Part two of the “Top Chef” Las Vegas finale feels a bit anti-climactic now that Jenn C., Eric Ripert’s protégé and huge Pebbles fan, has packed her knives and gone. Even the boys seem to miss her – wondering what she’s doing as they sit around pretending not to be nervous about the biggest day in their careers ever that may or may not make or break their future as a chef forever and ever amen. The Volts and K Beard muse that Jenn is detoxing and all start giggling because detox is apparently really funny. I giggle too even though it seems like kind of an inside joke that I don’t really get because I’m an outsider and Bravo hasn’t show us that side of Jenn. Yet.
Now that the big showdown of the fab four is over, all that’s left is the great battle of the brothers Voltaggio, who Kevin Red Beard knows are “going to bring it” like they’ve never brought it before. But Kevin isn’t afraid. The South will rise again! With pork! And bacon! And heart burn to last a life time!
With no Quickfire Challenge this week, the boys are given their Elimination Challenge at the beginning of the episode. They are to create a three course meal according to the following parameters – for the first course they are required to use all the ingredients in a “mystery box” that each chef will receive, the second course is up to them, and the third course must be a dessert. Kevin is a little terrified since he’s “not really known for doing desserts” – only eating them.
Before bringing in their surprise sous chefs for the challenge, Tom again reminds them that “this meal can make your career.” Just in case they weren’t nervous enough already. That established, Tom announces that instead of getting Rocco Dispirito and fancy dancy chefs to help them out like in past seasons, they get to work with their former colleagues – Robin, et all! And for extra fun, they have to draw knives to select their two sous – one who will assist them with prep, and one who will assist them the next day.
Bryan is happy with his selections – Jennifer and Ashley, Michael feels good about his draws – Eli and Jessie – as well, but Kevin, who gets Pretti and Ash, is not too pleased. His face is starting to flare up, and it gets me wondering if I need to start calling him Kevin Red Face instead of Kevin Red Beard. He says in a huff, “Pretti is mostly going to cut some vegetables for me,” and spends the entire 3-hour prep session being mad Kevin instead of jovial Santa Claus Kevin with a big bowl full of bacon. Meanwhile, the camera keeps cutting to Michael talking about how conservative Bryan is compared to him. Apparently Bravo really wants us to know that Bryan is boring and safe and a big wet blanket, and Michael is, well not.
After finishing up their prep session, the three chefs are all ready for their next curveball. It’s all they can talk about. What’s the curveball? Where’s the curveball? Is it in Kevin’s Beard? Hiding in Michael’s gelled hair forest? Lost somewhere up Bryan’s butt – right next to the big stick, perhaps?
Then the door bell rings and… the curveball is… their mothers!
“It’s a pretty pleasant surprise; it’s a lot better than I thought it would be,” says Kevin who was scared Padma would show up in another onesie or space suit, and ask them all to feed her breakfast in Michael’s bed.
It’s a nice moment, until the curveball inside the curveball is revealed – they must prepare an additional course dedicated to their mom that is inspired by their favorite childhood dish. For Bryan that equates to tuna noodle casserole (yawn), for Michael that equates to doing some crazy stuff to broccoli, which he hated as a child, and for Kevin that equates to doing crispy chicken skin because, well, he’s Kevin. I think. I get a little confused when they show pictures of him graduating HS without a beard.
We don’t like Kevin without a beard.
The crazy box of ingredients that includes Pacific rockfish, Dungeness crab, kabocha squash, meyer lemon, matsutake mushrooms, and anise hyssop, is also throwing the chefs for a loop – especially Michael, who doesn’t know what he’s going to do with it until the day of service, and Kevin, who is not feeling too good about the matsutake mushroom because they don’t come from a pig. Michael finally finds his mojo, but reveals that the judges will probably think that his dish “doesn’t look like the food that Michael usually cooks, but then when they get into it they’ll find me, you know, in there.” I sort of enjoy the mental image of a miniature Michael popping up behind a mushroom. “Hi guys! It’s me -- Michael! I can cook Kevin’s food in my sleep with one hand tied behind my back! And, guess what? Bryan is conservative! Yadda yadda yadda, I’m hot.”
Other (un)shocking revelations of the day include Kevin telling us that “pork is [his] thing, it’s [his] jam,” and Bryan’s declaration that he hunts “not for sport, but to get more in tune with [his] ingredients.” Sigh. Of course he does. We also learn that Kevin is hell-bent on putting bacon in his dessert and wants to get “an award from the bacon council” for doing so. We think that if this bacon council doesn’t already exist and this whole “Top Chef” thing doesn’t work out for Kevin, he should start one. And make bacon awards in the shape of his face.
Judging the final elimination are Gail, Tom, Padma, Toby Young, James Beard winner Douglas Keane; President/CEO of Terlota wines, Bill Terlota; and restaurateurs Donatella Arpai, Stephen Starr, Drew Nieporent, and Sam Nazarian who, incidentally used to be Michael’s boss at the Bazaar. It’s a stern looking crowd so we are happy when the moms are asked to join the party for the first course. Seriously guys, is it that hard to smile? Sam? Errr… okay, no.
The first courses come out and everybody loves Kevin’s southern fried chicken skin squash casserole. Especially mom who is like so proud and cute we want to love her and squeeze her and Kevin to little fatty chicken bits and then pull their crispy skin off and eat it. Other highlights are Bryan’s venison saddle with puree of sunchokes and orange juniper sauce and his dulce de leche cheesecake; and Michael’s dashi-glazed rockfish. Sammy boy is not so impressed with Bryan’s rockfish preparation which he likens to “a blind date you don’t want to go on.” I guess this would explain why Michael worked for Bazaar and not Bryan?
At Judge’s table we learn that Bryan showed too much restraint in his dishes, Michael’s dessert could have been great had his chocolate caramel coulant not been dry, and that Kevin’s pork just wasn’t porky enough this week. Kevin is axed for having an “off night” that may or may not have something to do with his sous chef woes. Regardless, we still love Kevin Red Beard. According to Tom, he “showed us that Southern food is more than just biscuits and gravy.” (Really he just showed us that it’s just bacon and pork and chicken skin, but we like all three so we aren’t complaining.)
It’s now down to the two Volts for the title of “Top Chef” and Padma tries her best to get them to cry or hug or say, “Give it to Bryan,” “No, give it to Michael,” “No, Bryan,” “No, Michael.” Yadda yadda yadda.
They aren’t having it.
But then Michael wins it and he actually does start crying and then Bryan starts crying and their mom comes out, and she starts crying, and it’s just like snot and tears everywhere.
We kind of like it when Bravo lets the chefs have their hearts back. Michael’s is especially un-Grinch like tonight. He’s “more proud of the fact that Bryan and [he] made it all the way to the end than [he is] about winning the entire competition.” We almost believe him when he says he wishes that both of them could win.
But not quite. He wouldn’t be Michael if he didn’t enjoy beating his brother. And you know what? That’s sort of a-okay with us.