We're in Home Stretch City, folks. Who from Last Chance Kitchen will be joining Brooke and Sheldon at Craft-Los Angeles for the Top Chef finale?
Before we get there, Sheldon and Brooke have a congratulatory pillow fight back at their Alaska house - they also have a little sing-a-long using Sheldon's ukelele.
They show Sheldon back in Maui, Hawaii, 2 weeks before the finale. Sheldon notes that it's been SIX MONTHS since Alaska. He's had an opportunity to stage at a high end restaurant, trying to get his technique down. He also does a lot of schmoozing in his restaurant with diners, and is out in a park with his family cooking BBQ, and talks about creating a better life for his 3 girls and his wife by opening a Filipino restaurant, his dream.
Then we head off to Los Angeles, just 1 week before the finale, and Brooke is shown with her husband and son, getting him off to school, and then her husband and Brooke bouncing between their two restaurants. Brooke also notes that she met her husband when she hired him as her sous chef. He asks her at dinner who she thinks is coming back from LCK, and Brooke replies "Kristen". He said that would be a pretty solid battle. Brooke said the ultimate satisfaction would be beating someone she has the most respect for in the culinary world. Roy Choi (A-Frame) and Sang Yoon (the owner of Father's Office) show up at their table. They both give her encouragement.
Annnnd we're now on Day 1 of the Finale. Brooke and Sheldon are in the car driving to Craft. And the sneak preview seems to show TWO PEOPLE walking into the restaurant from the Craft kitchen! So maybe we were right?
Padma, Hugh and Emeril are all in Craft waiting when Brooke and Sheldon walk in. Padma reminds them of Last Chance Kitchen going on during the Top Chef competition. Quick preview of each time someone was ousted from TC and what they did to win LCK (meaning lots of CJ wins). And Padma announces the winner of LCK, and it's KRISTEN!!!! (And she walks in with Tom Colicchio - that was the other person I saw in the window. LOL)
This is the best of the best of this season. And they're off for their last Elimination Challenge. Craft will open in 3 hours, and the three of them will be Tom's chefs. Each will be responsible for an app, entree, and dessert, and Tom will expedite. Emeril tells them that both he and Hugh will be going into the kitchen to observe and offer advice. They run to the walk-in to figure out what they're going to make, and the three of them review what they're each doing for their courses, and get cooking. Brooke is the only one who doesn't seem to have her act together as to what she wants to make for each course.
Hugh shows up in the kitchen and talks with Brooke. She got into the competition via the preliminary competition in his kitchen, and he's been impressed with some of her more creative dishes, so he's looking forward to seeing what she can do.
Tom comes in to talk with Kristen and asks her if she's changed her approach - and Kristen says simplicity. Doing too much in too short a time is what screwed her up. Tom asks if she was successful in LCK because she only had 30 minutes to put something together, and Kristen agreed - it gave her no time to overthink things.
Emeril shows up to talk with Sheldon. Sheldon notes he's been doing a bit of homework since Alaska, and he thinks they'll be surprised at what he's learned. Emeril gives him one piece of advice - TASTE, brother. Taste and retaste. Emeril tells him he admires Sheldon from where he started - dishwasher. Just like Emeril himself.
Sheldon and Kristen note it's cool to be cooking in Craft. Sheldon said you kind of get lost in.....and Kristen fills it in with "his blue eyes!" They dreamily stare at each other, and Kristen jokes, saying "I just got lost!" and they both laugh and get back to prep.
Sheldon calls out Yahtzee! when his quail goes on the stovetop, and Brooke cannot stop burning pistachios in the oven. She's behind in her prep, and she starts to panic, not even answering Sheldon when he calls out "Are you OK?" Sheldon's not known for dessert so he's a bit worried. Kristen realizes that a lot of her time is gone, and she's got to start her dessert. She calls out to Sheldon "Have you seen any sesame oil?" He replies "You're going Asian? You don't cook Asian, you Asian person, you!" She laughs and says "It's a white person Asian!"
(Can I just say I *LOVE* how these three get along so well?)
Brooke still feels like she's spinning out of control, but her dishes are tasting good. Kristen says she's sweating in places she didn't know she could sweat. Only 5 more minutes to service. Tom shows up to tell them how he expedites - Order, Fire, Pickup - but they need to talk to each other. He asks them to get their stations together - but please clean up, as the place is a mess. LOL
The judges arrive - Padma welcomes everyone, and let's them know that Tom will not be at the table since he is in the kitchen expediting. The judges are Emeril, Hugh, Martin Yan, and John Besh, and Tom, who will get a dish of his own in the kitchen.
Orders start to come in - and Tom begins to taste in the kitchen.
SHELDON APP - Sashimi Spot Prawns, Court Bouillon, Radish & Asian Herbs - "very pretty", Emeril said the prawn was perfectly cooked.
KRISTEN APP - Chestnut Velouté, Duck Rillette & Brussels Sprouts - Yan liked the raw brussels sprouts and its kick, but Hugh said you wouldn't ever serve the duck rillette that way by itself; you'd have cornichons or bitterness from pickles; John Besh said it needed a touch of acid.
BROOKE APP - Crispy Veal Sweetbread Salad with Kumquat, Beets & Mustard - Padma like the intensity of flavors; Martin Yan said it had a lot of surprises - the kumquat is very aromatic and intense in flavor, but the beet stands alone like a stepchild. Hugh said the sweetbreads should have been cleaned a bit more and he would have sliced them thicker.
Back in the kitchen, Tom realizes Brooke doesn't have enough dumplings in the pans for the orders he has up. This is Brooke's "bad day to have a bad day."
KRISTEN ENTREE - Seared Ahi Tuna with Veal Mustard Jus and Meyer Lemon Purée - Martin liked the tuna - it was perfectly cooked - but Padma thought the lemon curd was too harsh for her. John said one bite was borderline too salty - he thinks Kristen probably hit it with sea salt before it came out - "or maybe it was the expediter!" An "ouch!" from Hugh.
Tom is asking for veloute in the kitchen - "I'm dying up here, and you're killing me - I'm desperate!" and Kristen notes that having Tom expediting is scary - "I peed in my pants a little!"
BROOKE ENTREE - Braised Short Ribs, Parmesan Sauce, Nettle Purée & Squash Dumplings - Martin said her dish is perfectly cooked and is complemented by the side dishes. Hugh loves the parmesan sauce, which mixes well with the braising liquid jus, and Emeril loves the nettle purée.
SHELDON ENTREE - Roasted Quail, Pine Nut Purée, Garam Masala & Tangerine - Martin said Sheldon was brave, as quail can be very difficult to do. Hugh calls the "pine nut thing" an "ode to pine nut hummus" (or did he mean "eau du pine nut hummus"? LOL) which is OK, but not his favorite. Hugh says this is not Sheldon - it's someone else who put Sheldon's hat on - and he wants the old Sheldon back! Emeril agrees with Hugh - Emeril said he's been brainwashed and doesn't know where Sheldon went.
BROOKE DESSERT - Brown Butter Cake, Whipped Goat Cheese & Blackberry Sauce - John Besh says "Holy smokes!" THAT....is really really good!" And Hugh agrees. Martin notes it's not overly buttery, and loves the texture on the outside, and the balance of yin and yang.
KRISTEN DESSERT - Curry Chocolate with Cashews - John Besh says "interesting; interesting!" Martin said it surprised him to combine the chocolate and curry, but Padma said she likes it together. Hugh says "I don't know! It's not a great idea; it's a really basic dessert." Emeril just shrugs.
SHELDON DESSERT - White Chocolate Mousse with Apple & Fennel - Padma liked the flavors, but John Besh said the raw fennel overpowered everything else. Martin noted the fresh fennel was pretty distracting, because it was such a big chunk.
Service is over, and Tom tells them "It's really hard running through service in one night, bu you did a great job. See you back at Judges Table."
In the in-between, Sheldon notes that Chef Tom is calling out tickets like a drill sergeant. "Sauce for prawn, sauce for prawn, sauce for prawn?" Sheldon said "Once I look into those baby blue eyes, he can get anything from me!" Too funny.
Tom joins the judges and gives his perspective from the kitchen. He notes that Brooke was a bit behind with her mise en place, but she got there. He said they all got a bit in the weeds, but managed. Tom asks how they all thought dinner was, and John said the evening was awesome. He thought they all did great. Hugh said overall the menu seemed "easy" and thought they played it a bit safe. Martin Yan said they needed to pay attention to a few individual elements, and it would have been perfect. Tom said "that and only if they're as fast as you are!"
Back at Judges Table, they review Sheldon's dishes. His app "sung", the quail entree was just OK - Tom called the pine nut dish chalky. Padma asked if he had roasted the pine nuts; he hadn't. Emeril notes that he had been told by Sheldon "you're going to see a new Sheldon tonight." Emeril said "there was nothing wrong with the old Sheldon - that's what got you here!" Hugh said the quail was not what he expected from Sheldon. They discuss the dessert, and the raw fennel seems to be the issue for everyone.
Kristen's soup was well received, but Hugh thought it was too safe for her. Her entree was perfectly cooked, but the lemon was too bitter. Tom asked if she blanched the lemon before roasting; she said she was kind of going for bitter; Tom said he wasn't sure if the bitterness and the celery root puree worked. Padma asked about her dessert and if she was happy with it - Kristen said "NO! It was a bowl of chocolate!" Hugh said it tasted like a badly thought out pot de creme. Emeril liked the flavor, at which Tom squinted. Emeril thought the dish could really be something - but Tom said "not tonight!"
For Brooke's appetizer, Tom liked the crispiness of the sweetbreads. Hugh noted he would have cleaned them more. Brooke noted her biggest challenge was timing - she was cleaning them to order. Tom said it's what hung her up - orders were coming in and she was still working on her mise en place, and things were incomplete. Her short ribs seem to be the favorite entree dish of everyone Padma said the sauces were the best of any in that course. She was going to take some of Kristen's tuna and sweep it through the sauce. As for Brooke's dessert? Hugh thought the cake was great, and Emeril said "I thought it was pretty damn good - and so did John Besh and so did Martin Yan." Tom has a quizzical look on his face, and says "The cake was nice, but it's just not a restaurant dessert. I think it was very unfinished."
The cheftestants leave JT so they can deliberate. Tom notes to the other judges "I know we don't take past performance into consideration, but sometimes it's hard not think about what they've all been through this season." For Sheldon, his flavor profile has benefited him throughout the season, but Hugh said it fell flat tonight. Tom said that Kristen fell on her sword during TC, but killed it during LCK - dish after dish was so good. Hugh said she's got an amazing skill set. Brooke's first and second courses were very good. Hugh said based on how in the weeds she was in prep, she got her stuff out, perhaps as nuanced as it could have been, but it was still really strong. Tom said she seemed to lack the focus she had had all season.
Tom reviews with each of them how they did, and turns to Padma - and Padma asks Sheldon to PPYKAG. Aww, I'm sorry to see him go! But that means it's an ALL GIRL FINALE! Truly, the Top 2 Cheftestants made it into this finale. I'm very glad!
And previews of the finale, they're cooking in front of a live studio audience, which includes LOTS of past Top Chef winners and competitors. I saw Michael Voltaggio, Richard Blais, Paul Qui, Hosea Rosenberg, and Stephanie Izard. This is gonna be interesting!