Top Chef Las Vegas….errr Napa Valley

Last night on Bravo’s “Top Chef: Las Vegas,” the scene shifted to the Napa Valley in California, and some of the cast had physically changed. That’s because there was a decided time lag between when the final four left Las Vegas to when they re-convened in Napa…we’re not sure how much time, but enough for host Padma Lakshmi to have her pregnant belly start showing. Also, Kevin’s hair was different (and there was less of it)and Jen looked like she had gotten some sleep. The brothers Voltaggio pretty much looked and acted exactly the same.

So Padma announced that for part one of the finale, there would be a quick fire challenge to start, and she introduced guest judge and Top Chef Master Michael Chiarello, a Napa Valley restauranteur himself. For the challenge, they would have to cook Padma and Michael a dish in 30 minutes using Napa grapes and whatever else was in a pantry on the Napa Valley train….and of course, they would all have to share the train’s kitchen. This was a high stakes challenge, too…the winner would win a third generation 2010 Toyota Prius. Wow, these sponsors are really ponying up!

For the challenge, Kevin made some sort of honey and cheese dish with white grapes; Michael created a stuffed grape leaf with scallops, and incorporated a piece of grape vine for posterity and visual enhancement; Bryan made a roasted hen with bacon, scallops and concord grapes…impressive for 30 minutes; and Jennifer made chicken livers with clams and cabernet grapes. The winner was Michael, as Chiarello pointed out that his use of the vine was what put him over the top.

For the elimination challenge (yes, there would be one more of those), the final four were asked to cater a season ending “crush party,” a ritual in the Napa Valley when the grapes are all harvested for the last time. This would be at the Rutherford Hills Winery, and each chef would create two dishes–one vegetarian and one with a local protein–for 150 people. They had five hours to shop and cook, and all of their produce had to be locally grown as well.

Kevin made a beef brisket with pumpkin polenta, and a carrot and beet puree dish with some sort of cheese.

Jen made a goat cheese mousse, and a duck breast confit.

Bryan went with goat cheese ravioli; and then braised short ribs with a fig glaze.

Michael made foie gras with a turnip/pear soup; and a vegetable pistou with a slow cooked egg.

Keep in mind that these four chefs have been dominating the competition this season, and that now the judges would have to send one of them home for good. Those judges were the regulars Padma, Tom Colicchio and Gail Simmons, as well as Chiarello.

They found something they didn’t like about at least one of each of their dishes–Kevin’s beef was a bit tough but they loved his veggie dish; Jen’s mousse was too salty and they thought the duck would have been better grilled, but she had a problem with the wood burning grill; Brian’s short ribs didn’t have enough fig flavor and also lacked salt; and Michael’s eggs were inconsistently cooked. The diners attending the party were all mixed on what their favorite dishes were a well.

But they had to choose a winner for the challenge…..that person was….Bryan! Mainly, Bryan’s goat cheese ravioli was the favorite dish across the board, so he was the first to reach the grand finale. So either Jen, Michael or Kevin would be going home. Certainly it couldn’t be Kevin, who has been rock solid in this thing for weeks. Or would it?
In the end, it was Jen that they sent home….a great chef and competitor, but perhaps they docked her for not paying enough attention to the wood fire grill….or maybe as a whole for the season, she was just slightly below the other three in terms of winning challenges.

So your final three are Kevin, Bryan and Michael. Those guys will duke it out next Wednesday for the title of Top Chef. I’m still pulling for Kevin, and I think that while those brothers can cook their asses off, Kevin has got to be considered the frontrunner. We’ll see…..and see you guys next week…

  

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