The last episode closed on a cliffhanger as the final two "Top Chef" contestants -- Brooke Williamson and Sheldon Simeon -- were joined by the victor of "Last Chance Kitchen," Bravo's brilliant web-only spinoff. As tonight's finale (part I) opens, we're about to discover who it is -- Kristen Kish or San Francisco's Lizzie Binder.
Fast forward six months since that Alaskan episode -- whoa, seriously? -- and Sheldon and Brooke are getting ready for the finale. We see Sheldon in Hawaii, in his restaurant and barbecuing at the beach with his adorable family, and Brooke in Los Angeles with her sous chef-husband and son and at her restaurant, where she's making a pig ear salad. Ahem.
The finale will go down at Tom Colicchio's Craft restaurant in Los Angeles, where they're joined by "Last Chance Kitchen" champion Kristen. (Aww, Lizzie! But we can still vote for Lizzie for fan favorite by tweeting #ChefLizzie, so that's good.)
The challenge: Running the dinner service at Craft, which opens in three hours. Sheldon says the spot prawns in the big walk-in refrigerator are talking to him, maybe with quail. Kristen is doing tuna. And Brooke is overwhelmed by choices, but she's leaning toward short ribs and sweetbreads. There's plenty of teasing in the kitchen, particularly between Kristen and Sheldon, who joke about "falling into Tom's baby blue eyes."
But everyone is nervous. "I'm sweating in places I didn't think I could sweat," Kristen says.
Colicchio is expediting in the kitchen, while Padma shmoozes with Emeril Lagasse, Hugh Acheson, Martin Yan and John Besh. The first courses include Sheldon's spot prawns in a delicate broth, Kristen's chestnut veloute and duck rillette, and Brooke's salad with sweetbreads, kumquats and beets.
Brooke is melting down in the kitchen. "It's a bad day to have a bad day," she says, when Colicchio makes her toss a plate that has gotten cold.
"Tom expediting is frightening," Kristen says.
The entrees follow: Kristen's ahi with Meyer lemon puree, Brooke's braised short ribs with nettles and Parmesan sauce, and Sheldon's roasted quail and pine nuts.
"Overall, this is not Sheldon, it's someone else who has put on Sheldon's hat," Hugh says. "I want the old Sheldon."
Martin Yan loves Brooke's brown butter cake with whipped goat cheese and blackberries, complimenting the balance of "the yin and yang." "Did you just say 'the yin and Yan'?" Besh asks him.
Reviews are mixed for Kristen's chocolate with curry cashew and Sheldon's white chocolate mousse with apple and fennel.
The judges go through the dishes, praising and critiquing. Padma has gotten a lot feistier over the seasons, hasn't she? She's pretty fierce in her critiques, while Hugh goes for the quips every time. The judges discuss each dish and each cheftestant, the pros and cons.
Colicchio compliments Brooke's food for being complex, but "never showy." This time, however, she got way behind in the kitchen. He tells Sheldon "all season long you put together some dishes that were new and exciting." By going in a different direction at the finale -- with quail -- "You lost yourself a little back there." And Kristen "played it a little safe," he says.
Aww, Sheldon is out. Padma tells him to pack his knives and go. Sheldon makes a gracious exit speech, leaving Brooke and Kristen to duke it out in the final challenge.
Next week: The final challenge goes down in front of a live audience and a new chef is crowned Top Chef.