In the first part of the season finale, the four finalists fly to Puerto Rico, where they have to butcher an entire pig
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Welcome to the first hour of the season finale ofTop Chef, ”Puerto Rico: Part 1,” which I’m officially renaming ”Holy Schnickeys.”

Let’s begin with Lisa’s new ‘do. It was apt that she would get a new haircut, given that we began the season discussing Richard’s and Jen’s wacky fauxhawks. While I’m sure most of you agree with Blais’s assessment that ”I don’t think too many people expected Lisa to be here,” we can at least throw her a bone by saying she looks good (less sloppy), which has hopefully translated over the break into her being able to find her Zen place when things heat up in the kitchen.

Off to the quickfire challenge, where — holy schnickeys — at first glance I mistook Wilo Benet for a bloated Tom Colicchio. Whoops! My bad. No offense to either. As Richard, Stephanie, Lisa, and Antonia cooked up frituras(fried snacks) in an unfamiliar kitchen, Blais almost blaised his eyebrows off with the stove’s flame. Albóndigas (meatballs) with burnt-brow-hair garnish. That would be bad. I will say that I was fiending for Steph’s tostone and Lisa’s chorizo fritter as I took a stab into my salad at home. Watching Top Chef while dining on my usual subpar dinner is getting to me. Tom and Padma: I’d like to go out on a limb and say I’m available to be a guest judge next season (especially if Bourdain is also a guest). Stephanie and Lisa ended up on top in this challenge. The former had said she wasn’t too fond of cooking with plantains, while the latter said she had been practicing during the break. Who won? Well, Stephanie. Why? Because she didn’t take for granted that her familiarity with plantains would translate into victory. I’ll temper that by saying this was her first QFC win; as Padma said, ”Better late than never.”

Next, Benet and Padma invited the cheftestants to a party in San Juan. It was like, ”Gee, thanks, we finally get to go to a party where we aren’t surprised with having to cook, yet all that’s weighing on our minds is the elimination challenge. Thanks for prolonging the anticipation.” So they ate, they danced, and they stressed. Day 2 took them to La Fortaleza, the private residence of the governor of Puerto Rico. They would be cooking for a garden party of 100 VIPs. ”As I think you learned yesterday, in Puerto Rico, it’s just not a party without a pig,” Colicchio declared with a gleeful smirk while uncovering a whole pig. Dead. Lying there in the shade. Each cheftestant had to butcher a whole porker and produce at least two dishes using two parts of the animal. Holy schnickeys — and I was not the only one who was shocked ad nauseam. ”The challenges have progressively gotten so much harder,” said Antonia. ”I mean when we first get to Chicago, we’re like making a pizza, and now we have like an entire pig. Deep-dish is looking real good right now.” I would like to amend my availability to be a guest judge next season: I can only attend episodes in which I do not have to witness the butchering of the food I am about to eat. Thanks.

NEXT: Eliminee-capped

”It’s a big job,” Colicchio announced, ”but we’re going to give you a little help.” In walked Dale, Nikki, Spike, and Andrew. Stephanie, thanks to her quickfire win, got to decide which eliminated contestant would serve as sous chef to each finalist. And she decided that she’d ”just try and put people together that will actually work well together, just ’cause I’d rather have everybody in the kitchen getting along rather than like having people screaming.” So Steph took Dale, whom she’s known about 10 years. Richard got Spike, Antonia got Nikki, and Lisa got Andrew (this after Lisa specifically mentioned Andrew as someone she didn’t want to work with). While the sous chefs shopped at the market, the chefs had to butcher their pigs. ”We each have our own Wilbur just sitting there,” Stephanie said. She went on to say something to the effect that people don’t really think of where the meat products they purchase at the store are coming from. That’s because nobody wants to have to deal with ”Oh, I just ate Wilbur’s belly.” If we did dwell on it every time we had meat, there’d be many more vegetarians in America. ”If you angle it this way, you can actually pop it out of its socket,” Antonia said while demonstrating one butchering technique, then paused. ”I know, it sounds terrible.”

At the market, some of the sous chefs found their way better than others. Nikki used her instincts, smelling ingredients to choose items, while Andrew attempted to communicate with the locals through pantomime or by just adding o‘s to the end of most of his words. Plastic-o, for example. ”I just come off looking like a retard,” he said, ”which happens more often than not.” Andrew should know by now that he doesn’t have to be in a foreign environment to look that way.

The ”gray cloud” that is Lisa continued to hover around the kitchen, cursing or being an underminer to the very person who was trying to help her. ”Why don’t we switch jobs,” she asked Andrew, ”because I seem to be a bit faster than you at that?” Meanwhile, Stephanie experienced a real disaster: Dale left a tray full of pork belly out on the counter the entire night. ”It’s okay,” she said. She’d rather throw it out than make people sick. Dale felt terrible about it. ”If I get her sent home,” he said, ”I swear to God I’ll never forgive myself. It’s like someone pulled my heart out of my chest and stomped on it. F—.” Stephanie was stressed out by the turn of events but was understanding enough not to take it out on Dale. They coolly changed the game plan together, deciding to make a salad topped with chicharrones. I’d work with Stephanie on anything — she’s not an operator, just a stand-up person.

NEXT: Hell o’ beans

The party was uneventful. No fisticuffs. No old ladies slipping and sliding on tender pork that found its way to the ground. The VIPs at least liked the food, it seemed. At the judges’ table, Colicchio stated that Richard’s pork belly and Steph’s chicharrón salad were the highlights of the competition. Later, Stephanie didn’t even mention to the judges the huge mistake Dale had made; again, this says a lot about her character, given what we’ve seen out of some of the others. Richard came out on top, though — winning a 2009 Toyota Corolla. He was shocked: ”So I win the challenge, and I win a new car. I don’t know how to react to it, to be honest with you.” I think he should demand a royalty for product placement, too. (Trust me. Labor negotiation is one of my beats.)

As for the bottom two, Antonia and Lisa were lambasted for minor things. Antonia for her slightly undercooked beans and her plating methods and Lisa for choosing to go Latin American although she knows Asian cuisine better. Lisa was convinced she had lost. ”I’m telling you right now I’m going home,” she said. ”I’m not saying I did a horrible job. I’m being realistic.” And it seemed that the audience agreed with her. During the commercial break, 91 percent of viewers who voted picked Lisa as the person who should pack his or her knives. But get this: The judges friggin’ picked Antonia because of her technical errors. What a shame. ”My entire heart was invested in it,” she said afterward. Oh, sad.

For a second there, I started to feel a wee bit bad that I’ve been super-critical of Lisa, I even empathetized with her after seeing that 91 percent score. But then she reverted to her usual self and said to Stephanie and Richard, ”I know you guys are upset that Antonia’s leaving, but a congratulations would have been a little bit nice.” Good going, Lisa. Way to make it about you when all you did was bring your B+ game. She then added, ”You just make me feel like the wrong person went home.” Well, sweetie, that last comment has less to do with them and more to do with your own insecurity. And for the record, right before Lisa and Antonia had gone to face the judges, Stephanie had said, ”Good luck, guys.” As in, plural. Richard aptly summed up that ridiculousness: ”You won the f—ing bronze medal. Congratulations.”

Dah! What did you all think about the episode and the elimination? Are you frustrated? What will you do if Lisa wins Top Chef? Is that possible?

Episode Recaps

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Tom, Padma, and Gail tell the cheftestants to pack their knives and go.
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