Top Chef Finale, Part One
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I must applaud the TOP CHEF producers for their ingenious use of the EVIL TWIST! Was it introduced half-way through the semi-finals, when the chefs and those of us watching were relaxed and comfortable? No, this week’s wicked little trick was actually used to start off the New Orleans show. Brilliant!

Here’s the lowdown: wide-eyed Carla, fabulous Fabio, heartbreaker Hosea, and Stefan (the uber-ego) arrived to a beautiful backyard setting where they were introduced to guest judge Emeril Lagasse—then asked to sit and take a break. Why? Because those evil producers brought them a surprise: more competition!

Chef Jeff (the hair), tattoo-covered Jamie, and snuggle-bunny Leah came from the house to stand behind the three tables set up in the yard, ready to battle it out for a chance at redemption. The winner of the crawfish quick-fire would get to join the “fab four” in part one of the finale.

“Give me a break, please!” Fabio pleaded to the sky. His pinkie finger was healed, but he wasn’t in the mood for more competition.

Hosea, who only planned on having to beat three more people to win the title, wasn’t happy about having an extra person in the finale either. “That’s not the math I want right now.”

Grumpy finalists watched as the cooking began. Leah and Jamie scrambled to amaze, but blondie Jeff easily took the day, finally taking a simple approach to cooking. The special little rule for the man who won back his spot in the semi-finals? Jeff would have to WIN the next round to stay in the game.

Five nervous chefs got the details: cook two appetizers and a drink for a traditional New Orleans masquerade ball. Self-absorbed Stefan, who didn’t learn any humility from last episode’s wobble, took the challenge in stride. He strutted around the kitchen trying to annoy the other chefs and took long cigarette breaks. His nemesis, Hosea, rolled his eyes when he figured out they were both making a traditional gumbo. “Stefan’s Achilles heel is that he thinks he’s got this thing in the bag,” scoffed Hosea. Would Stefan’s ego actually hurt him? Or distract Hosea into fumbling?

Carla, who learned to shuck oysters only days before, thought she could process 100 of them easily, but fell behind. Jeff, the man with the biggest target on his back, reverted to his “overdoing it is best” mentality and whipped up a frenzy. But Fabio, the only truly calm competitor, had enough time left over to add fresh baked bread to his menu.

Masked diners swirled through the ballroom sampling each dish—sometimes twice. Judges praised Jeff’s mojito as the best cocktail of the night, and Hosea’s gumbo was declared amazing (to Stefan’s chagrin), but Carla, who sprinkles a little bit of love on every dish she makes, took the top spot this week. Her oyster stew was worth every bit of trouble she had in the kitchen.

Carla and Hosea move on to the finals with ease, but we had to say goodbye to the very talented chef Jeff, per crazy producer rules. That left Italian hunk Fabio and a red-faced Stefan at the judges’ table to fight for the last open spot. Self-named “team Euro” broke apart with these words from Padma, “Fabio, please pack your knives and go.” Fabio, always a man of class, left with good wishes and a winkie smile.

Next week the final three chefs are handed the last challenge of season five, “Cook the best three course meal of your lives.” With an additional evil little twist, of course.

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