TOP CHEF 8, Ep. 15
The Quickfire opened with the introduction of celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck as its Judge. Each chef would assign a dish to one of their competitors and Mike got first choice as a result of winning the prior Elimination Challenge. He gave Canned and Dry Goods (nothing fresh) to Antonia. Antonia gave a hot dog to Richard. Richard had 5 choices left and gave “One Pot” to Mike, which Antonia said was not smart. Mike was cooking pork in a pressure cooker and had a lot of time to needle Antonia. It was due to finish at about 45 minutes of 60 allowed minutes cooking time. However, before 45 minutes was reached Padma came with the expected twist. The chefs were to get a handicap, with them selected in reverse order. Those were:
Antonia for Richard – cooking with one hand
Richard for Mike – finishing cooking with no knives or utensils
Mike for Antonia – the double apron with Carla on the right side and Antonia on the left
The finished dishes were:
Antonia – curry coconut soup w/ shrimp, andouille sausage, peanuts, fish sauce
Richard – curry wurst of hot dog w/homemade roti bread, curry ketchup, mayo, mint
Mike – pork shoulder w/ black beans, chili paste, ginger, cabbage salad
Wolfgang Puck’s comments were:
Richard’s curry wurst had too much ketchup flavor
Antonia’s soup was delicious but over-salted
Mike’s pork was undercooked but its balance was good
He gave the win worth $5000 cash from Chilada Wines to Mike. Richard appeared psyched out. Padma made a statement about competing for the $200,000 grand prize and Wolfgang tongue-in-cheek volunteered that he would be interested in being part of that.
Padma showed the 3 chefs a sealed envelope and said there would be more on it the next day and where they were to show up.
On arrival, the chefs found Michelle Bernstein, Wolfgang Puck and Iron Chef Morimoto waiting for them. Will they act as sous chefs? No, instead they have simple dishes that they wish to have as their last meals based on their memories of favorite meals their mothers cooked for them. The chefs need to make their versions of those meals. It was unstated that those meals need to be excellent to impress this set of judges. The assignments are:
Mike – picked Michelle Bernstein, who gave him fried chicken, biscuits and gravy
Richard - picked Wolfgang Puck, who gave him gulasch, spaetzle and apple strudel
Antonia – was left with Morimoto (but she was pleased), who gave her miso soup, fish, rice which would need to be done perfectly
The cooking and serving was done at the Cloister and Ocean Club. The 3 special Guest Judges were augmented by food photographer Melanie Dunea (photographer for a book of “Last Meals of 50 Chefs” and by Tom, Padma and Gail. Note the odd number of total judges, which may be why Melanie was added, something I would not usually think would be needed. The chefs had 3 hours to cook. As this began, Richard stated “I have won more challenges than anyone in the history of Top Chef, but I blew the big one (finale of TC4).” Antonia said she had completed 31 challenges (I think one less than Richard)Antonia). She found her original hamachi fish rancid, so she was forced to switch to tuna.
The dishes from the chefs were:
Antonia – tuna sashimi, pickled daikon, mushrooms, eggplant, miso soup, perfect rice
Mike – fried chicken w/ egg puree, biscuits from a novel approach of egg yolk inside empanada
, mustard gravy
Richard – beef gulasch, spaetzle, frozen sour cream, tarragon cream, apple strudel
Judges’ summary comments for each meal were:
Mike – creative but maybe too much so (losing “the way mothers cooked”); elegant “biscuit” fabulous; batter on white meat dry
Antonia – miso has too much salt, tuna has too much pepper, rice excellent
Richard – simple, ingredients, great balance, great gulasch, strudel outstanding, not hot enough,onions undercooked
Additional comments by the guest judges who provided the challenges were:
Michelle – fried chicken over-juicy and too crispy, breading falling apart, egg yolk in empanada novel and it was superb
Wolfgang – flavors right on, spaetzle a little tough
Morimoto – miso soup too salty (a continuing problem of Antonia’s)
It was obvious that Richard had won this episode and that either Antonia or Mike should be going home. I felt it would be Mike staying to face off against Richard in the finale. However, Padma had another twist for Antonia and Mike. She pulled out that little envelope and read its contents. It was a special 45 minute challenge to create 7 identical one-bites that would wow each of the 7 judges. Back to the kitchen for Antonia and Mike!
Antonia’s dish was spicy coconut curry broth w/ a piece of grouper.
Mike’s dish was beef and lobster tail w/ black olive, caramel sauce,
Here is where the odd number of judges came in handy, as a poll was taken of each judge. The votes for Antonia were Morimoto, Padma and Gail. The votes for Richard were Michelle, Melanie and Tom. I expect that Tom, who voted 6th may have voted strategically like they do it on Hell’s Kitchen to set up a thrilling tie-breaking vote and that honor appropriately went to Wolfgang Puck. After the suspense of a commercial break, Padma brought the 2 chefs back in to announce that the vote was 3 to 4 and Mike had won. Antonia had to pack her knives.