Moments before last night’s penultimate Top Chef started, I posted my Final Four rankings. How close did I come to being stupendously wrong? Soooo close.
Quickfire: In the most welcome “twist” of this season, Padma, Goddess of Cephalopod-Themed T&A, and Tom C., the Patron Saint of Dissatisfied Grimaces, met up with notably sedate Emeril Lagasse in the front yard of what looked like a setpiece from Double Jeopardy. I could shoot you in the middle of Mardi Gras, and they can’t touch me!
Twist, right: The Final Four learned that they would not be cooking. Rather, three exiled cheftestants would be battling for a spot in the second-to-last challenge. In the running? Surly Sue Jamie, more formally known, in all her regal mollusktisity, as the Duchess of Scallopshire; my Dr. Robert Chase-ian dude Jeff, who recently came out saying that he felt producers exploited him for his boyish, narrow-hipped appeal (well-played); and … Leah, who made awkward middle school flirty faces at Hosea. Nonono evilevilevil. Emeril told them to get busy on a crawfish dish.
Jeff ended up impressing the most with a crawfish/grits/andouille combo, earning him a chance to cook alongside the Final Four in the Elimination. (He would have to win the challenge, not just sneak through in the middle, to make the finale.) “Jeff’s mind has a couple people talking in it,” explained Jeff about himself in third person. I wonder what kind of people?
Elimination: Stefan, Carla, Fabio and Hosea, with their little Jeff +1, were given six hours to prepare two dishes (at least one Creole) and one cocktail for a 100-person masquerade ball organized by Mardi Gras parade brigade Krewe of Orpheus. (Go to their Web site ? you’ll be pleased to learn that the closeted Italian dude Salvatore from Mad Men is one of their special celebrity guests this year.)
Carla fun facts! She does not drink and cannot shuck oysters. (She also used to be a model!) She still managed, though, to complete an oyster stew and a shrimp/sausage beignet, and made the strange-at-the-time decision to offer a teetotaler’s cranberry/lime spritzer as her cocktail. Stefan, who made it a point to taunt Hosea repeatedly with phallic andouille portions (above), came out with a duck/rabbit gumbo over grits, an apple beignet and some cherry/cran/rum drink. Jeff offered a fried oyster with from-scratch sausage (impressive), a crawfish pot de creme and a smash-hit cucumber mojito. Hosea did a pecan-crusted catfish, a Hurricane and stirred his roux for 20 years like an old scoliosis-stricken Cajun lady to make his centerpiece gumbo. Fabreezy, who likened the masquerade ball to an “old porno movie” (borrow please? thx), went slightly Medi with it, cooking crawfish/crab caserecci pasta with his a sausage/rabbit maque chouxÿ and a macerated red bell pepper tipple.
Despite her inexperience popping shells (girl coulda just steamed them, said Tom C.), Carla took home the win (and a Toyota) by impressing Emeril with her refined plates and shockingly successful non-booze beverage. (That’s truly a testament if she came out on top lubricating the judges with cups of juice.) Jeff (oh, Jeff) was so very close to winning, but came up just short ? all the textures/flavors were there for the panel (now featuring Gail!), but he didn’t bring it home quite as strong as the last lady standing. Hosea, OF COURSE, snuck by in the middle, but to his credit, Emeril gave him daps for doing that gumbo the right way. Right now, he is probably wearing a stupid three-quarter-sleeve baseball T-shirt with a picture of the “Chocolate Rain” guy on it.
Bottom two: Fabio and Stefan. Oh, the foreign-born humanity. Judges had some nit-picky stuff for Stefan, but they were mostly sour on his attitude. (Why now? He’s been acting like this the entire season.) Gail also felt that his food “didn’t have soul,” which is a preposterous and amazing thing to hear Gail say. For Fab, the pasta sauce needed more heat and the bell pepper cocktail was too sweet, and that was enough to send him on his way. What do you think? Did the right Euro go home? I’m inclined to say yes, but that’s mostly because I dubbed Stefan the champ before the fact.ÿ
Next week: Finale Part 2. I’ve always admired the format of the Top Chef season ender ? no flaming hoops, Diet Dr. Pepper desserts or wriggling invertebrates. Just cook us the best meal you’ve ever cooked. As impressive as Carla was in E13, I’m sticking to my swami guns: Stefan will just barely edge out Carla to take the title, and Hosea will present something perfectly good, but not life-altering. How are y’all seeing it?