This season’s finale seemed to come out of nowhere; it seems like just yesterday, I was being grossed out by chef John’s nasty long dreadlocks, and now we’re at part one of the finale. Maybe it’s because of the format of this episode’s elimination challenge, a team event (!), that I don’t feel ready to name anyone as a Top Chef.
First, we are treated to fleeting shots of what “Top Chef” producers deem to sum up what is Singapore, which seems to be mainly statues, lanterns, boats passing skyscrapers, skewered meat, and bicycles abound Kelly gushes about being there, Ed warns that the finale will hold some bloodshed, and Kevin looks like he’s going to go on a lion safari. It’s interesting that they didn’t show Angelo’s thoughts about being there, maybe his “I’m Asian inside” remark last episode made the producers a little wary?
Tom Collichio shows up with Seetoh, who is evidently the man when it comes to great street food. No surprise, the challenge is a street food challenge, but with a twist. Based on Seetoh’s tour of street food vendors, the chefs had to use local ingredients provided and were given no English markers to identify them by. It was all a matter of knowing the palate of Asian food, trusting your own knowledge of spices and produce, and being able to use the tools, like a wok. Can I just say that I find Kevin’s lack of knowledge about cooking with a wok insane? Other than the fact that you can buy one anywhere in the US, when you’re going to Singapore for the finale, you better study up and bring your A-game, no excuses!
So, no surprise that Kevin doesn’t fare as well in this quickfire, although it wasn’t a complete disaster. His seafood stew, complete with lobster and cuttlefish and topped with crispy shallots got some praise for its texture. But Padma rightly asked “What’s wrong with you?!!?”when he admitted that he didn’t spend time before practicing with a wok. Seetoh called his dish sophisticated and complex, however, I can’t tell if that’s a good thing here.
Angelo took a dangerous route by switching his protein from crab to frog legs, but his chile frog legs with pineapple and rambutan (a lychee-like fruit) salsa However, I kind of hate when the chefs start dictating how to eat their food. I know in some cases, like with Gene’s “make your own sushi roll” in Season 5, you should give some instruction, but most of the time, I find it’s a little pushy. Regardless, Seetoh praised him for his robust flavors.
Kelly went with a noodle dish with a ton of seafood like lobster and cockles (cockles are my favorite, but since moving from Virginia to Raleigh, they’re a little hard to find, any suggestions?) . Seetoh was a little less praising with her dish, only really noting how she captured the taste of the sea with her broth.
Surprisingly, Ed walked away with the quickfire win with his stir-fried noodles and gai lin (which is described as a kind of asparagus?). Seetoh was impressed with the way that his noodles captured the flavors of Singapore street food. For his win, Ed was give immunity from elimination, which I call BS on. At this point of the game, no one should be given a free ride and it makes me wonder if the show thought someone would need a little boost. I hope we don’t see this become a regular thing with this series.
Onto the elimination challenge! Ed’s facebook BFF Dana Cowin is hosting a dinner for 80 people and the chefs are asked to prepare a menu that is a last minute and based on local cuisine. Plus, they’d be working as a team, which again, I call BS! I want to see a competition at this point and I feel like a team challenge doesn’t exactly let the chefs shine as individuals. It seems like the chefs weren’t too concerned about shining either, since everyone except Ed was content with coasting with creating 1 dish. Thank goodness Chef Tom put the kibosh on that but quick! I don’t feel bad for the other chefs, who were mad at Ed for already planning on a second dish, but I guess he wasn’t being a “team player.” Whatever, it’s the finale!
I was a little worried that Angelo would ironically crash and burn in the Asian-focused round, he’s getting pretty flighty and his diagrams on his dish bordered on the obsessive. But, he managed to turn that energy into good food, with his risky but flavorful lamb tartare and his prawn broth that was both yummy and complex in Dana’s words.
Ed seemed like an ass in the kitchen, turning from jokey sarcasm to outright rudeness to Angelo. However, based on the food, he seems to be head and shoulders above everyone this round, as the judges loved his sweet and sour pork and practically begged for more banana fritters. Once again, Ed walks away with the win, but I wonder if this boost to his ego will bring an overconfidence to the final 3 service. As the wise adage goes, check yourself before you wreck yourself.
Kevin surprised me by doing a congee dish with a 63° egg and tapioca instead of rice. This could have been a disaster, but thanks to a perfectly cooked egg, this secured his spot in the top 3. However, his clam chowder seemed like another safe bet. To be honest, based on his overall work this season, I’m surprised as hell that he’s in the Top 3. I’ll be interested to see how the next episode goes.
Sadly, that leaves Kelly in the dust. Kelly’s chilled cucumber yogurt soup was praised more for the bitter melon salad that accompanied it. Combined with seared prawns and red coconut curry that lacked assertive heat, she was sadly at the bottom of the barrel this round. It should be noted though that bottom of the barrel for the top 4 just means that it was slightly less spectacular, so I think Kelly is going to walk away with a nice career boost.
So, ladies and gents, we’re a few days from the finale. We will have the first Top Chef to have their ass handed to them by the New York Times (wow, Major burn for Ed!!!)? Will Ilan serve up saffron with a side of jackassery as a sous chef? Will Angelo’s tummy feel better? Will Season 8 help me forget this year? I guess we’ll see…..