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Review Wed Jun 11 2008

Episode 14: The Banana Scallop Returns

We join Bravo in the middle of the Iongest recap in history. It has a countdown!

Three Drive-Thruers are better than one. Lori, Robyn and Andie bring you: the Top Chef finale. Oh, the pressure, the heat, the memory montage of our favorite moments this season (Stephanie’s shaking hands, Lisa’s rice debacle... sorry, debacles). At least the final three cheftestants get breakfast while contemplating their impending fate – mmm, Richard’s eggs smell good! But he doesn’t think Lisa should win.

Note: Spoilers live here.

The three finalists meet up with three real chefs for the explanation of the final challenge: April Bloomfield from the Spotted Pig, Dan Barber from Blue Hill and Eric Ripert from Le Bernardin (oooh, chills). The final three need to create a four course meal with fish, poultry, red meat, and a dessert. Yes, dammit, dessert, no whining. And the real chefs are the sous-chefs. Having Eric Ripert must be kind of like having Prince as your back-up singer, right? As if the pressure weren’t intense enough. Richard and Stephanie are tied on elimination wins, so tied to pick their sous-chef first – Stephanie pulls the winning knife and picks Ripert, bien sur. Richard goes for Barber, leaving Apirl with Lisa (and probably a burning desire to go home and just eat an “I’m-sorry-for-myself” pie. I would.)

April seems a little uneasy cooking Asian with Lisa. Or maybe it’s just being in an enclosed space with Lisa and lots of knives. Barber seems a little unsure of Richard. And Eric Ripert seems totally supportive of Stephanie. Until she starts acting like a helicopter chef and demanding thinner slices of fish. The French annoyance seems to come out a little. Richard’s special request is liquid nitrogen – pulling out the geek guns. Ripert seems a little freaked out, but totally intrigued by making ice cream with liquid nitrogen. April and Lisa are…bonding? Seems like everyone is learning something new in the prep kitchen.

The next morning the cheftestants arrive at the kitchen they have to work in and the sous-chefs are no where to be seen. Tom tells the three concerned chefs that they’re going to be on their own, and therefore, the winner of this challenge truly deserves to be called Top Chef. Lisa decides to go for a sticky black rice dessert, something that backfired for her on a recent episode. Stephanie, barely making eye contact with Tom, stutters out her dessert, a ricotta pound cake that she’s eaten once but enjoyed. Richard again opts for his banana scallops for dessert, accompanied by “bacon ice cream” that he makes with his smoking tub of liquid nitrogen. As the chefs move tensely through the kitchen, Lisa goes into snarl mode. She tells Stephanie she doesn’t want to hear about her being nervous. Then she tells the camera that she’s not nervous a bit. Hmmph.

The dinner guests—Padma, Tom, Ted Allen, Gail Simmons and the sous chefs from the day before…joined by the Mr. Zagat himself for the meal. The cheftestants give an overview of what they’re about to serve. The guests seem intrigued. The first course is Lisa’s prawns, Steph’s snapper in a teacup, and Richard decides to start with scallops. White-gloved waiters bring out the first rounds. Richard’s and Steph’s appetizers deliver. Lisa’s gets nothing but frowns. Steph’s is “almost really good,” according to Mr. Zagat. The second dishes roll out: all cheftestants get nods for their work. Tom and Gail get all bitchy about the leeks in Steph’s second course.

The third course comes out after a preparation montage. Richard’s pork gets frowns for the pressure-cooked style. Lisa’s dish gets mixed reviews for overly sweet sauce. Stephanie’s, once again, hits hard with the olive and pistachio. Tom declares that Richard’s dish needs work, Lisa’s is pedestrian, and S’s is full of surprises and horns. Why does his expression never match the intensity of his words?

The dessert course emerges. Richard and Lisa get applause and Stephanie hits her first hog of the evening with her ricotta pound cake, which is described as “too eggy” by Mr. Zagat.

Judgment Eve. Richard is up first. Tom wonders about the concept of the scallops – which Richard thought should have been a flavor explosion, though the judges criticized it for being underseasoned. Lisa’s dish was assertive, but maybe too hot – and it wasn’t clear if it was intentional. Ted dug the square potato chips – not the fireness with Lisa thinks personifies herself. Stephanie’s fish was well-liked all around – rich but not Campbell’s clam chowder, says Padma. The foie gras in Richard’s second dish might have been overkill and over-muddled the flavors. Lisa is all about the soup-dumjpling (is that a thing?) but everyone seemed to really like the soup. Stephanie’s quail and lobster ravioli were great, but again, those leeks – were they cooked, were they accidental? The mystery continues. Richard’s pork belly could have been crispier, but he fell victim to the siren song of sous-vide. Tom calls Lisa out for undercooking the Wagyu and not allowing its fatty notes to come out, and Gail didn’t like the sweet sauce. Stephanie’s lamb with braised pistachios and olives was full of surprises and a big favorite. Richard’s banana scallops were well-liked, but Padma reminds everyone that…we’ve seen these before… Lisa’s rice pudding was well-liked for its flavors and texture. Stephanie liked the flavors in her poundcake and banana crème, but Tom says it was a miss overall.

Last words? Stephanie faults second-guessing herself, and even invokes Dale, wise and calm sage that he is (?) for his advice to calm down. Lisa, of course, is totally confident. Richard says he choked. Whaaa? Tom looks deeply disappointed, or is possibly trying to hide a smile… Gail is shocked, shocked! (The preview of the last stretch really seemed to promise more drama – Richard didn’t poison all the food? Replace all the proteins with tofu? Come on. Bravo, don’t tease me.) Tom agrees with the statement a little, and the judges seem to appreciate that Richard is also aware of his missteps – more so than the others. The judges poll each course. Sad shot of Richard moping – this sadness brought to you by boxes of Evian, apparently.

We’re back at the Plaza of Final Judgment. The prizes are recapped: $100K, a trip to Europe, and the Title. Of. Top. Chef. The judges start with a rundown compliment montage, and…Stephanie is the WINNER! The discarded cheftestants from the entire season also run out to congratulate her. Lisa curses. Richard cries. We end with a shot of the empty judge's table, as Padma and Tom have been re-covered in plastic and returned to the prop department. See you next time.

What happened during the last episode?

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Meghan / June 12, 2008 9:06 AM

Nice job, gals. I've been a fan of DT's recaps of Top Chef since the season started. Yours are the best!

What with Grant Achatz's James Beard award and Stephanie's winning Top Chef, I'm proud to be Chicago food enthusiast!

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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