some molecular gastronomist named Wylie Dufresne as the guest judge. I don't really know who he is, but everyone seems super impressed (like they are when anyone other than Padma, Tom and Toby walks into the kitchen). Because Wylie's favorite meal of the day is breakfast, the chefs are challenged to create a dish with eggs. Everyone except Carla, who decides to do a take on "green eggs and ham," immediately starts freaking out about doing some crazy voodoo to their eggs. Fabio is "running like flash." and Hosea is musing about how he can turn the egg into something it's not. Like some monkey ass in a clam shell, perhaps? I don't know what Stefan is up to but it's okay because he knows he's "a great chef." As is usually the case with these fancy schmancy challenges, the simple dish prevails, and Carla is announced the winner. Fabio is on the bottom and is "pissed."
Padma wastes no time in announcing their Elimination Challenge. Each cheftestant draws the name of a "culinary master" and is charged to make him or her the dish that they would want for their last supper. Get it? Last supper? Because this is the last meal the chefs get to cook in New York? Someone's been using their noggin! (Hint: Not Leah)
Fabio draws Lydia Bastianich, who he describes as "the queen of the Italian cuisine in this country," and is asked to prepare a roast chicken with potatoes and a leafy salad. Carla draws Jacque Pepin, who requested roast squab with fresh peas, and is like eye-bugging out because she is "like this with peas," and clearly Jacque and her are "two peas in a pod." She is apparently really enjoying the bad puns in this episode, but as long as she's not talking love and light, I'm not complaining. The rest of the chefs receive their assignments -- Hosea will make shrimp scampi with provençal tomatoes for Susan Ungaro, Stefan will make salmon with spinach for Marcus Samuelsson, and Leah will make egg's benedict for Wylie Dufresne -- and then it's off to Whole Foods for some shopping.
Everything starts off well and good and normal. Leah reminds us that she "sucked ass in the last challenge," and then has trouble finding the eggs and butter in the store. (Hint: The dairy section.) Hosea still really wants to beat Stefan, but Stefan doesn't think Hosea has "the balls for being a chef." (Might have to consult Leah on that one.) The chefs get back to the kitchen and start their two hour prep, and just as the action starts getting good, there is a crash off-camera.
Fabio has broken his finger.
If I hadn't been so worried that the only chef I actually like this season might be going home, I might have been able to enjoy all of Fabio's classic commentary post-break. I couldn't, so I'm going to have to repeat it all here.
"I'll chop it up and sear it on the flattop so it doesn't bleed any more."
"I always say it so easy I can do it with one hand behind my back -- I don't mean it!"
"I got so many kick in my ass that sometime when I'm in the bathroom I still poop shoes out of my ass."
Thank you, and good night.
Well, not quite. There's still the whole cooking, serving, tasting and judge's table to get through. "This is 'Top Chef,' not 'Top Pussy'" as Fabio announces at the end of the episode.
The dishes go out and everyone is super freaked out because Tom Collichio comes in right before begging the chefs not to embarrass him. The stakes are like really high, remember? The judges and culinary masters have been seated around one side of a long rectangular table that is clearly set up in a way that is reminiscent of Da Vinci's depiction of Jesus' Last Supper. The presumption that these chefs are "god-like" is pretty off-puttingly brazen, but I'll keep my opinions focused on the food for now. Everyone loves Carla's "perfect" peas and even Tom is impressed by her "audacity... to do something so simple." Hosea's scampi is okay, but doesn't seem to make many waves, and no one seems to be particularly fond of Leah's runny hollaindaise sauce and slightly undercooked eggs. In a shocking turn of events, the table is unanimous that Stefan's fish, while well-seasoned, is overcooked. Guess he's not as good with salmon as he is with live eel...
And then there is Fabio's chicken. As he stands in front of the table, hiding his broken finger behind his back, my heart nearly explodes with compassion for the man with the broken accent. And then, it nearly explodes again when the judges all moan over his humble roast chicken that Tom declares is a dish that could "make [him]" as a chef. Hosea isn't the only one who is "close to tears" after the meal. I want to cry out of joy for Fabio, and nearly do when he is announced the winner over Carla.
Ultimately, Leah's lackluster egg's benedict proves to be the final knife in her long awaited coffin, and she is finally, gracefully, sent packing. I couldn't have asked for a better ending if I'd written it myself. Though I might have ex-nayed some of the sappy goodbye between her and Hosea. Not really feeling the whole "I have one more person to do this for" garbage that he's trucking out. I'm sure his girlfriend back home, ain't either.
For once this season, "Top Chef" did not disappoint. And for once, Stefan did.