OK, we're getting down to the wire. It's Shirley, Nina, Nicholas, and.... ? Will it be Louis or Carlos? AND it's a double elimination night - only two chefs will move on to the final finale!
The chefs have had a bit of time off before heading to Maui. They head outside and see Padma, Tom there with a lot of other people. Sam Choy is also there, renowned Hawaiian chef. And now we find out who returns from the last LCK. All three chefs voted for the tuna dish - and it's LOUIS! WOO HOO!!! He won 8 LCKs to come back into the kitchen.
And they move right into a Quickfire competition. "Hawaiian Steak" is on the menu - Spam. They need to highlight one of the types of Spam on the table. The winner will win $10,000. They have 30 minutes to make their dish.
Nicholas admits he didn't do any research on the uses of Spam. Louis has used it before, but the guests are asking a lot of questions, and he's wishing they'd stop bugging him. He also chose a dish (mousse) that requires it to be cold, and it's about 95° outside. Shirley's husband likes Spam and she often makes Spam-fried rice, although she's trying something different, while Nina is mixing breadfruit and Spam and seems to be frying it like a fritter.
"Time's Up, Spam Down!" calls out Padma. Oy.
Shirley - Deconstructed Spam Musubi with Spam-Infused Rice, Nori, & Cucumber Slaw. Sam liked the crunchiness of the Spam, as it added a nice flavor with the rice.
Louis - Spam Mousse with Garlic, Chives, Scallions, Snap Peas, Beech Mushrooms & Togarashi. Sam said it's very smooth, and Padma said it's very silky in her mouth.
Nicholas - Spam Broth with Pancetta, Seaweed, Dried Shrimp, Clam Juice & Quail Egg. Tom said "very nice."
Nina - Breadfruit & Teriyaki Spam Croquette with Sour Orange & Mango Slaw. Padma love the use of breadfruit, and Sam said "very good."
Sam said Nicholas's broth had a sodium challenge, but the quail egg smoothed it out. He thought Nina's croquette put a dozen different flavors in one bite. For Louis, he said "Outstanding, well thought out, but it could have had some more Spam flavor." Shirley's Spam Musubi was incredibly tasty.
Sam chooses as the winner the person who has done something with Spam he's not seen before - and it's Nicholas! Wow.
For the Elimination Challenge, Tom and Padma explained how the first settlers had to be self-sufficient with what they had on the island, as the islands were so remote. Sam said they brought pigs and chickens and 24 species of plants and fruits. These ingredients are known as canoe crops. A party will be held tomorrow to celebrate the canoe crops. The pantry they get to choose from is on the catamaran that is coming ashore. They'll have 1 hours to prep, with 2 hours tomorrow to finalize their dishes. And this is where Tom tells them they have to push themselves, as only two chefs will be moving on.
They rush down to the shore to get their ingredients off the catamaran and begin to prep in the kitchen. Nina says she believes she has an advantage, as a lot of ingredients on the Hawaiian islands are the same in St. Lucia, such as taro root and sugarcane. After looking around, Shirley sees she's the only one using pork, so she should stand out. Louis is using opah (a fish similar to tuna). He's never worked with opah before, but thinks that's what's gotten him to that place - taking chances.
Meanwhile, Nina starts breaking down some fish - but she's taken the wrong fish - instead of the opah she chose, she accidentally took Nicholas's opakapaka and starts to portion it out. She regroups and starts working on her opah while Nicholas is trying to work through portioning out his opakapaka.
When done with prep, they arrive at their suite on the island - Nina feels like she's on MTV Cribs - gorgeous view and gorgeous suite! Nicholas took the beachfront room, the girls took the double beds, and Louis (the biggest guy) is stuck in the office with a twin pullout bed. "Welcome back! Congratulations, Last Chance Kitchen!"
They hike up to Iao Valley to try and relax. Nicholas says they're enjoying the view, and he thinks out of the four of them, Louis is a monster; he knew he'd come back and kick ass. If he beats Louis, he feels like he has a chance to win. (Hmm, Nicholas is getting a lot of camera time tonight!)
The next day they arrive at Merriman's Restaurant and have 2 hours to finish prep and cook. Nicholas borrows Nina's pressure cooker to make a pork butt jus. He knows he needs to ratchet up the flavor. Tom Colicchio shows up and asks Shirley which canoe crops she's using; she replies pork, turmeric, and sweet potatoes. He asks Louis if he thinks he can match Kristen Kish from last season, who won LCK and ended up winning TC. Louis said with a double elimination, a lot could happen. Nicholas tells Tom he'd give up the $10K he just won if Tom gave him immunity. (Yeah, Tom asked you to give up immunity a few weeks back; I don't think he's just going to hand it to you, Nicholas!) Nicholas said someone will make one small tiny mistake, and Tom said that's what it comes down to. With Nina, he asks who she wouldn't want to go up against - and Nina said Shirley. Tom tells them the winner will have an advantage going into the finale.
They continue cooking, and it starts to rain with 58 minutes to finish cooking. They have to continue cooking in the rain, protecting their ingredients as best as they can. Louis is concerned about the rain and wind with the opah on the grill. Nina said the rain is the ultimate Top Chef twist. But just as quickly as the rain comes in, it goes away. Shirley's sweet potato and turmeric puree got rained on, so she has to discard a bit of it, meaning she'll have to stretch the puree on the plate.
They finish plating as the diners walk up. Padma, Tom, Emeril, a very pregnant Gail, and Sam Choy come up and are greeted by Peter Merriman, owner of the restaurant.
LOUIS - Grilled Opah with Sweet Potato & Coconut Sauce. Peter Merriman said that opah was an "incidental catch" until Sam Choy made the fish famous by promoting it back in the 90s. Sam thinks the fish was cooked perfectly, moist and delicious. Emeril thinks he used the canoe products very well. Gail had not seen a purple sweet potato; Sam says it's an Okinawan sweet potato - very popular. Tom said his fish is slightly undercooked, but Gail's fish seems to be perfectly cooked as well.
NINA - Grilled Opah with Taro Root & Coconut Purée (has some habanero chilis in there for a hot and sour sauce). Tom said the fish is perfectly cooked, but he thinks the sauce might be a bit too spicy and it overpowers the fish. Gail said both she and Louis took a risk to cook the opah, but Nina's fish had a bright flavor.
NICHOLAS - Opakapaka with Jalapeno & Crispy Chicken Skin (the sauce has the pork jus). Peter said the soft texture of the fish and the crispy chicken skin was a nice contrast in texture, but he thought the jalapeno was a bit much. Tom and Gail both thought the jalapeno was just right. Gail said it was a bold dish for Nicholas.
SHIRLEY - Honey-Glazed Pork with Sweet Potato & Turmeric Purée. Gail notes that Shirley is the only one who cooked meat; Tom said the pork was beautifully braised, the potatoes were smooth, the sauce was flavorful, but it was so sweet.
Nina said she and Shirley came in with a game plan of the two of them being in the finale, but it's now in the hands of the judges.
In the in-between, Peter Merriman explains that breadfruit has a very long shelf life, making it perfect for the islands, but Sam said when you eat a lot of it, it makes you gassy. "There's a lot of blue flame action!" LOL Gail's thankful there were only a few breadfruit chips on their plates.
The chefs are waiting in a MUCH nicer (outside) Stew Room discussing what it'll come down to for who wins and who goes home. A TV comes on, and Padma said she's pleased to see how they did with the canoe crops. For Louis, Tom's and Emeril's fish was perfectly cooked, but Padma's opah was way overcooked. Gail liked the purple sweet potato.
For Nicholas, Tom said steaming and then grilling his opakapaka was a good way to go, with a bit of spice to it. Emeril notes that there was a few comments from the crowd that the jalapeno was a bit too assertive.
Padma thought Nina did a great job layering the flavors in her dish very seamlessly, and Tom said it's exactly what he expected from Nina, but he thinks the sauce was too overpowering. Gail said it was a bold sauce.
Emeril and Padma thought Shirley's pork dish was flavorful, the meat was moist and well prepared. Tom said his one complaint was that it as too sweet for him - it needed a sour or acid note to it.
The TV goes off, and some time later Padma comes up and asks to see all of them at Judges Table. Padma tells them that only two of them can move on to the finale. Emeril tells Shirley that he thought the pork was perfectly done, and he could tell she put a lot of love into her dish. The two of them have a "moment" smiling at each other. Gail tells her the flavors were balanced, and Shirley said she used the turmeric sweet potato purée as an herbacious note to balance the sweet pork. Tom tells her again it was still too sweet.
Gail thought it was really ballsy for Louis to come back to the competition and to choose opah. Emeril said it was gutsy to choose to prepare that for Sam Choy. Gail told him there were some inconsistencies, but it showed he was up for the challenge. Louis said he was worried about the simplicity of the dish, as others used so many more components. Tom said there's a confidence in the simplicity.
Tom said Nina's dish was exactly what they expected from her. She started the competition that way, and she continues to along that line. Padma loved her dish, but she could see that the heat level could have been a bit much for some of the guests.
Tom liked Nicholas's dish with a use of a good number of the crops. Nicholas said he used the crops not as a restriction but as a jumping point. Tom notes that Nicholas seemed more confident today. Nicholas said the time off seems to helped him. Tom said Nicholas didn't overcomplicate his dish, but there was still a lot going on.
The cheftestants leave while the judges deliberate. Nicholas notes back in the Stew Room that that was the most positive JT he's ever been on, and Louis wants a do-over, as it was the only positive experience he had at Judges Table. LOL
Tom asks the judges "Where were the mistakes?" Louis's dish didn't have enough of the seaweed with lime to carry through the dish, and Emeril said there were inconsistencies in how the fish was cooked. Emeril said Nicholas really thought about the components of the dish and where each was going and where it ended up on the plate. Tom said that Shirley's biggest mistake was the honey. Emeril then said that Nina's habanero was a bit too powerful for the fish.
They're back in front of the judges. Emeril announces the winner, who used a great deal of the canoe crops - and it's Nicholas again! Wow. (And a personal dambit - I really didn't want him there.) He also won an advantage in the finale, to be revealed in the finale.
The other cheftestant moving along is not Louis. He's out. :-( Sadz. So it's down to Nina and Shirley who are left - and it's Shirley who's asked to PYKAG. Another Sadz. :-(
So the finale is Nina and Nicholas. The previews show Padma in a bikini (gratuitous boob shot for certain viewers), and Nicholas can't get service together and there's an outburst from him.
And Padma says "It's the closest finale I've ever experienced." Of *course* it is, Padma.
So one more episode to go. I'm ready for it to be over. GO NINA!