Top Chef Episode 16 Recap: Aloha, Mr. Colicchio
I know this entire thing played out months ago, but I can’t help being resentful of these cheftestant jerks gallivanting (yes, gallivanting) around Maui like extras from the cast of Lost. I suppose they deserve it after weeks of psychological torture and sequestration, but still. It’s fucking cold here in Philadelphia and I am a spiteful man.
Last week, Nick edged out Carlos (barely) to join shoo-ins Shirley and Nina in the finale, leaving Señor Gaytan to battle a white-hot Louis in Last Chance Kitchen. If you didn’t watch it, the three finalists got to blindly pick the winner, and Louis emerges from the palm fronds as the fourth and final competitor.
In the confessionals, it seems that everybody has had a chance to recharge their batteries. Our hometown hero is happy and relaxed, a nice contrast from the Richard Blais attitude he had during the season (hopefully that ulcer’s in check, too). Whether it’s the island or the break, the cheftestants exhale for a brief moment before the judges show up, and then shit gets real with everybody’s (and especially Hawaii’s) favorite fake food, SPAM.
Since Hawaiians love that shit (I love it, too), the challenge is to make a dish highlighting the canned meat product, and regardless of your stance on Nicholas, this challenge is a perfect example of why he deserves to be here. Sure, he struggled the entire season with execution and overcomplication, but when it comes to concepts, his creativity blows Nina, Shirley, and Louis out of the water. I suppose it’s the age-old debate of whether a cook is an artist or a craftsman. Either way, I thought Nick’s Spam broth was way more creative than Shirley’s Spam Fried Rice, Nina’s Spam and Breadfruit Croquette, or Louis’ Spam Mousse, and the judges agreed. Nick wins $10,000 and a coconut full of confidence.
Next up is the Elimination Challenge, where two of the finalists will be sent packing. An ancient boat shows up, manned by a bunch of dudes in loincloths, and the cargo is HEALTHY CHOICE DINNERS MADE WITH TOYOTA CAR PARTS!
Just kidding. The bamboo boat is full of Canoe Crops and various proteins brought to Hawaii by Polynesians back in the day (hence the loincloths and old-timey boat). The Cheftestants must create a dish using only these ingredients. On the way to the boat, Shirley takes another spill, but this time, Nick doesn’t help her up (or did he? I was pretty drunk last night).
In the kitchen, Nina’s nerves get the best of her, and she starts breaking down the wrong fish. This is her competition to lose, and all signs are pointing to choke. While she tries to recover, Shirley realizes that she’s the only one making pork, but since Nina and Louis are using the same fish, judgment will probably be harder on them.
After prep, they set up outside, where it begins to rain. I doubt Bravo seeded the clouds, but you never know. There’s a brief moment of panic, then the sun comes back out and service begins. Louis presents a Grilled Opa with Sweet Potato and Coconut Sauce. He thinks it’s a winner, but the judges get inconsistently cooked fish. Up next is Nina, who also makes Opa with Coconut, but instead of a sauce, she makes a puree with coconut and taro root. Her fish is cooked better than Louis’, but the sauce itself was too spicy for some of the judges. Nicholas bats the three-hole, and there’s no need for Shirley to clean up since he finally hits a home run with his Opakapaka with pork jus, jalapeno, and crispy chicken skin. There were complaints that it might be too spicy (and Padma hates him), but Nick was able to silence the voices inside his head for a brief moment of clarity. And in case you care, Shirley makes a honey-glazed pork that was perfectly cooked. Unfortunately, it was too sweet, and after a winning season, she’s sent packing, along with Louis, who didn’t really have a chance anyway (try and prove me wrong).
A double win should give Nick the confidence he needs to defeat Nina, but he’s gonna have to cook his ass off. If you need me, I’ll be biting my nails until then.
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