Top Chef Las Vegas Recap
By Jason Lee
November 20, 2009
One, two, three, four, let's shove Eli out the door! Five, six, seven, eight, Jenn, put good food on your plate!
It's the pre-finale episode of Top Chef: Las Vegas and I'm nervous, praying that Jennifer finally steps up her game. As Tom has mentioned more than a couple of times in the past few episodes, she started this season incredibly strong, but for whatever reason (emotional fatigue, mental exhaustion, etc.) she has stumbled her way through the last bunch of challenges. This is not how I like to see Jennifer. She was so fiery when we met her, but that flame has dwindled down to that of a matchstick light. If there was ever a time to bring it, it would be now.
With the way Kevin, Michael and Bryan are cooking, they feel like locks for the finale. The last spot will either go to Jennifer or our munchkin Eli. Eli says that he wants to win Top Chef on behalf of his mentor, Season 4 third-runner-up Richard Blais. Jenn says that she feels like the pressure is on her, since she started strong but has lacked focus lately.
The five remaining chefs enter the Top Chef kitchen and we see Padma standing next to a very short man (you picked a bad time to wear those heels, Padma). This is apparently Gavin Kaysen, who was not only a James Beard winner for Rising New Chef, but also represented the United States at the Bocuse D'Or, which is a cooking competition that basically acts as the culinary world's version of the Olympics. I gather that it's an extreme honor to be able to participate in the Bocuse D'Or.
Gavin and Padma chatter about the ballantine that he cooked at the competition – a ballantine being a dish that has a protein inside of a protein inside of a protein. Gavin's ballantine took him four months to figure out . . . but our chefs have 90 minutes to produce their own. GO!
The chefs scurry about, having more time than usual for their Quickfire, but also a much more complicated challenge. Michael and Bryan immediately begin planning very intricate dishes and Kevin remarks that he finds their dishes risky due to the time constraint.
The chefs finish up and what we see are five dishes of greater complexity than I've almost ever seen on Top Chef. This is a long ways away from going to a vending machine with $5 and making a dish out of what you can buy (which we did in Season 1).
Eli has made a bacon-crusted breakfast sausage with a six-minute egg in the center. Michael has done a poultry terrine, with chicken, turkey bacon and a mousseline (a sauce with beaten egg whites). Bryan has a rack of lamb with merguez sausage (basically a Mediterranean sausage) wrapped in caul fat. Kevin presents what he describes as a "cliché Southern dish" with fried catfish, scallop and shrimp.