Final Elimination Challenge: Just like last season, create a meal that celebrates their journey to becoming a chef. The first dish should be inspired by their first food memory. The second dish should be inspired by the dish that made them want to become a chef. The third dish should describe them as a chef. The usual critics (minus Gael Greene) are joined by Tom Colicchio and last season’s three finalists.
So here’s their food:
Marcus: First course is smoked char with sweet horseradish shellfish broth and mashed root vegetables, which are flavors he grew up with. Second course is salt-cured duck with foie gras ganache, sour tomato jam and aged balsamic, based on the time he had to cook Christmas Eve dinner for his family when his grandmother was sick, and everyone loved it. Third course is berbere-flavored hamachi meat balls, porcini couscous, and sea urchin froth, in his effort to bring African cuisine onto the culinary radar.
Rick: First course is hamachi and live sea scallop crudo, glazed kushi oyster, and American sturgeon caviar, because he grew up going clamming with his father on Long Island. Second course is bacon and eggs with gnocchi, parmesan, and white truffles, based on the first time he ever ate mushrooms at a neighbor’s house and realized how exotic food could be. Third course is venison with espresso salt, stuffed cipollini onions, Matsutake mushrooms and Brussels sprouts, hoping for the element of surprise since everyone would expect him to do seafood.
Susur: First course is steamed scallop with Cantonese black bean sauce, dim sum shrimp and crab croquette with chili sauce, from his memories of having dim sum with his father. Second course is tuna with wasabi mousse, charred sea bream, and artichoke, asparagus, and daikon salad with ginger flower, based on the first time he had Japanese food and it got him interested in cooking. Third course is lamb Thailandese with chiang mai sausage, green curry and polenta, as a reminder of when he took his children to Thailand so they could learn more about Asian culture.
Halfway through the prep time, the contestants are joined by their sous chefs from their restaurants. As you would expect, all of the food is really great, and the critics have a tough time deciding on a winner. Ultimately, even though his third dish challenged their Western palate, the critics and diners give the win to Marcus Samuelsson. Well, at least it wasn’t Susur, although I softened on him a bit when he told the story of how his first wife was killed in a plane crash. So on to Top Chef next week!
The three finalists, Rick, Susur, and Marcus, report for the last round. First up, we review Rick's story: he was eliminated in the first round last season, so he came back this season hoping to make it further. And he did! Even though he's kind of loud and obnoxious and has self-admitted ADD about a lot of things. What about Marcus? He's looking back on the journey he's taken this season, and thinks he has gotten to know himself. And what about Susur? He remembers that his first Quickfire was terrible, but after a pep talk from his wife, he went out and fought for it. He may have bruised a few egos along the way, but he also earned some of the highest scores this show has ever seen.
The chefs arrive at Los Angeles's Union Station, which is really beautiful. Kelly explains that the final round will be just like last year; they will be celebrating their journey as chefs. Marcus is happy to have the chance to show America his journey. Did I change channels and stumble upon The Bachelor? Why is everyone talking about journeys? Or maybe the finale of Glee? That had a lot of Journey too. Anyway, the first dish is supposed to be inspired by their first food memory. The second dish will be about the experience that made them decide to become a chef, and the third dish will be the dish that describes them as a chef. Susur thinks it's an emotional journey (that word again!) he hasn't taken before, and trying to describe it in only three dishes is "pretty heavy."
Kelly gives the parameters of the judging. In addition to the normal critics, they will also be serving Tom Colicchio, and last season's three finalists: Michael Chiarello, Hubert Keller, and Rick Bayless. Rick Moonen interviews that all of those guys have been finalists on this show, so there's no fooling them about the realities of the situation. Then again, they might also be more sympathetic to the challenges, no?
The finalists get to have breakfast together and talk about the challenge before they have to get to work. Marcus says that he doesn't really remember being in Somalia, so his first food memories are of Sweden. His mother died of tuberculosis when he was three, and he was adopted by a Swedish family. He talks about what he's going to do for his first course, but I'm going to save the full description for when the food is actually served. Rick talks about his first memory. He grew up on Long Island and used to go clamming with his father, and he ate a raw clam for the first time and it tasted like the ocean. He reveals that no one in his family was in the restaurant industry so this has been an unknown for him, and he knows his parents would be proud. Susur remembers going out for dim sum with his father, and specifically remembers a black bean sauce. They finish breakfast and realize that there's work to do, so they head to the store.