And then there were four.
It sounds dramatic like that Agatha Christie murder mystery novel, but actually, it’s not. Anyone with a functioning brain (ie. not guest judges who giggle their way through dinner and decide to like something because of the color) knew this was coming. From day one, it seemed inevitable that the fab four of this season’s “Top Chef” – Kevin Red Beard, Jenn C. and the Voltaggio brothers – would face-off in a duel to the death.
Or, in this case, a duel for a spot in the finale of “Top Chef” Las Vegas. Of course, as far as these chefs are concerned, not winning would be akin to death. Or, for Mister Virtuous Voltaggio, letting down his two-year-old son who totally knows the difference between a “Top Chef” winner and loser. (He’s the perceptive sort. He also runs in airports.)
Brother Michael doesn’t claim to be there for anybody. He boldly reminds us, “Feelings or no feelings, I’m going for it no matter what.” Fortunately Kevin’s beard is there in full red glory to help lighten the tension. Apparently there’s a Facebook page devoted to people supporting his beard – they’re hoping he wins it for the hog-loving, bearded men everywhere. It’s a noble cause. We all like Kevin.
The four chefs are set to square off for their final challenges in the much more scenic Napa Valley (ie. there are no nudie bars), and upon their arrival are shuttled off to a train station to await their final Quickfire. A very pregnant Padma pulls into the station with guest judge Michael Chiarello, acclaimed owner and chef of Bottega. According to Michael V, he pioneered fine dining in Napa Valley. Yada yada yada – all we care about is that he made yummy quinoa pasta on “Top Chef Masters.”
Padma is wearing white (perhaps to appear virginal and chaste in spite of the Scarlet letter in her belly?), and Jenn refers to her as a “hot pregnant mom.” Except, of course, for the regrettable bangs.
In this week’s Quickfire – the last, and incidentally, dullest of the season – the chefs will have 30 minutes to cook with Napa’s signature crop, the grape. They’ll be working and serving on a moving train, which makes it extra fun for Kevin who suffers from motion sickness. Winner will get a 3rd Generation Prius, and we all fall asleep from boredom. Everyone does something fancy because there are no more Robins left, and Padma tells them in her throaty bedroom voice (that she is clearly putting to good use in real life), “Chefs, you all did a wonderful job celebrating the grape, but there can only be one Prius owner.” Which explains why there are ten at every stop light in LA.
Michael wins the car for his grape leaf stuffed with couscous vinegar, glazed grape, and kebab of grapes and scallops, and his head grows five sizes too big. It’s like the Grinch, but with the wrong organ. And he’s unnaturally tan, not green. And Bryan, Kevin and Jenn C. are not little Who’s in Whoville (even if Jenn does sort of look like one when she makes those sad puppy eyes because she has to keep driving her 2000 Civic without a cd player).
For the final Elimination challenge before the finale, the chefs are charged with catering the Napa Valley Crush Party. They will need to prepare two dishes using only local ingredients – one vegetarian, one featuring a local protein – for 150 people. Everybody seems jazzed about using the seasonal produce, except for Michael who is more jazzed about destroying everybody’s feelings with his macho farm-fresh eggs. He really does not like feelings, guys, ok?
Bryan also wants to win, but that sweet ole softy claims, “Michael and I both want the other to come too. If one of us has to go home, it would be disappointing.” Cut to Michael saying, “Would I feel a sense of relief if he leaves? Absolutely. Family or no family, we’re all here to win.” Cut to Bryan’s son crying at home.
We are really starting to dislike Michael who follows up that gem with the bold statements, “Fortunately for me [the eggs] come out perfect,” “the terrine was executed perfectly,” and “my soup tastes really good” with regards to his dishes for the evening. Right, we know, Michael. We love you, you’re perfect, now change. (Preferably into a certain someone who has a red beard and cooks simple food that doesn’t scare and confuse us.)
Service goes well for the four chefs – Tom likes Jenn’s duck because it’s “very ducky,” and Kevin throws us a delicious bone when he reveals that he shredded his meat because he likes “the ropy soft lusciousness of brisket rather than a just a big chunk of it.” He also likes his facial hair ropy and luscious. (As do his Facebook fans.)
Michael is super confident going into Judge’s Table, and thinks he has it “in the bag,” but with stakes this high, not even Golden Boy is safe from lashing this week. They lay into him for not taking the extra step to make sure his eggs for his vegetable pistou were clean and ready to serve. Jenn is also reprimanded for using a touch too much salt in her chevre mousse with honey, mushrooms and butter-braised radishes, and the judges also find fault with Kevin’s stringy brisket over polenta, and Bryan’s underseasoned sauce for his goat cheese ravioli. The judges however, are all universally impressed with Kevin’s beet and carrot salad which Tom describes as “stunning simplicity.” He goes on to say that “Sometimes restraint goes a long way.” Sword to Michael V.’s Grinchy heart – take that! Who’s feelings are hurting now?
Ultimately, Bryan is awarded the win for making the most of the farmer’s market fare with his ravioli and fig-glazed short rib, and Michael Volt takes another hit to his feelers because big brother knocked him off his high-ass horse. But really, at this point, we could care less about Michael’s tarnished ego. We are too busy looking at Jenn C’s heartbroken face when the judges tell her to pack her knives and go. I’m thinking that’s the face that’s going to get her mentor Eric Ripert to buy her a new car. Here’s hoping it’s even better than a Prius.