Top Chefs Battle It Out For a Spot in the Finals
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The last New York challenge of this season’s competition had chefs cooking the meal of their lives. Not just any dish either. They had to create something spectacular for five culinary masters who were asked what they would want to eat for their “last meal on earth.” No pressure, right?

Okay, lots of pressure!

Chefs appropriately freaked-out as they drew knives to see which uber-famous foodie they would cook for.

Fabio, best known as William Shatner’s private chef, pulled the knife with Lydia Bastianich’s name on it. He was thrilled at the prospect of wowing the reigning queen of Italian cuisine, who requested roast chicken and potatoes for her last meal. Inspired by the feasts of his childhood, Fabio planned to create something that would make his late grandmother (and Captain Kirk) proud.

Wolfgang Puck’s protégé Hosea was paired with Susan Ungaro, president of the James Beard Foundation. Surprised by the simplicity of the requested shrimp dish, Hosea decided to create his own version of scampi for her.

European egomaniac Stefan was in charge of roasting salmon for Marcus Samuelsson, the Swedish chef currently rocking the NY restaurant scene. Stefan, cocky as usual, dreamed of the sweet victory he was sure would be coming. He is an expert at this simple recipe, he bragged smiling. “There is nothing I can do to screw up this dish.” The other chefs smirked, hoping he would be wrong, for once.

Nervous Leah drew chef Wylie Dufrense, the famous sideburn wearing molecular gastronomy genius. Wylie wanted perfectly-cooked eggs benedict. No frills, no fluff – just something delicious. An odd choice from a man known for his wild science experiments.

Wide-eyed ex-model Carla thanked her spirit guides when she got the legendary French chef Jacques Pepin, grandfather of all great recipes. “We’re like two peas in a pod,” she joked, happy with his request of squab and peas.

Carla’s approach was to keep things simple in the kitchen, an attitude that has worked for her in the competition so far. She compared TOP CHEF to a footrace. She is the tortoise who has been quietly poking along doing what she is supposed to do, finally passing the hares, waving “bye-bye” as she goes past.

The rest of the chefs had a different approach. They chopped, peeled, and sautéed like maniacs in the kitchen. While scurrying to create perfection for the legendary chef diners, Fabio, the dreamy Italian, had a disaster in the kitchen – he broke his pinkie!

“Do you want to go to the hospital?” asked the on-duty nurse. Are you kidding? Leave the competition just before you get to serve one of your idols a last meal?

Fabio shook his head. His answer: “I’ll chop it (my finger) off and sear it on the flat-top so it doesn’t bleed anymore. Then tomorrow I’ll cook with nine fingers.”

Luckily the nice nurse lady wrapped his hand and we were spared any bloody repairs. The cumbersome bandages were almost as bad as an amputation though, as Fabio clumsily peeled potatoes and onions for his chicken dish. The food bounced out of his hands, off the counters and shelves, and onto the floor. Fabio frowned for the camera. “I always said that (cooking) is so easy I could do it with one hand behind my back. I didn’t mean it.”

Nervous chefs finished their dishes and served the culinary superstars with shaking hands. Leah went first, but the watery eggs didn’t impress the judges; Stefan, expecting an easy victory, finally showed that he isn’t perfect when he served overcooked salmon; and Hosea’s shrimp was called, “just plain boring.” That left Carla’s fabulous peas and Fabio’s juicy chicken dish as the top two meals at the table.

After a long deliberation by the judges, Fabio got the applause and glory he has waited for all season – Lydia loved the chicken. He nearly wept with joy when he was announced the winner of the night.

Also joining Fabio in the New Orleans semi-finals next week are confident Carla, humbled Hosea, and self-absorbed Stefan (who said, “Of course I’m going to the finals. It was never going to be any other way”). Leah’s eggs were too squishy to earn her a spot, and she was sent home to watch the remaining shows on her TV with the rest of us.

I can’t wait to watch what happens when the four remaining chefs battle it out next week!

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