Finalists Christina and Petrozza set up their own restaurants and, after a side trip to New York, have to decide who gets stuck with Jen or Matt

By Whitney Pastorek
July 03, 2008 at 12:03 AM EDT
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  • TV Show

Good evening, my little carnitas, and welcome to the continuation of Hell’s Kitchen. It’s everyone’s favorite episode: the penultimate show, in which everything gets arduously set up before blowing through next week’s Most! Intense! And! Eye-Burning! Finale! Ever! In the History! Of Ever! Kicking off with a seemingly endless recap of the whole season — I wonder how poor Vanessa’s fried hand is doing these days? — the episode was mostly an hour of exclamations from our two finalists about how they can’t believe they made it/are relatively convinced that they will win. Thankfully, both remaining cheflings — culinary-student-with-moxie Christina and P-is-for-pig-and-also-paternal-goodness Petrozza — are likable figures behind whom it is not hard to get, and from the minute those big Blade Runner-style banners with their heads on them dropped from the sky, I’ve been along for the ride.

There’s ever so much to be done before anyone can open a fake restaurant at the end of a reality show, so let’s not waste time. After Corey’s elimination, Christina and Petrozza retired to the dorms to plan their menus, and Christina — who, at the wee little age of 25, has somehow been working in restaurants since 1998 — got right to work. Petrozza, on the other hand, seemed overwhelmed by the momentous occasion and got right to sleeping. At 5 a.m., he awoke with the birds to finish his list, while Christina had hers locked. Then it was off to meet with the designer to talk about the physical space, which both wanted to be ”warm” and ”rich.” Suddenly, Petrozza started talking in this voice that fell somewhere between Santa Claus and a drunk massage therapist who’s read too many Tolkien novels, nattering on about sweetbreads and forest mushrooms, and I half expected a bunny to come hopping out of his mouth. Then he declared he wanted his dining room festooned in flowers and candles, and I realized he’d somehow become the physical embodiment of a late-era Tori Amos album. Christina, meanwhile, was all about ”simple elegance” (aren’t we all) and hating on the green booths; she also hated all of Jean-Pierre’s sample waiter outfits, opting instead for black suits and black T-shirts. Petrozza, of course, could not have been more agreeable when it came to clothes, so J.-P., of course, now loves Petrozza way more. I can’t help thinking it may be the long-suffering maître d’s allegiance that puts Petrozza over the top.

Menu time, and Petrozza’s still all about the sweetbreads. Also Chilean sea bass, which is ”one of” his favorite things to put in his mouth, and a roast duck with soy, ginger, and sesame. (Chef Scott, wisely, stayed out of the Faerie Prince’s way during all this lip-smacking rapture.) On the other side of the kitchen, Christina was talking ”comfortable” foods that wouldn’t frighten the guests: strip steak, monkfish. This process — which I always want to see more of, actually — was soon interrupted by an urgent call from Ramsay. He was up in his office and needed to speak with them desperately. He was nervous. He didn’t know if he’d made the right decision w/r/t the finalists. He ominously cut to commercial… only to come right back and say, of course, that he knows he made the right decision, oh hardy har har. The cheflings breathed a deep sigh of relief. Christina giggled, ”Petrozza’s old! His heart can’t take it!” Oh hardy har har.

NEXT: Unrecognizable signatures

As a reward for their tolerating his little practical joke, Chef Ramsay announced they’d all be flying to New York City, which they did, on a private plane, with Ramsay in some very fetching blue jeans. On the ride there, they took some time to reminisce: Petrozza, said Ramsay, is one of the bravest chefs he’s ever met (thanks to that pumpkin). He’s also one of the messiest. But remember that one time he went all Rain Man and threatened to quit? That was crazy! And how ’bout that Christina: Nine challenges won! Intimidating intelligence! And lest we forget, totally a crier! Ah, but warm and funny togetherness aside, it’s coming down to the wire. ”Win or die,” said Petrozza, not convincing me he’s got a malicious bone in his body. Christina, of course, always the sassy little thing, just stuck out her tongue.

In Times Square, after a completely pointless stop to block traffic and fool around with the JumboTron (note: every person who was in Times Square whenever they shot that has known the two finalists for months; I wonder what that does to the Vegas odds?), Ramsay announced the two cheflings would be going to Dubai. I thought for a second this show was turning into The Amazing Race, but then I realized this trip was just a post-show reward for both, and they were instead heading to Chef Ramsay’s New York restaurant, the London, for their final challenge. Once given executive-chef jackets by Ramsay’s local executive chef, Josh Emmett — who is no doubt thrilled to be soon sharing a title with one of these bozos — they set about cooking yet another ”signature dish” for one last taste test. At this rate, these two have changed signatures more times than a professional forger at a check-cashing convention, but whatever: Petrozza is now best known for his filet mignon with caramelized onion risotto; Christina decided to make her new mark with a New York strip and sweet-corn succotash.

Cooking, cooking, la-di-da: Chrissy was pretty sure she had this one in the bag, especially after Petrozza started making these silly little ”paintbrushes” out of leeks or whatever because he is a giant cheeseball, but she shouldn’t have been so sure. After five of Ramsay’s exec chefs from all over the world tasted the two dishes in front of an audience made up of a bunch of random bridge-and-tunnel-lookin’ people who had clearly been plied with booze to watch this action, Petrozza came out on top. (And he deserved it, too, if only for this confessional response to Ramsay’s Versailles assistant, who had a problem with the use of risotto in an entree: ”Gimme a break, you ding-dong. Beef and risotto doesn’t work? Why, because your great-grandpa never mixed risotto with something else?”) (That being said, I would rather eat Christina’s food, because caramelized onions are basically my mouth’s worst nightmare.)

NEXT: Picking the biggest loser

And everyone knows this reward’s the most important one: Petrozza won first pick when it came time to select losers for his staff. Or, as he reminded us, now Christina had to pick last. ”Oh, s—,” said Christina. But the little blond control freak had bigger nonliteral fish to fry as soon as they got back to L.A.: She hated, hated, hated what the design team had done to her half of the restaurant. And thank God, because the combo of striped walls and public-access-talk-show-style fake windows was truly wretched in every way. (I have no comment on the women’s restroom Petrozza had concocted on the other side of the wall. He seemed happy with it, and I just want him to be happy. I don’t want him to cry again, though.) In the end, it was decided to paint over the bad wallpaper, and a frustrated Christina went to bed. ”Now we’ve got an ugly dining room and a sucky kitchen,” she moaned. ”Let’s at least get something right.”

Come next morning, things actually worked out better for Christina than I thought they would: She was able to get Corey on her team after Petrozza picked Bobby the Four-Star Rock Star first. (I think this may have actually been the nicest thing P.’s done for anyone so far.) Then Petrozza went with the ”talented, strong” Ben, and Christina picked Louross for his energy. And thus, as we knew it would, everything came down to Matt vs. Jen for the obligatory team black hole. Who’s the smaller liability? Not an easy call! Matt’s a psycho who tends to have skill blackouts, but the BBJ…well, what can you say about a woman who enters the finals of a reality show that she’s been kicked off of, still claiming superiority to the ”other competitors” and announcing that her goal is ”to make Chef Ramsay second-guess the fact that he got rid of me”? I mean, first of all, she no longer has ”other competitors,” as she is no longer in the competition, and as for the second half of her statement — well, it’s either super ominous or a sign that one should definitely pick her, since she’s got something to prove. I am a pessimist who does not care for Jen, so I am opting for ”super ominous.” And of course, the geniuses at Fox have left us hanging right here, which is a real testament to the obnoxiousness of both Kung Fu Panda and the BBJ. Congrats, you two.

So, my little Mexican pork products, what say you? Christina’s set up for a design nightmare, while Petrozza may just collapse into a pile of potpourri before this night is through. Who did he pick as his final team member? How much impact will that decision have? Based on what you’ve heard so far, whose food would you rather eat? Did tonight sway your winner pick in one way or another? And if a gratuitous Whoopi Goldberg cameo falls in the forest and no one is there to care, do I have to mention it in this recap?

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Gordon Ramsay verbally abuses wannabe chefs. Bon appetit!
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