It’s down to Sheldon and Brooke! For now! Brooke knows it’s going to be top three, but she likes thinking of herself as top two. I don’t blame her, but I think she’ll end up being the top one, so she might enjoy that more.
Before we get started, we visit each chef on their home turf. It has been six months since the show (sans finale) wrapped, and it’s given Sheldon time to learn about all things non-Asian. I’m worried about this, because he’s just so good at his particular wheelhouse (which is distinctly different from Brooke’s wheelhouse) that I think he’s going to overreach. Do what you’re good at, Sheldon!
In any case, Sheldon has been busy at his restaurant Star Noodle in Maui, and he’s gotten the chance to go stage (that means intern) at an upscale restaurant, Vintage Cave. He picnics with his wife and three daughters, and he gets mushy talking about wanting a better life for his kids. Of course, I could argue, hello, you live in Maui. I don’t care if you’re all squashed into a trailer, I repeat, Maui. You’re in MAUI.
Then, we’re off to Los Angeles, where Brooke brushes her son Hudson’s teeth. In the six months since leaving the show, she hasn’t had a lot of time to learn anything, because she’s dealing with two restaurants (Hudson House and The Tripel), one kid and one husband. She’s busy, people! We also learn that she met her husband when he was her surly sous chef. I’m not sure this is a meet cute, but okay.
Because Brooke is clearly set up to win this thing and knows anyone who’s anyone in the world of L.A. cooking, Roy Choi of A-Frame and Sang Yook of Father’s Office drop by to give her encouragement. I know we’re adding the “Last Chance Kitchen” winner to the mix, but I have to say, Brooke kinda seems to have this in the bag.
Not that Brooke has it that way. She needs to constantly pump herself up just to keep herself from being overwhelmed with self doubt. Finally, she says she has what it takes to be the next female Top Chef. Hell, yes she does!
Sheldon and Brooke go to Craft. The finalist from Last Chance Kitchen is… Kristen! I knew it! I’m so glad! Two chicks and Sheldon in the finale! The only drawback is that I can’t think of who to root for. I really do think all of them are exceptionally skilled and seem exceptionally nice. The good news is, I won’t mind whoever wins.
Elimination Challenge! The final three will be Tom’s chefs at Craft. Each one is responsible for an appetizer, an entree and a dessert. Tom will be expediting. That won’t make them nervous AT ALL.
Hugh Acheson and Emeril Lagasse will also be going into the kitchen to offer advice and make sure they’re doing okay (read: making sure Tom doesn’t make them cry). Tom begs them not to screw up at his restaurant. I’ve read really, really mixed things about Craft, but now I want to go, just because he cares so much he has no problem looking like an ass on television. You go, Tom!
They pick their components, kind of settle on what they’re doing… but Brooke seems to be overwhelmed. Sheldon is cooking quail for his entree, and I wish he wouldn’t because it doesn’t sound like a Sheldon dish to me. Kristen is the only one who seems ready for this, possibly because she’s had to churn out win after win in a half hour or less.
Hugh checks in with Brooke. He’s really proud of her, but he tells Sheldon not to burn down the restaurant. Yeah, I know who he’s rooting for.
Sheldon informs us that he gets lost in Tom’s blue eyes. Kristen tells him she does, too. They both laugh uproariously. I love that everyone is getting along at this stage in the game, that they’re still having fun and genuinely seem to like one another. This may be one of the cuddliest seasons of this show ever. It turns out, at least to me, “Top Chef” doesn’t need interpersonal drama (or someone you love to hate, like Josie) to make it interesting. Watching people cook good food is enough for me.
It’s getting closer to service time. Everyone sweats, but I am worried that Kristen is screwing up because she’s panicked. Deep breaths, people!
The judges are seated. We have Martin Yan, owner of M.Y. China, John Besh of Besh Restaurant Group, Emeril, Hugh, and Padma.
Sheldon – Sashimi spot prawns, court bouillon, radish & Asian herbs
Emeril thinks the prawns are perfectly cooked. Martin Yan thinks it’s very delicate and difficult to pull off.
Kristen – Chestnut veloute, duck rillette & brussels sprouts
Hugh thought it was fine but something. John Besh said a touch of acid would make all the difference.
Brooke – Crispy veal sweetbread salad with kumquat, beets & mustard
Martin thinks the beet stands on its own like a stepchild. I think that’s not good. Hugh would have cleaned the sweetbreads more and not cut them so thinly.
Kristen – Seared ahí tuna with veal mustard & meyer lemon puree
Martin thinks it’s perfectly seared. Padma thought the lemon was a little too harsh. John Besh thinks he had a bite that was too salty.
Brooke – Braised short ribs, parmesan sauce, nettle puree & squash dumplings
Martin likes it. Hugh thinks it works well with the parmesan sauce. Emeril loved the nettle puree.
Sheldon – Roasted quail, pine nut puree, garam masala & tangerine
Martin thinks Sheldon was brave. Hugh thinks it wasn’t Sheldon and thinks the puree was like hummus. Emeril thinks he’s been brainwashed.
Brooke – Brown butter cake, whipped goat cheese & blackberry sauce
John Besh declares it really, really good. Martin loves the balance and thinks it’s perfect.
Kristen – Curry chocolate with cashews
Martin found it surprising. Hugh thinks its not a great idea and thinks it’s a basic dessert.
Sheldon – White chocolate mousse with apple & fennel
No one likes the fennel, it seems.
So who’s going home? I’m so worried for everyone! I’d eat at any of their restaurants. It doesn’t seem that anyone truly screwed up, but I think Sheldon made a big mistake by stretching. As much as the judges claim they don’t want safe, they don’t really like anyone to work outside of their established flavor profile, either.
First, Sheldon. The appetizer is a hit. But unfortunately, Tom did not like the pine nuts in his entree. Tom thought his dessert was an incomplete dish.
On to Kristen. Tom liked her soup. Hugh thought it was one-note and too safe. Everyone thought her tuna was perfectly cooked, but the lemon didn’t work. Hugh thought the dessert was terrible, but Emeril liked the flavor.
Finally, Brooke. Tom liked the sweetbreads, but he thinks she was disorganized. Padma thought her sauces were better than anyone elses in the entree. Hugh loved her dessert, and so did everyone else. But Tom thought it seemed unfinished and not a restaurant dessert.
Everyone had minor flaws, but everyone did well. This one is close.
Sheldon is told to pack his knives and go. You know, he should still be so, so proud of himself. I hope that gig at Vintage Cave turns into something more permanent. He deserves a nice kitchen — he was so awed by Craft, and given how crappy Star Noodle looked, may the one thing that comes out of this for him is a step into nicer digs.
So, we have not one but two women in the finals — Kristen and Brooke. Both skilled, but very different from one another. I have no idea who to root for. Do you?
Who are you rooting for? Do you think Sheldon’s mistake was the quail? Who do you think will be the viewer’s favorite chef?