Top Chef Episode 16 – Will This Season Ever End?

I’m beginning to think it won’t.  Man, this season has really dragged on.  Much like my time spent at O’Hare this morning while waiting for a flight to New Orleans.  We had a snow storm move through Chicago last night and while it didn’t dump much snow it mucked up travel nonetheless.  So, while waiting for my flight I figured I’d bang out this week’s recap.  My morning here has reflected the past few weeks of the season, initial excitement at the start, then some delay, then into the just get it over with phase.  This week’s episode was the just get it over with episode.  The three remaining chefs came down off the mountain to Vancouver where, I am only guessing on this, the title will be decided.

The episode started in Vancouver’s Chinatown for an on-location quickfire.  They arrived at a Chinese restaurant to discover three Top Chef Masters in the house, all with “asian” cooking pedigrees.  Each chef gets paired up with one of the Masters and are told it’s a tag team quickfire.  I’ll confess, I like these.  They’ve done this type previously but with teams of four.  In this week’s challenge the two chefs had 40 minutes to come up with a dish but could only prepare it one chef at a time, no peeking or communicating with each other on what the idea was.  Each chef would prep or cook for 10 minutes, then tag out, alternating twice.  I like this because you get to see the chefs’ intelligence and creativity.  One goes into the kitchen, scans the supplies, come up with an idea, lays it all out and might even start prepping.  The second chef comes in and has to figure out what’s going on and decide what to do next, then they repeat for two more rounds to complete the dish.  They have to be fast and aware of what’s going on.  Everyone performed extremely well in this challenge presenting really good looking and tasting dishes.  Except Paul.  He added too much of his Thai chiles and lost based on that.  Sarah ended up winning the challenge and some cash.  On to the elimination challenge.

The chefs were given the theme of hot and cold for the elimination challenge, symbolizing the heat of Texas and cold of Canada they’ve had to endure.  How nice.  They were tasked with preparing 150 plates using this hot and cold theme as well as come up with a cocktail to go along with it.  At this point I kind of stopped paying attention.  I was pretty sure Paul wasn’t going to be the one who messed up.  Not when he’s up against Sarah and Lindsay.  He’s conceptually and technically better than both of them.  I think Sarah has very good technique but sometimes fails in her concepts.  Sarah and Paul both embraced the hot and cold theme, preparing dishes that actually had a hot part and cold part.  Lindsay felt Sarah and Paul were acting too gimmicky and did something else.  Normally that’s not a bad idea but when there are three left and two are doing “gimmicky” things and you’re not one of them, you could be making a mistake.  Paul has a dish with some “snow” the judges like but he was scared off by adding too many Thai chiles in the quickfire and toned it down.  Sarah made some mousse-like thing she put on an anti-griddle and ended up freezing it solid (see comment above regarding execution of concept) so it didn’t melt over the pasta like she intended.  Lindsay cooked halibut.

So they go to judges table and lucky us, Gail’s there.  She’s been back the last few weeks but hasn’t been annoying.  This week however she was her usual self, making bold critical statements that no one else seemed to agree with, especially Tom.  In regards to Sarah’s frozen mousse she kept saying she couldn’t get past it because it was frozen solid.  Tom said he didn’t find that to be a problem, it fit with the theme.  But she wouldn’t let go of it.  Look Gail, you’re not winning against Tom.  I think it’s usually whatever he and Padma say, goes.  Be thankful you milked your appearances on Top Chef into your own Top Cupcake show and be off.  Tom was very critical of Paul’s placement of a piece of arugula as a garnish which made me wonder if Paul was in trouble.  They tell Sarah she’s safe so she heads back to the railway car they were waiting in (no idea where they were in Vancouver that they had to wait in a railway car, the producers are usually good at dropping names of things but didn’t bother telling us about this odd one).  That left Paul and Lindsay.  Could the impossible happen?  Could the arugula and mild spiciness of Paul’s dish actually send him home, even up against Lindsay’s halibut?  Nope.  In fact he wins best dish and takes home some cash.  On the brighter side, Chicago’s representin’ in the final!

This was an odd way for them to do it.  Usually they announce the winner and let the other two sweat it out.  This time they let the winner sweat it out.  I gave up trying to figure out this season a while ago.  Just like I’ve given up trying to figure out when my flight is going to take off here.  Eventually I’ll get to New Orleans today, just like eventually we’ll get to the end of this season.  Both results will make me very happy.

Update:  Made it to New Orleans.  Top Chef still going.  I need a sazerac.

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