Keckler's tussling with Ramsay at the moment but she'll be back on duty for the full-length recap.
We open with the arrival of the remaining four cheftestants in Aspen, and then we waste some time with the reunion and the catching up and the travelogue and the mimosas in a hot-air balloon before getting to the Quickfire: the cheftestants must cook trout on a camp stove beside a picturesque creek, in 20 minutes, using a pared-down list of pantry ingredients. Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin is presiding. Everyone's rusty from the time off, and there's a fair amount of flailing -- Malarkey dumps his fish into the grass; Hung finishes early, but forgets lemon juice -- but Casey pulls it out.
The cheftestants all got to bring $200 worth of their own ingredients from home, but because she won the QF, Casey gets to use hers; the others have to make it work with the provided ingredients. Not that anything Casey packed in is relevant, really, because she brought mostly "pan-Asian" tools, and everyone has to cook…elk. (Malarkey: "Definitely not seafood." Thanks for the tip, G.) The Challenge is to cater a rodeo event, serving 45 portions each, with three hours to prep and cook.
During prep, four things of note happen: 1) Hung is dismissive of the EC; 2) Dale biffs his onion/goat cheese tart and has to jury-rig a Plan B; 3) Colicchio informs them that not two, but three cheftestants will go to the finale next week; and 4) I feel a sudden, inexplicable, powerful urge to run out and buy some Gladware. No clue what that's about.
At serving time, we don't hear that many comments from the cowboys and cowgirls; what we do hear indicates that they like all the dishes, meaning nobody screwed up really horrendously. The judges mostly like everything as well -- even Gail, whose customary "my dish had a liiiiiiittle too much rosemary in it, so I will now accuse it of killing my mom" style of critique is conspicuously absent this week. Judges' Table is quite positive, and they recap the performances (Dale had good sauce, Casey's elk was too rare, Hung's dish was technically flawless but kind of soulless as well, Malarkey used every ingredient in Colorado and listed them all). Then it's time for the "defend your existence" portion of the finale, and then Dale snags his first win. He'll get to hang with Ripert as his reward.
Going home? Malarks, who doesn't seem super-bummed about it -- and I'm not either. I like the dude(s) well enough but this was, in my opinion, overdue.
Padma quickly reminds us about everyone who has been sent home over the past twelve episodes, and we get a never-ever seen clip of CJ yelling at someone while they all waited in the back for Judges' Table.
All I remember about my trips to visit my grandparents in Aspen was getting carsick on the way home from the airport, and this awesome crepe wagon somewhere in town. You could smell the frying crepes from several blocks away.
Dale, Casey, and Brian in an argyle sweater arrive in Aspen-Snowmass. Frankly, I think it would be more fitting for them to be staying closer to Buttermilk Mountain. They stow their suitcases and hug each other ecstatically. Okay, not only do we have the Brians outfitted themselves in argyle, but they are also carrying a hatbox. I know I'm probably being haberdashery-ily naïve, but I didn't even know they made hatboxes any more. This one looks sort of like an octagonal suitcase, although I would have died to see Brian carrying a pink-and-white-striped number by its green velvet ribbon. Brian reaches out to hug Casey and then beckons to Dale, saying, "Group hug." Heh, according to his wife's MySpace page, the two of them are into all sorts of "group hugs." Both Brian and Dale have shaved off what little facial hair they had and gotten haircuts. Brian looks better without the facial hair, but Dale just looks more Chicken Little-y than ever. I also prefer Brian's hair longer. It looks like Casey has gotten new high- and low-lights stripped in. She's not as blond and it suits her much better. They wait for Hung. And wait. Of course Hung is shown to be the last to arrive, which, given that he has no control over flights, I was going to assume wasn't his fault or that it wasn't due to his chronic selfishness. BUT THEN the Magical Elves changed my mind when they played The Plinky-Plunky Music Of Chronic Dawdlers And The Criminally Unmannerly, while Hung gets his baggage and reminds us that he's there for himself alone, adding, "Compared to the other three contestants, my skills and techniques are much more advanced." Thank you, Magical Elves -- I now see that it's totally Hung's fault that the others were all waiting on him! Oh, AND? Hung DOESN'T HUG THE OTHERS! I mean, I shouldn't even worry about the fact that there's a cut between Hung pulling his suitcase out to the car where Dale, Brian, and Casey are waiting and him stepping back from Casey, rolling up his sleeves and saying, "Let's finish this thing," right? Because Hung is Chef Evil, who has no soul and no soft hugginess inside his cold, brittle granita of a heart.