Well, my fellow Top Chef fans, we made it through to the final 4 reveal. Does anyone else feel slightly…blasé? Last year, the fighting Voltaggio Brothers, the seriously sultry (or sultriously serious?) Jen, and the loveable Yukon Cornelius (Kevin Gillespie) promised a showdown. This year’s final 4 promises that Angelo will mutter at least two or three sexual metaphors when describing his dish in the finale. But first, two great tastes that taste illegal together, drinking and outer space travel!
So, we start off with Kevin stressing, Kelly getting teary-eyed over her husband, and some more insight into Angelo’s personal life (oh….so that’s where that baby came from!) All of this emotion from our tired chefs, it made me anticipate a lot more meltdowns this round than there actually were. All of the major mistakes happened in the Quickfire, judged by Dana Cowin of Food & Wine magazine ( as a girly sidenote: I miss her pixie cut. As a lady with short hair, I’m always thrilled seeing more of my kind on the air). It was a wine and food pairing challenge and some of the chefs forgot how delicate a balance this can be. Kevin’s original plan was a braised pork belly with his merlot, but anyone can tell you, braising pork belly in less than an hour, even with a pressure cooker, is not a smart move. Kevin had to scrap this plan and go with quail with shaved apple and fennel salad. Again, anyone , even the most devout Boones Farm devotee, can tell you that a Merlot would overpower this delicate dish. Meanwhile, Kelly went overboard with her boar tenderloin, throwing in the kitchen sink and a blue cheese reduction. A Zinfandel is way too light to carry a heavy dish like that. Ed’s wagyu with a potato risotto with a Il Pogglione was enough to keep him safe in the middle.
The top two were no surprises; Tiffany, who noted her inexperience with wine, did well with her choice of a cocoa and black pepper crusted Waygu tenderloin with a Shiraz because of its bold flavor was a good move. However, I knew Angelo would blow everyone away because of three magical words, sauteed fois gras. Combined with a fennel salad and a glass of Evolution white wine, this sounded like the perfect pairing of the group and Angelo was justifiably awarded with a trip to London.
Onto the elimination challenge, where the chefs were asked by NASA to create a dish that would hold up well freeze-dried in space travel. It did give me a little thrill to see the two astronauts introducing the challenge float in zero gravity, being a sci-fi nerd myself, it’s still a dream of mine to travel through space. Back to the food, this challenge meant a reduction in the use of sugar, a close look at the sizing and portioning of the food, an abundance of spice, and most importantly, a taste that could remind an astronaut of home back on Earth. Plus, they had to impress an array of diners, including Buzz “Footsteps on the Moon” Aldrin and Anthony “Loveable Curmudgeon and Tony’s namesake” Bourdain.
Only Kevin seemed to get the “feels like home” part right, his strip steak with bacon jalapeno marmalade may have been safe, but it was well made and homey. Compared to Kevin’s warm and fuzzy dish, Kelly’s pan-roasted halibut was a little too methodical, but hit the right crunchy notes with the panel with the artichoke salad.
I hated Tom’s comment about Ed’s dish, “are there Middle Eastern astronauts?” As if no one outside of the Middle East would find a yogurt-marinated rack of lamb and hummus mouth-watering? I’m glad his dish put Tom to shame. “The Ripper”, as Bourdain called Eric Ripert, may have thought it was too complicated, but the flavor combination and amount of spice seemed to address the challenge.
Tiffany was the only one was a major misstep; her mussels froze and were unusable for her dish. Without the juice from those mussels, she went a little crazy with fish sauce in her halibut with coconut rice. This dish seemed out of left field for Tiffany, she’s been focus on simple, homespun seafood, this dish reeked of Angelo instead of Tiffany’s doing.
Speaking of Angelo, I liked his meticulousness this round, even going as far as instructing his servers to keep the mushrooms at six o’clock on the plate. Plus, he used one of my favorite things together, short rib with a horseradish creme fraiche. I hate to say it, but Angelo might be winning me over.
So, no shock here, Angelo is in the Top 4 and excited to go to Singapore for the finale because he feels that he “is Asian inside.” Yep, a comment that makes me uncomfortable and squirm in my seat, that’s the Angelo I know. But my heart breaks for Tiffany. I liked her and seeing her humble beginnings as an IHOP server to the chef we know made me realize how far she has come and how much I think she deserves to at least be in the top 3. But hose stupid mussels ruined that, but at least she should win “Fan Favorite.”
So, next week, we’re moving down to a Top 3, lots of sweating, and a possible showdown between Ed and Angelo?