Top Chef: His Protein Was Perfect. His Garnish Was Weak.


Last night’s deadly serious episode was the last to take place in Vegas, and it was about time. How many more shots of the McRanch at sunrise can viewers take?

Arriving in the kitchen, the chefs came upon Padma, who was towering approximately four feet above Gavin Kaysen. Kaysen seemed conscious of this uncomfortable fact, as he grimaced solemnly and seemed to take particular sadistic pleasure in informing the chefs that for their Quickfire Challenge, they would have to make their own version of his Bocuse d’Or dish, chicken ballotine stuffed with Louisiana crayfish, chicken liver, and fois gras. He neglected to mention that the dish got him 14th place in the competition, owing to the fact that a dishwasher had eaten two of his side dishes. Really! Wikipedia says so!

The chefs scattered to make their protein pile-ons. Eli made a Scotch egg — a breakfast sausage stuffed with an egg and crusted with bacon. Kevin mused that he and Eli were the two “ballsiest people” on the show because of their love of homestyle food, and to illustrate his big homestyle balls, made fried catfish stuffed with scallops and shrimp. Bryan made a rack of lamb and merguez sausage wrapped in caul fat. Michael fashioned a poultry terrine with mousseline, but not before making one of his typical dickhead observations that while “it’s great that we got to know each other and stuff, at this point in the competition, I really don’t think there’s a whole lot left for [Jen] to do.” Except, of course, kick his pompous ass in the Quickfire Challenge, which she won handily with her calamari steaks stuffed with scallops, salmon, shitake, and shiso.

For the Very Last Las Vegas Elimination Challenge, the chefs would have to gird their loins to compete in the Top Chef version of the Bocuse d’Or. And — surprise! — Thomas Keller, to whom Kevin “owes a debt of gratitude” he’ll “never be able to pay back,” would be one of the judges. Game on!

So the chefs went shopping at Whole Foods and then home to watch videos of the Bocuse, which seemed to be composed largely of footage of very shiny food and people waving Canadian flags. Only Michael went to bed early, presumably because he needs all of the inner beauty sleep he can get. Kevin asked Bryan for sous vide advice and Bryan gave it, finally proving, three episodes before the end of the season, that he is the Voltaggio brother representing the light side of the force.

The next day featured lots of salmon and lamb being slapped around. The whole thing was such a blur that it was difficult to keep track of what everyone was doing. Something about tzatziki, something else about orzo gratin. Nothing resonated quite as much as Michael’s second dickhead pronouncement of the episode: “Kevin’s food is the food that I cook on my day off.” Although Eli won his own prize in the grimace Olympics by proclaiming he wanted to make his lamb “small and sexy and tight,” causing countless viewers to run for the comfort of their toilets.

Finally, it was time to serve the judges, who included Jerome Bocuse, Alex Strada, Daniel Boulud, Traci des Jardins, Tim Hollingsworth, Kaysen, and Keller. Everyone had a deathly solemn demeanor at odds with the circumstances that had brought them to the table — it was a bit like that scene in Animal House, where the fraternity brothers beat each other with paddles and ask for more.

Kevin’s poached lamb loin, sherry-glazed beet with Swiss chard, and asparagus in sunchoke cream was pronounced delicious but, Keller said mildly, “a little elementary.” Michael’s menage of “Mediterranean flavors,” salmon with cauliflower chickpea tart and zucchini tzatziki, met with bafflement. “Where’d he get cauliflower and caviar with Mediterranean flavors?” Tom asked, his soul patch recoiling in disgust. “His flavors are muddled,” sniffed Boulud. And, worst of all, Strada had to pick a bone out of his teeth.

Bryan’s crusted lamb loin, lamb shank crepinette, and orzo au gratin fared better, though his lamb was undercooked. Eli’s sausage-wrapped lamb loin, carrot puree, and tomato-piquillo canape also suffered from uneven cooking, as well as uneven slicing. Shots of lots of sad, uneaten lamb littered the screen, underscoring the incredible waste and hubris that this show serves up each week.

Finally, Jen served her “unilaterally cooked” salmon and caviar, shrimp flan and truffle, celery root and shiitake. It, too, was unevenly cooked. “Her vision is at a dead end,” Kaysen intoned. Where on earth do they get this stuff? Cue cards? Magnetic poetry? Spite?

The chefs were summoned, and after a round of applause Keller told them that the winner would get one more prize. The chance to give him a sponge bath? No. The chance to compete for Team USA at the next Bocuse. Oh. Then the chefs were sent off to the supply closest to await their fate before appearing as a group before the judges’ table. Everyone was served slices of humble pie, accompanied by lines like “his protein was perfect. His garnish was weak.” But there was no pie for Kevin, who won. Yay, Kevin! Nice guys do finish first! And Eli, who wasn’t such a nice guy, finished last, a victim of his undercooked fatty lamb and probably some New Age Pilates curse Robin put on him. Despite his trollish behavior, it was almost sad to see him go. But there’s no time for tears. Because next week everyone goes to Napa, to visit with Padma and her new bangs.