“Top Chef” mini-cap: Let the good times roll


Welcome to the Big Easy! No, that’s not a crack about Hosea and Leah’s relationship. The final four cheftestants arrive in New Orleans ready to cook. Carla arrives ready to cook and ready to dance. As a jazz band welcomes her, she does a little jig in appreciation. How can you not love the Hootie?

In the grand tradition of the break between the end of the season and finale on Top Chef, some of the contestants have made new hairstyle choices. Hosea and Stefan are still, of course, bald. But Carla has cut and straightened her hair. Fabio, on the other hand, has fulfilled another Top Chef tradition by sporting a mohawk. Well, it’s actually a short, squat mohawk variant, or s’mohawk if you will.

As the foursome arrives at the Houmas House plantation, they are greeted by Padma, head judge Tom Colicchio and the king of Creole himself, Emeril Lagasse. Bam! Sorry, that was involuntary. I’ve fallen asleep with the Food Channel on too many times and now it just come out automatically at the sound of his voice.

Also waiting for the chefs are three tables. Wait, three? I’m not great with the math but aren’t there four finalists? But no, it’s not a mistake; it’s a twist. Padma tells the finalists to relax and enjoy the Southern hospitality because they won’t be competing in the Quickfire Challenge.

Nope, instead they’ve called in the alternates. Out come Jamie, Jeff and Leah.

Aww, look, there’s our little chefbian. Team Rainbow is back. Tom tells them that it has been an incredibly close season. Because they are in New Orleans, a city that has experienced rebirth, they will give one of the ousted contestants a chance to be reborn on the show. The winner of the Quickfire will compete with the final four in the Elimination Challenge.

Needless to say, the finalists are none too pleased with the new math. Instead of a 25 percent chance of winning it all, it’s down to a 20 percent chance. What? I can do a little math. Hosea also declares it a “little weird” to see Leah. If by “weird” he means “Dear God, please don’t let them flirt or kiss or do anything else that is nauseating together,” then, yes, I agree with him.

The second-chancers must create a dish with crawfish that will kick it up a notch and please Emeril. Have I mentioned the crawfish are still alive? And that some of them are making a break for freedom? Yeah, this show isn’t exactly PETA friendly.

The chefs prepare their crawfish creations despite the jailbreaks. Leah makes crawfish soup, Jeff makes crawfish and grits, and Jamie makes corn cakes with crawfish sauce. Emeril tastes them all with a poker face and then declares Jeff the winner. Tom then informs Jeff that he’ll need to win the Elimination Challenge in order to make it to the grand finale.

That means faster than you can say “Bam!” our little chefbian is gone again. Oh well, you can always watch her on This Just Out With Liz Feldman.

That night the final five dine at Emeril’s Delmonico restaurant. Some of the other chefs seem a bit peeved at Jeff-come-lately hurting their odds. Fabio talks about his sick mother, again. Hosea obsesses about Stefan, again. Stefan says he will slaughter the competition, again. Thanks for restating the dramatic narrative, Bravo. Can we see some cooking now or what?

Morning rolls around and the chefs head to the Mardi Gras World warehouse filled with floats, decorations and other merry-making accouterments. The Elimination Challenge will be to cater the crew of the Orpheus’ annual masquerade ball. They must create two dishes: one in the Creole style and the other a cocktail.

Wait, did I mention that the winner gets a brand new car? While no one does a The Price Is Right-worthy freak out at this news, Fabio eyes it lustily since his car is a “piece of poop.”

During the short vignettes between commercial breaks that Top Chef has been airing all season, we learn that Stefan visited Fabio for Halloween and learned that the Italian Stallion dresses as a woman each year. Fabio tells him, “You have to have balls to dress as a woman.” To which Hosea shoots back, “Well, they can’t be too big or they won’t fit in the thong.” That’s officially the funniest thing Hosea has said all season. Oh, and in case you wanted photographic evidence about Fabio, voila.

And then, finally, they cook. Hosea is making duck, andouille and chicken gumbo, a pecan-crusted catfish and hurricanes. Stefan is making duck and rabbit gumbo, apple beignets and black cherry rum cocktails. Jeff is making fried oysters, a crawfish with pot de crème and cucumber mojitos. Fabio is making grits with sausage, a crawfish, rabbit and crab stew, and bell pepper martinis. And, last but not least, Carla is making oyster stew, shrimp and andouille beignets and non-alcoholic cranberry spritzers.

As they get busy in the kitchen, Jeff of the beautiful blond locks scolds Fabio for ruining the season’s otherwise perfect hair record: “This would have been the first Top Chef without a mohawk, but you had to F that up, Fabio.” Yes, yes he did. And it’s one sad looking s’mohawk at that.

As the chefs work, one chef seems a little less focused than the others. Much to the chagrin of those around him, Stefan is running out for a smoke and playing with his sausage. Wow, that sounded a lot dirtier than I meant it. Ahem.

Carla is having a hard time with her oysters. She has only shucked them once before and they’re proving tougher shells to crack than expected. With only a third of them open and a pile of “rocks” staring up at her, Carla says she’ll have to pull a MacGyver to get them done. Well, let’s pray it’s not a MacGruber instead.

The chefs pack up and head to the venue. Once there, Padma, Emeril, Tom and Gail arrive in full mask. It’s a little like Eyes Wide Shut, but hopefully without the scary orgy scene. And, yes, I said Gail. Oh hallelujah, happy day! To quote Carla: “Girl, love you!”

I would like to stop this recap now for a short mmm, Padma, mmm break so we can all soak in the magnificence of her dress/mask/hotness.

And, we’re back. As the chefs finish their last-minute preparations, Carla is done being Mrs. Nice Hootie. “You all are asking me for something but no one has helped me shuck an oyster!” she snaps at the fellas who keep bugging her. When Stefan promises to be there in a second, she retorts, “That’s what all the men say, ‘One second, honey.’” I like this sassy Carla. Call her Hootie-Hoo, snap!

Service begins and it’s time for Mardi Gras, minus the flashing. Emeril calls Jeff a “refined cook.” Stefan’s roux isn’t dark enough. Gail thinks the heat is missing from Fabio’s dish. Hosea’s gumbo is called the most authentic.

At Carla’s table she is getting a slew of “Hootie-Hoos!” from the crowd. Oysters shucked (with the help of Stefan, after all), she is back on the side of goodness and light. “Because I am having so much fun it makes the food taste better. It’s the love thing,” she says.

Well, the love thing works because Emeril loves her beignet and Tom loves her stew. With service done, the chefs try to decompress. Stefan, of course, takes this opportunity to diss Hosea’s gumbo: “I tried Hosea’s gumbo; it sucked. It was nasty.” Nasty? Hello pot, the kettle just called.

At Judges’ Table, the food is widely praised. Jeff’s cocktail was the night’s favorite and his oyster and crawfish pot de crème is also praised, especially for his fresh-made sausage. Jeff can’t resist getting in a little dig at Stefan, who used pre-made sausage in his gumbo. “I wouldn’t win if I went and stole somebody’s sausage,” he says pointedly.

Padma tells Fabio the heat was missing from his pasta. Coming from Padma, being called not hot must be pretty deflating. His cocktail also didn’t deliver. Emeril then tells Stefan that he has “never in all 25 to 28 years have I ever seen a gumbo over grits. But your grits were good.” The gumbo, however, could have had deeper flavor.

Tom goes after Stefan some more, telling him he seemed calm to the point of being overconfident in the kitchen. Gee, Tom, have you been watching all season? As if to prove Tom’s point, Stefan’s glib reply is, “I am 36 years old. If it works out, it works out.”

As Carla comes under judges’ scrutiny, she starts talking about a problem with her stew. But Tom stops her and says they all loved it. Emeril also loved her drink and Gail loved her beignets. I guess love really was her secret ingredient.

Hosea’s roux gets praised for its rich flavor. Hosea gets his own dig in on Stefan and says that cooking down the roux took half the night. Emeril rewards his efforts by saying, “If I was blindfolded, I could be in any great New Orleans restaurant.”

As the judges deliberate, Gail says they all did the city proud. See, isn’t she much better than that horrid, scowly Toby “Weapon of Mass Douchery” Young? Jeff’s crawfish, Carla’s stew and beignet, and Hosea’s gumbo are called the night’s best. Team Euro, however, has the night’s worst dishes with Stefan’s soulless food and Fabio’s tangless food.

The chefs are then called back in and the “clear winner” is Carla! That’s right, girl. Do a big old goofy run on up there and get the keys to your brand! new! car!

Afterward to the cameras, she chokes up a little saying how proud her husband and family will be of her. OK, I’m a little verklempt, too. Talk amongst yourselves.

This of course means that Jeff is out, because he needed to win to stay in the game. Then Hosea is given the thumbs up by the judges and moves on to the grand finale. So then there were two.

Turns out Team Euro ends with a Bam! not a whimper. Stefan’s food was good, but others were better. Fabio’s food was traditional, but the flavors weren’t layered correctly. So who gets PYKAGed? Fabio.

Fabio tells Stefan, “If you don’t win I’ll kick your ass, you have no idea.” He then promises both a Stefan win and that we will see him again “very, very soon — big time.” Could this mean he is getting his own show? Hmm, well if he promises to dress in drag, I’ll watch.

Next week: Cook us the best three-course meal of your life.