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The sun comes up on the Bahamas, where our intrepid final five have gathered for one very long Top Chef goodbye. Antonia reflects on the “fiery season” as Richard appears wearing fewer styling products and a wispy ginger schmeard. He’s afraid he’ll both lose and miss the birth of his child, but which he fears more, he doesn’t say. And then Mike and Tiffany show up looking well-rested, and everyone troops off to a fort.
Waiting inside the fort are scowling faces from the Top Chef canon: Michael Voltaggio, Hosea Rosenberg, Stephanie Izard, and Kevin Sbraga, all winners of seasons past. They all seem kind of cranked, Voltaggio most of all, and we’re left to wonder what it is about reality TV contestants that makes them believe that they have to keep proving themselves, again and again, in front of a camera. What is there left to prove? That you have contractual obligations to Bravo?
Padma, Tom, and Eric Ripert appear to inform the contestants that for the Quickfire, they’ll be competing against the winners of their respective seasons, using a secret ingredient chosen by Tom. The prize: $10,000. Mike V. and Mike I. get a duck, Carla and Hosea get lamb, Tiffany and Kevin get pork, and Stephanie and Richard and Antonia get a veal rack.
First up are Kevin and Tiffany. The judges prefer Tiffany’s pork stew with potatoes and peppers to Kevin’s barbecue pork with citrus salad. Next, Hosea’s braised lamb in red chili broth beats Carla’s jalaf rice and harissa lamb, and Hosea gets to “prove to the haters” that he “did deserve to win.”
The judges are fairly disgusted by Antonia’s roasted veal with leek and almond purée and Stephanie’s veal scallopini, so the win easily goes to Richard’s seared veal loin and braised veal cap. And finally, Mike I.’s cashew-dusted spiced duck breast with duck leg beats out Mike V.’s duck breast with duck leg in bacon vinaigrette, and, holy hell, does Mike V. look pissed off. He won’t let Mike I. hug him, and it’s sort of horribly beautiful.
For the Elimination Challenge, Padma says, the chefs will be cooking dinner for Bahamian royalty later that night. “Guys, please make us proud,” Tom says, using FCC speak for “please don’t fuck this up.” The chefs are given 2 1/2 hours of prep, during which Mike reveals his strategy: “Honestly, you don’t want to put up a plate of bullshit.” Everyone else frets about what to feed the royals, which leads Carla to process her feelings. “All the people that have tried something and have been underestimated, [this] is for them,” she proclaims, wiping tears from her eyes as she preps apple chips.
Later, a big SUV and police escort show up, and Mike gets a haunted look in his eyes. “Every time I get a police escort I’m on my way to jail,” he says. This time, they’re on their way to a restaurant where they’re greeted by some local people dressed in bright plumage. “I don’t know if I should be happy or scared,” Tiffany says, but then Mike starts dancing so we choose the latter.
Tom shows up in a pink plaid shirt, and at this point we’re loving the Top Chef Resort Wear Line. He introduces one of the dancers, who turns out to be the king of Junkanoo, and everyone except Tiffany starts to fret that their food is too highbrow. Their worries are for naught, however, because almost as soon as they get into the kitchen, a deep-fryer catches on fire and a production assistant appears and screams at everyone to leave. This puts Antonia “in a bad head-space,” which fills Richard with joy, because he wants “to mess with her head.” But then Tom messes with everyone’s head by informing them that because the fire-fighting chemicals ruined all of the food, they’ll have to start from scratch.
And so it’s back into the kitchen, where Antonia decides to make shrimp and grits and Carla, who obviously didn’t recognize the fryer fire was the world’s most obvious bad omen, deep-fries some pork medallions. Mike, meanwhile, sweats like a pig:
First to the guillotine table is Carla, who realized too late that the deep-fryer didn’t cook her pork all the way through. And sure enough, the meat, which she serves with sweet potato purée, apple sauce, and fried apple chips, is declared underdone by the judges, who also find the dish too sweet.
Next, Antonia’s crispy shrimp and grits with cilantro and pickled vegetables are served. “Well, this looks interesting!” Padma says a little too brightly. Tom is a little more blunt. “This little shredded carrot thing on top, it’s like Howard Johnson called and said they want their garnish back.”
Mike does a little better with his sous vide chicken with mushrooms, yams, lobster sauce, and lobster hash, which despite its many disparate components actually seems to work. So does Richard’s roasted lamb loin and braised leg of lamb with pickled turnips and mustard. What doesn’t work? Tiffany’s roasted spiced pork tenderloin with dirty rice, curry slaw, and tomato jam, which the judges find boring.
Finally, the judges are sent to the luxury-resort version of the stew room, where Richard indulges in a disturbing display of self-loathing. “I hate everything I fucking do,” he says, all but rending his garments.
Everyone’s called before the judges. They tell Carla her dish was too sweet and her apple chips too greasy. “It wasn’t the apple chip I intended,” she replies sadly. Then she’s told that her pork was unevenly cooked, and Mike has this to say:
But as great as that is, Mike’s no match for Tom, who makes no attempt to hide the offense he takes from almost everything the chefs have served him:
But he does have kind words for Richard, which is a relief, because at this point, Richard’s looking a little, er, addled:
But he and Mike get to stay, with Mike declared the winner, which leaves Antonia, Carla, and Tiffany to contemplate their fate. Finally, the judges tell Carla to pack up her knives and leave the Bahamas, and she cries a bit but generally seems OK, possibly because she was one of the sanest contestants in all of Top Chef history. We’re sad to see her go, but happy to report that next week will see the chefs go diving, Mike leer lecherously at Padma in a bikini, and Richard declare he’s “a hot mess.”