Let’s be honest: We all went into last night’s finale thinking it would be a clear win for Stefan, but here in Washington everyone crossed their fingers and said a little prayer for our hometown girl, Carla. Hosea cruised into the finals only because the producers loved that he caused drama with Stefan, right?
Here’s the chefs’ challenge: Cook the best three-course meal of your life, and do it in the kitchen of the venerable New Orleans restaurant Commander’s Palace. Surprise, surprise—the cheftestants will have help. Casey, Marcel, and Richard, three also-rans from previous Top Chef seasons, saunter in. Stefan grabs Marcel to form Team Mean, Hosea goes for molecular-gastronomy whiz Richard, and Carla’s pumped to have Casey.
When the chefs begin to prep, Hosea tries to hoard all the foie gras, causing a shouting match with Stefan. Casey convinces Carla to cook a New York strip-loin sous-vide, a method using sealed plastic bags and a circulating water bath . . . and one that Carla’s never done. Eek, Carla—stick to your guns!
We get a quick clip of the chefs with a tarot-card reader, and Stefan murmurs something about stabbing voodoo dolls and Carla. Don’t hate the player, Stefan; hate the game.
The next day, Tom throws in a curve ball: The contestants have to cook a passed hors d’oeuvre, using one of three local ingredients, before the meal. Hosea gets to choose who cooks which surprise ingredient after he gets the piece of king cake with a baby in it. He chooses redfish, gives Carla blue crab, and forces the whole alligator on Stefan. But Stefan’s been cooking for 23 years, no problem.
The next three hours make us tear up as we watch Carla go down in flames. A blue crab pinches her, then she forgets to turn down the oven on her bleu-cheese soufflés (another brilliant idea from Casey). We’re left wondering why she’s even doing a cheese course. Doesn’t she remember her glorious victories with perfect pie crusts and pastry doughs? Just channel that inner love, girl!
All of the hors d’oeuvres go over well: Hosea’s blackened redfish, Stefan’s alligator soup, and Carla’s shiso soup with blue crab. One of the 12 judges turns out to be none other than the newly mohawked Fabio, and he’s more than happy to give his opinion now that he can’t go home victorious to his mother, sick grandmother, wife, kids, and any other poor souls he promised to save.
Carla’s first course, redfish with a saffron aïoli, gets praise from Ti Martin, proprietor of Commander’s Palace, and from Toby Young, who says the dish has “lots of personality.” The judges aren’t happy that Stefan’s carpaccio is watery because he froze the fish before he sliced it. Washington one, Finland zero.
But Stefan redeems himself with his squab. And Gail “Can’t Stop Eating” Hosea’s foie-gras-happy dish with pain perdu. Here begins Carla’s demise: Her sous-vide meat is tough, and all the judges can sense it doesn’t seem like her cooking. She digs herself a deeper hole with her failed dessert. The dish, served sans the failed soufflés, is just an apple coin with a bleu-cheese-and-walnut salad. Sniffle. The presentation of Stefan’s dessert, according to Gail, “is so 1982.” Hosea’s pan-roasted venison is earthy and delicious, but Hubert Keller chimes in that he shied away from dessert, which proves a glaring weakness.
Carla crawls to the judges’ table with her tail between her legs. Before Tom even says that she let her sous chef talk her out of her food, she’s in tears. Hosea is mildly chided by Toby Young for a lack of citrus in his first course, a trio of raw fish, but his second course hit it out of the park and Gail loved his venison. Stefan gets high marks for his alligator soup and squab, but his appetizer is lame, and Padma says his dessert is “pedestrian at best.”
When Padma asks each why he or she should win Top Chef, Stefan replies: “I deserve it.” Then Carla keeps on crying, and a little part of us dies. The judges promise her they love her food and tell Hosea he put together a steady meal. Stefan, says Tom, “had some really high highs and some really low lows.”
With Carla out of the running, the judges think exactly what we’re thinking: Stefan’s a cocky jerk, and Hosea should win. Who saw that one coming? Spike Mendelsohn, actually, when he came in for a chat with us after the first episode.
Leah runs up to Hosea and plants a wet one right on his lips. So not only does he take home $100,000, but he also gets the girl. It’ll be one good night for him. Take that, Stefan!
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