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Thursday, December 3, 2009

'Top Chef' Las Vegas, Episode Thirteen: A food show about ... food!

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If there was one thing last night's penultimate episode of “Top Chef” Las Vegas focused on, it was, believe it or not, the food.

Despite some choice words from Michael Voltaggio and some choice outfits from a newly pregnant Padma (I'm not sure why being pregnant means she needs to cover her neck in strips of black and white fabric), last night's episode avoided the bells, whistles, and drama of the majority of the Vegas season, taking a cue from its new calmer Napa Valley location. Without Eli's one-liners or direct brother-brother conflict, the food had the spotlight and was as successful and intriguing as the season's other gimmicks. Even guest judge Michael Chiarello, "Top Chef Masters" douchiest contestant, couldn't take the focus off the sustainable Napa Valley inspired dishes.

Lone Atlanta finalist Kevin and his new crazy hair created an enviably simple carrot top and radish dish that seemed refined and managed to wow each of the judges. Bryan made two solid dishes, including a yummy fig glazed short rib, without being flashy or adopting a theme, and gaudier Voltaggio Michael's turnip foie gras soup was creative, if a little gimmicky. Even Jen, whose over salted plates sent her packing her knives, created interesting and inspired dishes. The basil/radish/honey mushroom combination peeked the interest of head judge Tom Colicchio and her whole duck dish was thoughtful and appropriate for the challenge.

Ultimately, though, Jen's nerves got the best of her (although I think Tom exaggerated their effect on her cooking a little at judge's table) and standing up against three steadfast opponents, she fell just a hair, or rather a grain of salt, short. It seemed obvious from the judge's initial reactions that she would be the one out, but it still makes me a little sad that the strongest female competitor in “Top Chef” history didn't make the final cut.

As for the three that are left, I think it's really anyone's game, but if I had to place my M resort chips on the table, I would go with Bryan whose neither here nor there style of cooking fits the “Top Chef” winner mold. Bryan's stayed out of the bottom throughout the competition and makes smart, calculated decisions about each of his dishes. The other two fall into two too distinctive categories: Kevin runs the risk of being called too "simple" and Michael runs the risk of focusing on creativity over flavor, two fatal "Top Chef" flaws. Bryan is the middle of the road, easy choice, and his performance last night proves it.

Don't get me wrong - I'm rooting for Kevin and his facebook-page worthy beard, but I'm doing everything in my power to not get my hopes up.

(Photo courtesy Bravo TV)

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