“Top Chef” mini-cap: The Tortoise and the Hares


Well, now that our little chefbian Jamie is gone, I’d like to take this opportunity to make my allegiances unequivocally clear. From here on out on Top Chef, I’m going all George W. Bush on this situation. Either you’re with us, or you’re with the terrorists. In this battle of Hootie and the Blowhards, I’m with Hootie.

Good, now that that is out of the way, the Blowhards (Stefan, Hosea and Fabio) are busy discussing Jamie’s exit. Stefan declares it “a rough one.” But then to the cameras he says, “I am happy Jamie is home, because it’s one less person to worry about.” Well, so much for the love.

Leah, meanwhile, is again feeling the need to prove herself. Gee, why could that be? Could it be that she should have been PYKAGed at least three episodes ago? We also learn that Carla used to model. Damn, modeling, acting, cooking — why does this woman not have her own show yet, preferably co-hosted by Muppets?

In the Top Chef kitchen, Padma and our favorite Shaggy look-alike chef Wylie Dufresne, the molecular gastronomist extraordinaire, is waiting for the contestants. So is a table full of eggs. Turns out the humble egg is one of Wylie’s obsessions. So for this last Quickfire Challenge before the final-four competition moves to New Orleans, they must create a dish with eggs to surprise and delight Wylie.

The chefs all get cracking (see what I did there? Eggs. Cracking. Thank you, I’ll be here all week), and discuss their approach to the challenge.

Fabio is getting his molecular gastronomy on while measuring out different powders. Hosea is going for more flat-out deception by making “the egg something it’s not.” Like what? A tricycle? Leah just wants to be trendy and says it’s important to know molecular gastronomy because it’s “the cutting edge thing in food.” Sure, but if all the chefs jumped off a bridge would you, too?

Stefan, well, he is just being Stefan: “I am a great chef and I know I’m a great chef. Of course I am going to make it to the final four.” Pompous, but sadly probably true.

And Carla, well, she is just being Carla: “Molecular gastronomy and Carla are like oil and water.” So instead she plans to make Dr. Seuss proud with a spin on green eggs and ham. Hosea scoffs at her idea, convinced that Wylie would not, could not like them in a box, or a with a fox, or with a mouse or in a house.

But enough rhyming, it’s time to end this eggcellent adventure. Wylie tries each of their creations with friendly things to say like, “very clever,” very nice,” “very pretty” and “neat idea,” except for Fabio who gets a that’s “a lot of dessert.”

Wylie declares Fabio (too much dancing around the idea), Hosea (not enough playing off each other) and Leah (too heavy and greasy) his least favorites. He then praises Carla’s playfulness and Stefan’s technique. Who takes it? When I say Hootie, you say Hoo. Hootie! Hoo! Hootie! Hoo!

The other chefs seem a bit flummoxed. Never underestimate the power of Seuss.

For their last New York Elimination Challenge, the chefs once again draw knives. This time each blade bears the name of a luminary in the food world. The chefs are then tasked with cooking their selected chef’s “last supper.” Um, as in Jesus or as in death row, Bravo?

Who will be cooking what for the holy/incarcerated lineup is as follows:

Fabio: Lidia Bastianich, roast chicken with roasted potatoes and a leafy salad.

Carla: Jacques Pépin, roast squab with fresh peas.

Stefan: Marcus Samuelsson, salmon and spinach.

Hosea: Susan Ungaro, shrimp scampi and tomatoes Provençal.

Leah: our guest judge Wylie, eggs benedict.

As the Quickfire winner, Carla gets the option to swap for any chef but she sticks with award-winning French chef Jacques. Mostly, she is just thrilled to be cooking peas, one of her favorite foods. In fact, she declares that she and and Jacques are “likethis” culinarily.

Fabio is also thrilled to have drawn Italian chef Lidia and says he has just been handed a letter that says “you are welcome to the final.” Hosea is focused on Stefan, instead of his own food, and seethes, “I really want to beat this guy.” Stefan summarily dismisses Hosea as a threat saying, “You can chop my legs and arms off and I still run circles around that dude.” And Leah plans to “do something a little different” with her eggs benedict.

In the kitchen they are given staggered times to cook. Carla decides less is more. Leah loves eggs. Stefan says cooking for Swede Marcus means “there is nothing I can possibly screw up with this dish.” And Hosea is struggling with whether to go traditional or his own way on the scampi.

The pondering continues when a loud crash stops everyone in their tracks. Fabio is making painful noises and has apparently broken his finger. The medic asks if he wants to go to the hospital but Fabio is having none of it.

No way, hospital. I will chop it off and sear it on the flattop so it doesn’t bleed anymore and tomorrow I deal with having nine fingers.”

Carla, lovable Fraggle that she is, gives him a pep talk after his hand is bandaged that consists of Rocky metaphors and being adorable. And then, broken fingers or no broken fingers, they all get back to the business of cooking.

Head judge Tom Colicchio comes in and gives the chefs his own pep talk. Well, it’s more of a warning. He doesn’t want to be embarrassed in front of all his super-cool chef friends.

As the chefs all filter in, the biblical versus San Quentin debate about the meal’s connotation is made abundantly clear. They’ve gone straight-up Da Vinci.

The service begins and up first is Leah’s eggs benedict. In the kitchen right before service, she decides that her Hollandaise is too thick and dilutes it. Gosh, stuff like that never comes back to bite people in the ass … oh, wait, I was wrong. The judges all declare her sauce “a little watery.” And her egg is also undercooked. These analogies just write themselves.

Then comes Stefan with his can’t-miss salmon. Except he does miss — he overcooked his fish. Ha! Sorry, did I say that out loud?

Hosea brings out his shrimp and then proceeds to use the phrase “not trying to kiss any butt” while presenting it. Never juxtapose “butt” with “food.” Toby, who blessedly has stayed largely quiet for the challenge, calls it “a bit disappointing.” Whoever at Bravo decided this scowly McSchmuckerson should fill in for Gail needs to get his finger chopped off and seared on the flattop.

Fabio, who has struggled with his injury to do everything from peel the potatoes to cut the chicken, is next. But adversity is his friend because Wylie calls the chicken “awesome,” while being somewhat less impressed with the salad that looks like airplane food.

Finally, Carla and her peas come out to play. Tom appreciates her “audacity” to keep it simple, and Jacques says the peas are “absolutely scrumptious. I think I could die happy with that.” Hey, don’t take this last supper thing too seriously, mister.

At the end of the meal, Tom is the opposite of embarrassed. In fact, he is glowing. No, seriously — did someone serve plutonium?

The chefs adjourn to the Stew Room, where Fabio and Leah discuss his broken finger. She is amazed he kept going, but he says the show is called “Top Chef, not Top Pussy.” Can I just go on record saying that I would totally watch Top Pussy.

Then Padma comes in and invites all five chefs to Judges Table. Hey, is it cold in here?

At the table are Tom, Padma, waste of space Toby and Jacques. They go through each chef’s dish one-by-one.

Leah’s Hollandaise was too watery. Stefan’s salmon was overcooked. Hosea’s shrimp was too different. Fabio’s chicken was delicious. Carla’s peas were incredible.

They’re all sent back to stew some more while the judges mull it over. Padma says the winner is “between the two birds: squab or chicken.” Tom and Toby wrangle over whether Leah’s egg or Hosea’s shrimp were the worst.

Then it’s decision time. Tom says the judges were unanimous in declaring Fabio the winner. He gives his signature air kiss and walks away with an enormous bottle of wine and a trip to Napa.

Joining him back into the Stew Room, if not Napa, is Carla whose dish was also universally praised. What follows is the most brilliant thing I’ve ever seen on Top Chef as she aptly compares herself to the tortoise in the The Tortoise and the Hare fable. Well, more accurately, she reenacts it.

That’s right, Carla, this is is how it feels to be awesome.

The remaining three chefs await their fate. Undercooked, overcooked, off the reservations; they’ve all made mistakes. But whose mistake warrants the PYKAG? Leah, finally.

So it will be Carla, Fabio, Stefan and Hosea in the final four in the Big Easy. All in all, this should be an amazing finale, especially because all of the men are gunning for Stefan and ignoring Carla. Anyone feel like brushing up on a little Aesop’s?

Next Week: Bam! Emeril Lagasse welcomes our foursome to New Orleans.

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