June 5, 2008

Top Chef Chicago Finale Part 1

**spoilers ahead**
Puerto Rico at last. The first part of this season's Top Chef finale begins with updates on the four finalists' lives. Stephanie has been travelling in Cambodia, Vietnam and Taiwan. Antonia has been working 100 hour work weeks. Richard has been staying focused. Lisa got a haircut and has invested in a lot of hair product. Bravo emphasises Lisa's outcast status by having her arrive last in the airport reunion and have the other finalists give her that look. This all seems so reminiscent of Marcel's greeting from season 2. Except poor Marcel was the victim. And no, I'm not still bitter Marcel didn't win, why do you ask?

For the quickfire we are introduced to Wilo Benet of Pikayo. Wilo and Padma explain that Puerto Rico has many different types of frituras that are popular served with beer. What no Michelob plug? The contestants are told to make two dishes in 40 minutes. Both dishes will have to contain some plantain. The table before them has both green and ripe plantains. Stephanie remarks that she has worked with plantain before the finale and really didn't love them. I've never had great plantains, they just seem so starchy. Time begins. Lisa runs to pick her proteins while the other chefs pick over the produce table. The finished dishes are presented. Lisa has a confusing "chutney-slaw" which seems to be a random use of two terms. Antonia and Richard lose points for having unpleasant raw plantain flavor and/or texture in their dishes. Lisa and Stephanie both earn praise for their taste but Stephanie's wins with her balanced proportions.

The finalists are then taken to a party where they sample Puerto Rican fare. A whole roast pig is featured. Images of the celebration are shown along with the overly dramatic voice over of the finalists expressing their desire to win. Afterward, the contestants are taken to the governor's mansion for the elimination challenge reveal. Each chef is given a whole pig and set to cook a cocktail party for 100 using parts of the animal in at least two dishes. To aid them, four eliminated chefs from this season are brought out to serve as sous chefs. Stephanie is given the opportunity to assign the sous chefs as reward for her quickfire win. Lisa looks nervous since she's done a decent job pissing people off. Stephanie picks Dale for herself, Spike for Richard, Nikki for Antonia and Andrew for Lisa. The contestants begin to plan their dishes. The finalists are left to the task of breaking down the whole hogs while their sous chefs head to the markets. Richard makes a last minute call to Spike for Malta. He plans to use this sweet, non-alcoholic malt beverage for a rib glaze. This sounds really good! All of the finalists have a pork belly dish planned. Pork belly what you call bacon before it's cured and smoked. So essentially the fattiest part of the pig, yum. The prep time quickly runs out and the finalists and their sous chefs leave for the evening.

The next day the finalists are given five hours to complete their dishes. Soon after arriving Stephanie and Dale discover that their pork belly wasn't in the fridge all night. Dale takes the blame and is clearly upset over ruining the planned dish. Stephanie reacts calmly and pitches the questionable meat. Dale and Stephanie make plans for a pork rind topped salad and something with ground pork. Cooking is completed with only a minimal amount of Lisa complaining. No suspected sabotage during this round. The chefs and their food move out onto the mansion's courtyard and the guests begin to arrive. Padma is going for the goddess look. The judges and guests sample the finalists' food. I'd love to be able to taste Stephanie's coconut braised pork, her satay on sugar cane and Richard's ribs. Both Antonia and Lisa seem to go too literal with their Latin dishes.

Judging commences and Richard and Stephanie are called in as the favorites of the evening. Stephanie's salad with pork rinds and pork satay are praised. Richard is given credit for editing his dishes well and his execution. Richard is named as the favorite of the evening and a brand new Toyota is his prize! Antonia and Lisa enter for their critiques. Antonia admits at first that her beans were undercooked then backtracks and claims she wanted them al dente. The judges question Lisa's decision to follow a stricter Latin theme. The judges deliberate. Antonia is eliminated. Lisa vows that they will not regret the decision. Antonia and Lisa return to the other finalists and let them know the verdict. Lisa snipes at Stephanie and Richard for not congratulating her. They were friends with Antonia and yet Lisa managed to scrape by at the bottom once again. By all means they should be jumping with joy.

Antonia seemed like a good cook but her dishes never interested me like Stephanie's, Richard's, Andrew's or Dale's. At this point I really can't decide who I'd rather have win: Stephanie or Richard. I just want to wait and see who pulls out all the stops for the perfect final meal. Lisa has made an interesting villain but I don't think anyone is fooled into thinking she has quite the same amount of talent at this point in her career as Stephanie and Richard do. We'll have to wait and see.

This weeks winning dishes: "COSTILLAS DE CERDO" Pork Ribs and Pork Belly, BBQ Pork Shoulder, Ham and Beans