Wednesday, October 3, 2007

THE YEAR OF GLAD -- TOP CHEF III FINALE, PART TWO: And we're LIVE from a beige sound stage in Chicago, with an obedient studio audience and lots of the clappy clappy wooty wooty. I'm Padm(=>...) This week's season three finale began with an ominous indication of altitude sickness from one of the finalists (stay hydrated people! it's not hard!) and then ascended from the already way-up-there town of Aspen to the top of the Apsen Mountain Gondola to kick off the Finale Challenge. A comparison of geography-inspired literary quotations seems appropriate:
"We don't get to see this kind of sh*t in Chicago." -Dale, Aspen 2007

"It's too flat here to snow all f*cking winter." -Phil, Chicago 1997
Ah, my Big Gay Chef, if only we'd met years ago, before I was a confirmed heterosexual in a legally enforceable life-long partnership, who knows how opposites might have attracted? Seriously, I love this guy cursing an amiable blue streak through season three, finding his chef, and throwing down some seriously respectable cuisine (if the judges are to be believed) in the process. But then, we had love for all three finalists here at the Throckmorton Manse, and the irony of Hung getting criticized repeatedly during the finale for not adding enough acid only added to our appreciation.

With 35 minutes to cogitate about an impressive array of seasonally appropriate ingredients laid out beneath an ice sculpture on the ridge of Aspen Mountain, our finalists came up with the following basic menus:
Hamachi "fish n chips"
Vietnamese Fusion Prawns

Foie and Fruit
Lobster Gnocchi
Colorado Lamb

Foie and something else
Prawns and something else
Crispy Pork Belly
Oh, Casey, you had me at "Crispy Pork Belly". And we're back, LIVE from Chicago with more of the clappy cla(=>...) After which, contestants drew knives to "determine" which "sous chef" they would be working with to prep the ingredients for their meal. Knife #1 = first "sous chef" to arrive on the gondola; knife #2 = second chef, etc.
Hung got Rocco DiSpirito.
Casey got Michelle Bernstein.
And Dale got Todd English.
As Dale noted, there was a serious "Dream Team" vibe about the pairings. As I noted, it was as if the producers lined the "sous chefs" up in the appropriate order for the gondola as soon as each finalist's choice of knife was radioed down the mountain. Cynicism on this point aside, it was fun to hear the Chef Chefs' comments on the aspiring Top Chefs' styles, choices and instincts. We dug the role reversal, as well as the professionalism on display as everyone assumed the roles assigned. Can you imagine Marcel or Ilan being given the honor? And handling it gracefully? Neither could we. Also, as a kid who was disappointed trying to make brownies on more than one occasion because he forgot to read the "high altitude cooking instructions", it was easy to love all the whining about how long water takes to boil up on the roof of the world.

We are back. Live from Chicago, I'm P(=>...)Hung's going to prove he has soul. Casey's got textures, and colors, and "perfect roasted summer peaches with crispy pork belly." I was so, totally, down with that... until I heard the words "Colorado lamb, poached in duck fat." Go, Big Gay Chef, GO! At which point the producers added a Fourth Course and a Former Contestant to the mix for each finalist. Given the good crop of personalities (plus Howie) recruited for this season, there wasn't a lot of drama here. Hung added chocolate cake a la Sara; Casey added sirloin a la Howie; Dale added scallops with citrus a la CJ.

Aaaaand, welcome back to Chi(=>...)I'd be cursing a blue streak of my own about the live in studio segments of this show if Philomena wasn't so quick with the remote. I just know it. Some serious compliments were bandied as the judges (your normal cast of characters, plus this episode's "sous chefs", plus Malarkey) considered what the finalists had to offer, from "pretty amazing" all the way up to "Michelin Three Star". Faults? Fish eggs for flavor, not color. Gnocchi at altitude? ...gnot so much. Hung played it safe with the cake.

Welcome back everyone. I'm Padma L(=>...) Oh, crap. We have to watch it now. It's the results. (<=...) And... oh, right. Shouldn't spoil the results. Get your comment on, soon as you're ready. Get your Bourdain on too.

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