Top Chef
Season 3 Finale, Part I

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Rocky Mountain High

The cheftestants kick into high Food Flurry gear and start prepping, with Hung doing one of his Three Stooges whoops. Dale tells us, "Elk, like most game meats, is extremely lean and extremely strong in flavor, so there's a very specific way that you cook it. Understanding the ins and outs of those kinds of meats, I think I'm actually in a really good place going into this competition." Casey is likewise happy with the protein because she's had elk, her family has hunted elk, and she already has some ideas. Brian chooses to work with the elk shank, which he starts searing off, and his list of dishes reads like a tasting menu. He's going to whiskey-braise the shank and serve it with a horseradish and sour cream potato purée and a pancetta, corn, and asparagus relish, and a blackberry balsamic and sage brown butter. I can't wait to hear what sort of "Trojan. Chicken. Rigatoni!" name he crazies up for this dish. Dale is skeptical about Brian's cooking method because he opines that such a lean meat as elk would call for a braising time of ten to twelve hours, not the three hours they have. Dale adds, "That's the great thing about Brian, you see somethin' and you're like, 'That guy is fucked,' and then he pulls it out and wins." Checking in with Hung, we learn he's using the loin and searing it with tomatoes and pairing it up with pommes boulangère and a chocolate red wine sauce. Hung's ego spouts off once again, "Cooking for cowboys and cowgirls does not mean anything to me because ultimately the judges have the final say, so I'm cooking great-tasting food for the judges. That's it." Again, he's not wrong, but I really feel that there should be some sort of karma smack for baldly ignoring who the customers are. Dale fusses with an onion and goat cheese tart that he was going to pair with his elk, but he can't find the requisite cream cheese. Casey's doing a mushroom-crusted elk loin with smoked tomato butter, whipped and caramelized cauliflower, and a poached pear. Man, she's got as much going on as Brian's four personalities, although maybe not as many ingredients. She also knows that Dale and Hung are both working with the loin, so she wants to make sure hers will be very different.

Colicchio arrives for his Sniff 'n' Sneer and asks how Seafood Brian is feeling about elk. Brian mutters almost sullenly that he's got skillz beyond seafood. To us, he waxes laundry list about his ideas: "I got cherries and blackberries and balsamic reduction, little bit of brown butter and sage -- I wanna put everything into this dish." I've heard that kitchen sinks require a longer cooking time than three hours. Speaking of that, Colicchio is skeptical that Brian can braise in three hours, but he moves on to Hung. Hung admits to never having cooked elk before, which would explain why he thinks it's "boring," clearly. Hung says that he wants to cook "spontaneously." Colicchio's face is impassive. After Colicchio finds out what Dale is doing, Dale tells us that one of the things the judges have complimented him on is his "saucework." Really? Why don't I remember that? Anyway, Dale is going to spend time making a "perfect sauce." Over at Casey's station, Colicchio confirms that she's comfortable with elk, and also that she has decided not to use her special ingredients because she's saving them for potential finals cooking. Colicchio gathers the cheftestants around for the annual Top Chef Twist. Instead of going from four to two cheftestants, they've decided that because of the "high caliber" of chefs, they're going to go from four to three, sending home only one. For those of you keeping count at home, in the first year, they went from three to two to one, and last year it was four to two, so I'm predicting that next year, it will be four to one. Taking the me-myself-and-I approach, Hung says, "I'm kind of thrilled and disappointed because if I make it to the finals, I have to compete with one extra person." However, Dale puts a sympathetic spin on it when he admits, "We were thinking that two were going to go, and I think that's probably a little more comforting at this point, because if you have to single one of us out, that hurts." The cheftestants do a team cheer and break to finish their dishes. Do you think the clock ever stops when Colicchio comes in to Sniff 'n' Sneer and make them gather around for further instructions and/or twists?

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