Before we begin this week’s recap, an apology: We thought last week’s show was the penultimate episode, but it turns out we underestimated the ability of Bravo’s producers to drag this out as long as possible. Silly us. As it turns out, this week’s episode really is the penultimate of this season’s Top Chef—and we have haunting guitar music to prove we are no longer in Chicago but have moved to Puerto Rico for the finale. Stephanie, Richard, and Antonia reconvene at the airport, exchanging hugs and smiles—they haven’t seen each other in six months, after all. The three seem less thrilled, however, to be reunited with Lisa, who is sporting a fly new haircut.
The chefs head to a beachside restaurant where they find Padma and . . . is that Tom? Yes? No? Yes? Ah, no—it turns out to be a Tom Colicchio look-alike, chef Wilo Benet of Pikayo restaurant in Puerto Rico. “He probably most embodies Puerto Rican cuisine,” Richard explains helpfully.
Padma announces the Quickfire Challenge: The chefs will create frituras, or fried snacks, incorporating plantain as a key ingredient. They dart about the tiny kitchen, unfamiliar with the space; Richard almost singes his mohawk when the stove ignites in a burst of flame. The usual shots of cooking, plating, and agonized faces follow before the four present their frituras to Wilo and Padma. Richard is in the bottom with his dry meatballs and raw-tasting plantain salsa. Antonia joins him with her crispy oysters, accompanied by an unfortunately slimy plantain jam. Stephanie wins with her pork-and-shrimp fritter and tostones topped with seared tuna. It’s her first Quickfire Win! Awww!
Wilo invites the chefs to a party where we keep expecting Padma to drop a cooking-challenge bombshell. Alas, we instead get shots of Padma dancing surprisingly groovily and discover that Richard “doesn’t dance.” Please. Richard’s an awkward white guy with a faux-hawk. Tell us something we don’t know.
Cut to the Elimination Challenge: Padma stands outside Puerto Rico’s beautiful governor’s mansion with a bald man, and we have another one of those “Is it Tom? Is it Wilo?” moments. This time, however, it really is Tom. He whisks a tarp off the table to reveal a whole baby pig, which the chefs will use to create dishes for an evening party at the mansion. Each chef will have extra help from . . . a former contestant! Enter Dale, Spike, Andrew, and Nikki. As Quickfire Winner, Stephanie will assign the sous chefs. Because she is sunny and sweet, as opposed to Machiavellian with bad posture, Stephanie attempts to create friendly pairs. She will work with Dale, Spike with Richard, Nikki with Antonia, and Andrew with Lisa. Everyone hugs and kisses except for Andrew and Lisa, who glare at each other from across the room, the memory of Lisa’s episode-ten disloyalty looming between them like a herd of pigs. Hmmm, maybe Stephanie isn’t so sweet after all.
The chefs dive into the kitchen, and there are lots of shots of the butchering process accompanied by the gruesome sound of knife upon bone. The pairs work well together, with only a few minor scuffles between Lisa and Andrew. Alas, as the chefs leave the kitchen for the day, we discover that, unbeknownst to her, Stephanie’s pork belly has been left out of the fridge. It sits out all night, presumably collecting bacteria, and come the next day she’s forced to throw it away.
Never mind, because Stephanie is still in the top two, with her pork satay on sugarcane skewers, coconut-braised pork with black-plantain pancake, and, her last-minute replacement, a tropical-fruit salad with prosciutto and crunchy pigskin. Richard is also in the top with his barbecue pork shoulder, pork ribs with Malta glaze, and fresh ham with local beans. Although Wilo loved Stephanie’s satay, he proclaims Richard the winner and presents him with a new car. Richard is speechless for a few minutes, but he revives once Wilo hands him the car keys, going hog-wild with excitement (sorry, we couldn’t resist).
And guess who’s in the bottom again? Lisa, of course, with her citrus-braised pork belly accompanied by an overly sweet plantain mash and her soggy pork tostone. She’s joined by Antonia, who undercooked her pigeon peas and made the silly decision to serve all of her dishes—including a pork curry—on the same plate, causing the flavors to run together. “Both of you were competing at sort of a B+,” says Tom. Talk about damning with faint praise.
Antonia tries to defend her crunchy beans by saying, “I do enjoy my beans more on the al dente side.” But as Gail points out, “There’s no such thing as al dente beans.” Antonia packs her knives, which means . . . Lisa’s going to the final. Lisa’s going to the final?! We feel traumatized, as if someone just told us Dick Cheney will be Vice President for four more years. Of course, Antonia is sad—there are tears and more references to her daughter—but as she leaves she whispers to Stephanie, “Kick their ass!”
And now there are three. Sadly, one of those three is Lisa, who bitterly berates Richard and Stephanie for not congratulating her. “It’s like you think they sent the wrong person home,” she says. Yes, and so do we.
For last week's Top Chef recap, click here.