'Top Chef' Season 5, Episode 12: 'Top Chef,' Not 'Top Pussy'

"As far as I'm concerned, the judges could have saved us all a little agita and sent them both packing."

20081119-topchef-season5.jpgWatching Top Chef, I have finally figured out, is like watching the NCAA Division I basketball tournament. Viewers get crushes on contestants instead of teams and we then adopt those contestants through overcooked dishes and undercooked vegetables.

I now root for Carla and Fabio. How could you not root for Carla? She's got that great smile. And Fabio? He got charm and personality to burn. And tonight we found out that he has pluck as well.

Serious Eats' Tam Ngo, who I was having an amusing IM chat with throughout the episode, reported the following:

"The episode opens with the formula of chefs gutting their psyches, revealing their backstories. Usually, it's edited so that the chef with the most heartrending stories are the ones slated to win or go home. Carla reveals she used to model. Leah claims cooking saved her from a failed academic career. Merely meh."

[Warning: Spoilers ahead.]

"Wylie Dufresne hosted the Quickfire Challenge: to cook with eggs. Given that Dufresne is New York's saint of molecular gastronomy, the chefs felt obliged to cook their eggs with more wittiness than required. Stefan made an eggs benedict and a panna cotta with a mango 'yolk.' Hosea attempts to turn an egg into something it's not. He makes sushi rolled with egg whites. Leah interprets molecular gastronomy ("kinda the new cutting edge in food?") to be a two-bite plop. She pipes make-believe eggs with squiggly cheese. Fabio plates some exquisite-looking egglike things, but Dufresne complains that little of the dish actually tasted of eggs."

"Carla saw her teammates overreaching and wisely eschewed such shenanigans. She prepared a simple dish of green eggs and ham, which Dufresne declared delicious despite its color. She nails the win, which surprised Wylie, it seemed, and all of us. It definitely surprised Hosea, who thought Carla had done something too simple and obvious." Thanks, Tam, for the top-notch reporting.

The Elimination Challenge: Last Suppers

For the elimination challenge each of the remaining five contestants were asked to cook the "Last Supper" for a celebrity chef or foodie. Leah had to cook eggs benedict for Dufresne, Stefan cooked salmon for Marcus Samuelsson, Carla cooked squab and peas for Jacques Pepin, Fabio cooked roast chicken for Lidia Bastianich, and Hosea cooked shrimp scampi and proven├žal tomatoes for Beard Foundation head Susan Ungaro.

Interestingly, nobody tricked up their dishes. Every contestant played it very straight, which was wise considering how old-school most of the judges were. Without tricked-up dishes and strategic and tactical miscues by the contestants, the episode's drama was supplied by Fabio, who almost severed a finger cooking. When someone asked if he wanted to see a doctor, he came up with the line of the night: "This is Top Chef, not Top Pussy." How politically incorrect, Fabio, which he himself duly noted: "Just kidding," he informed everyone.

Fabio's roast chicken rocked the house, and Carla's squab pleased almost everyone (and her peas were positively inspired), so even before the judges pronounced Fabio the winner, we knew they were both making the final four in New Orleans.

Though Stefan had perhaps his worst performance yet (he really overcooked that salmon), you knew he wasn't going home. So it was either Hosea or Leah. As far as I'm concerned, the judges could have saved us all a little agita and sent them both packing.

But Leah was sent home, and Hosea lives to overthink another dish or three. The competition now moves to the Big Easy, where I will find myself rooting against Stefan and Hosea, and for Carla and Fabio. Should be a fun final four, don't you think?