This is it guys. The last challenge in Las Vegas. The stakes are high, the tension is building, and everybody is freaking out. Except for Michael Volt. Because, well, he’s Michael Voltaggio, gastro god, and his arm tattoos make him invincible to harm. Or, more accurately, like a pretty boy who is trying really hard to look macho while he slices cucumbers.
Eli makes the profound revelation that he and former “Top Chef” contestant Richard Blais are BFFs, and I suddenly lose all respect for Richard. He really had Eli as his best man at his wedding? And more importantly, does this mean that Eli wore something other than a white undershirt?
Gavin Kaysen, who represented the US in the Bocuse d’Or, the most serious cooking competition in the world, is judging this week’s Quickfire Challenge with Padma. I know he’s supposed to be this big bad chef and all, but I just can’t get over how small he looks next to her. She’s wearing a man suit with a puffy shirt a la “Seinfeld,” and Gavin looks like he’s her little ventriloquist dummy. But apparently he’s no dummy, guys. He cooked in the Bocuse d’Or! Better write that name down. Because it won’t be mentioned more than 100 times in this episode.
For the Quickfire, the remaining five chefs have 90 minutes to create their own version of Gavin’s Bocuse d'Or dish – a ballantine which consists of a protein in a protein in a protein. Jenn giggles, “I’m going to make a turducken.” She’s not, but I appreciate her sense of humor during do or die time. Everyone else is far too serious. C’mon, where did all the smiles go? Are they hiding in Kevin’s beard? Michael is especially crotchety. He says of Jenn, “At this point in the competition, there’s not a whole lot left for her to do.”
Oh contraire, Sir Voltaggio! Jen wins the Quickfire for her calamari steak stuffed with salmon and scallops, and Gavin gives Michael a slap on the wrist for not actually making a ballantine. Michael sulks, “I don’t get where he’s coming from.” Hmmm me neither. Maybe he’s from Munchkin land in Oz?
With no immunity awarded for the Quickfire, Jenn must rally again for the Elimination Challenge, which, surprise surprise, also relates to the Bocuse d'Or! It’s a really big deal. Like huge. Like Michael’s head big.
For this final challenge, the chefs will be competing in the “Top Chef” version of the competition (it’s called the Bocuse d'Or in case you forgot), and each will have to create a presentation platter with one protein and two garnishes. They have a choice of either lamb or salmon as their protein (can you guess which one Kevin will pick?), and will then have to concoct two garnishes that showcase their technique and skill. Gavin gives the example of a zucchini that’s been woven into a basket, and Kevin’s pig tattoo almost runs off his skin and goes “wee wee wee all the way home!”
The stakes are kicked up even further when Padma reveals they will be cooking for twelve judges, including Thomas Keller and representatives from the American advisory for the Bocuse d'Or. The winner will not only make it to the next round, but will also receive $30,000 courtesy of the M Resort and a chance to compete for a spot in the… what’s it called again? Oh, right, the Bocuse d'Or-- almost forgot because nobody said it for 1.2 seconds!
The chefs are off to Whole Foods, and I start to worry about Kevin when he says he has no dish planned whatsoever. He later asks Bryan how to sous vide lamb and visions of Googly Eyes Carla start dancing in my head. “No Kevin, don’t do it,” I want to scream out. Bryan’s a good guy though and gives him a quick 101, and says, “Being a chef is very much about sharing information. Some believe that. Some don’t. My brother might not believe that.” You think?
Tension in the kitchen is high the next day. Nobody’s really talking now that chatter box Robin is gone, which means there is far too much cooking and actual chefery going on. Tom comes in to do his usual unsettling Q&A’s mid-way through, and Eli tells Tom he’s trying to do things he’d normally do and make them small and sexy and tight – just like his white undershirts. Tom nods. Your undershirts are not sexy, he thinks.
The dining room is a bastion of cruelty this week. Gone are the giggling Natalie Portman and useless magicians – these 12 judges mean business. As Michael says, “They’re here to look for flaws in the food.” I’m guessing this means Padma will not be likening anything to a small prick in her mouth nor declaring to Thomas Keller, “I’ve actually had bulls testacles.” Oh no, these judges are hard core – they are out to maim the chefs for their shortcomings without the use of sexual innuendo. Kevin’s poached lamb loin with beets and baked asparagus, while well-liked, is described as “elementary,” and Michael’s salmon dish with cauliflower chickpea cake and cucumbers stuffed with caviar, is slammed for lacking harmony. Nobody understands why he is describing it as Mediterranean. Bryan’s dish, a crusted lamb with orzo pasta gratin contains harmony and vision, but is criticized for the undercooked lamb. Eli also struggles with undercooked lamb, and Jenn’s lightly poached salmon is inconsistently cooked.
Despite the mishaps, everybody is really proud. The chefs are proud, Tom is proud, even Thomas Keller is proud. There is a lot of pride in the kitchen tonight, guys. And not all of it is inside Michael’s big ole handsome head!
Judge’s table is a repeat of what we already know from the dining room. Kevin’s dish was a little simple, Michael shouldn’t have described his dish as Mediterranean, and Bryan, Jenn and Eli all failed to execute their proteins properly. Ultimately, however, Kevin Red Beard is awarded the win for not screwing anything up, and Eli is sent home for serving Sean Bocuse d'Or raw pieces of lamb fat. He cries, and says, “I’m totally ok with going home because of who is going forward instead of me.” A sign of maturity? I think so. Especially since he’s wearing a clean red shirt – not an undershirt – when he says it.