“Top Chef: Las Vegas” mini-cap: Come on, peel me a grape


The gang’s all back and with new hairdos. The final four arrives in Napa. Jennifer has a body wave. Kevin has let it grow. Michael seems to have gone a shade lighter with his highlights. And Bryan — fine, Bryan has the same old hair. Hey, I notice the important stuff.

They’re all waiting on a train, it seems. Once it pulls up, out comes Padma Lakshmi with her new bangs, baby bump and boots. Jennifer calls her a “hot pregnant mom.” I agree. But those bangs? I’m struggling to agree. With her is guest judge and acclaimedNapa chef Michael Chiarello.

They didn’t step out of the Napa Valley Wine Train for nothing. The final Quickfire Challenge of the season has the chefs cooking up a meal on board featuring the region’s signature produce: grapes. It’s also a High Stakes Quickfire which means the winner gets a Brand! New! Car! It’s a third-generation Toyota Prius so it’s a brand new Earth-friendly car.

Jennifer says she wants to win because her ride is a “2000 Chevy Cavalier without a CD player.” Hey, Eric Ripert, you need to pay this lady better.

The train takes off and so do the chefs. Kevin is contending with some motion sickness and they’re all contending with the tight quarters. But they make do and no one looses their lunch. In no time it’s grub time. Chef Chiarello and Padma tuck in for a nice snack. Also, I’m still not feeling the bangs.

Kevin serves up a dessert course of mousse. Michael gives them grapeapolooza with couscous stuffed grape leaves and grapes skewered on a grape vine in grape sauce. Bryan shows more restraint with roasted hen and Jen goes surf and cluck with clams and chicken livers.

But how did it taste? Pretty yummy, apparently. Chef Chiarello commends then all with a few caveats. He wishes Kevin’s dish had “more grape love” and Bryan’s bacon hadn’t overpowered the grape. Michael and Jennifer get mad grape love and he even says he might have to steal Jen’s dish for his own restaurant.

Ooh, Jen’s getting a car! But no, instead Chiarello throws the keys to Michael for his grape overkill. Jen’s response: “Screw him, man.” This woman is stealing the words right out of my mouth.

The next morning, Jen receives some sort of video-texting wake-up call from the boys that’s mostly just an elaborate product placement. Speaking of which, where did I put my Glad Family of Products this morning? Jen talks about how much she wants to win and how her boss, ChefRipert, is proud of her. Oh no, this is too much featuring of Jen. This is not a good sign. Someone, hold me. I’m scared.

With the last Quickfire over, it’s Elimination time. This being Napa and this being the end of grape season, it’s time for a big crush party. The chefs will cater for 150 guests and aside from salt and pepper they will only be allowed to use ingredients raised in the region. One dish must be vegetarian and the other a local protein. First aPrius, now this farm-fresh challenge — did Al Gore have a long talk with Tom Colicchio in between seasons?

Kevin is excited by the challenge because he cooks 100 percent locally in his Atlanta restaurant already. He then addresses the smack-talk Michael has been laying down about his cooking: “I know that Michael has called me out to say I’m too simple sometimes… but at the end of the day it’s all about flavor.” Yeah, what he said.

Then all the chefs inadvertently grade themselves on a friendly competitor (1) to total asshat scale (10):

Jennifer scores a 5: “It’s not I hope you fuck up, it’s I hope you do the best you can today, but I want to beat you.”

Bryan scores a 4: “Michael and I both want to make it (to the finale).”

Kevin scores a 3: “It’s not going to be great to have to send somebody home.”

Michael scores an 11: “Truthfully I want to beat Bryan … Would I feel a sense of relief if Bryan was kicked off? (nods)”

Cooking goes relatively smoothly. Jen was planning to put her duck on the wood grill but the coals died down so she confits it instead. Kevin, meanwhile, is having a hard-time getting his grass-fed brisket to tenderize in time.

And then, all of a sudden, it’s time to eat. The judges — Padma, Tom, Chef Chiarello and Gail Simmons — arrive as do the guests. Each time I see Gail I let out an audible sigh because she is not Toby. Also, she likes to rock the cleavage. What? I already said I only notice the really important things.

Padma, meanwhile, is wearing some sort of Flashdance meets Catwoman outfit. While I don’t fully understand it, it’s also slightly mesmerizing — kind of like Padma herself.

The judges make their rounds. First up: Bryan and his goat cheese ravioli and short ribs. The judges think the ravioli sauce needs a little seasoning and the ribs need a touch of salt, but otherwise seem happy.

Next is his baby brother Michael. He serves up vegetable pistou with egg and turnip soup with foie gras and some sort of turnip/pear mistaken-identity concoction. Tom thinks the egg overwhelms the soup and Chiarello thinks the vegetables are too small. Padma’s egg is also raw. You just fed the baby a raw egg, Michael. That settles it, Michael hates babies.

Kevin is next with his beet salad with carrot top puree and braised beef with pumpkin polenta. They love the beet dish which is both beautiful and seasonal and simply delicious. The beef is called too ropey though. You think that’s ropey? Try a Slim Jim.

Rounding out the foursome in Jennifer. She gives them goat cheese and her duck. The goat cheese dish is too salty. Padma resists complaining about her ankles swelling because she’s probably too distracted about the salmonella Michael just gave her and her baby. Jennifer’s duck proclaimed deliciously “ducky.”

But, seriously, what is Padma wearing? Is she auditioning for a superhero movie I don’t know about? Afterward Michael says it’s “in the bag.” If he means he is adouchebag, then yes, he is correct.

The chefs congregate in the new Stew Wine Cellar. The drink and look worried. Padma enters and calls them all to Judges’ Table. The she leaps a building in a single bound.

Tom talks about how professional they all were throughout the competition, which is true. There wasn’t a hook up or head shaving incident all season. Bu then it’s time to get judgey.

Kevin’s vegetarian dish is deemed “stellar” but his brisket is called “bold” — and not in a good way. Bryan’s food gets praised for its “subtlety,” but could use more seasoning. Michael’s raw egg gets cracked on. Gail didn’t like the bitterness of his soup either, but Tom loved it. Finally Jennifer’s salty cheese gets chided, but they agree the duck was indeed ducky.

Then Tom asks her why she confit the duck instead of grilling as she had planned. Um, does it matter if you liked how it ended up tasting, dude?

They send the final foursome back to stew and talk it over amongst themselves.

Tom says Jennifer was still thinking though her duck and it never come together for her. Again, did you not like how it tasted? Who cares if she changed plans? That’s called adjusting. Tom then goes on to ooh and ahh about Michael saying “this is what I love about young chefs.” That they serve raw egg? Bryan’s seasoning and Kevin’s beef get dissected as well.

So who won? Bryan. Good show, older Voltaggio. Give your little brother a wedgie when you get home and then your schooling of him will be complete.

And who got PYKAGed? Jennifer! Jennifer?

Tom says she “seemed a little scattered” in the kitchen. And again I ask, who cares how she seemed in the kitchen? All that matters is what showed up on the plate. Raw egg versus salty cheese is a no brainer. One is a health hazard the other is too big a pinch.

Padma seems genuinely sad to have had to call out Jen’s name. I think she was secretly on Team Jen. Afterward, Jen tries to remain stoic but can’t contain her disappointment. I can’t contain my disappointment either.

Tom’s judging criteria is a moving target that clearly moves to the benefit of whomever he favors. Overlook Michael’s runny egg, but then come down hard on Jennifer’s kitchen disorganization? Well, look what that’s got you, Mr. Colicchio, a final three that seems amazingly molded out of your own image: a bunch of white dudes. Diversity, let me not show you it.

p.s. No one cares about the Brother vs. Brother showdown but you, Bravo.

NEXT: GO BIG RED! Team Kevin, all the way.

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