We open live with Padma in a fugly peasant dress, shouting too loudly about how...the show is live. Whatever.
After some foreshadowing from the cheftestants about adjusting to the altitude, they ski-lift it to the Aspen Mountain Club, where they receive the final challenge: cook the meal of their lives. A Top Chef-branded ice sculpture (hee) looms over the ingredients table as Casey, Dale, and Hung decide on their three-course meals. Then it's time to draw knives to see who their sous-chefs will be, and while the cheftestants assume their booted compadres will be brought back to help them, it's actually celebrity-sous-chef time. Hung is paired with Rocco, Casey with Michelle Bernstein, and Dale with Todd English.
Into the kitchen they go for Day 1, which is prep. All the sous chefs seem fairly confident in the cheftestants, although nearly to a man they comment that the cheftestants are going too complex with the dishes. Still, the sous chefs aren't allowed to comment/advise, so they don't. Rocco and Hung get along great; Michelle doesn't seem super-confident in Casey, but by the end of the day she's won over.
On Day 2, it's the usual panic in the kitchen, and then Colicchio drags them out onto the patio mid-prep for another twist: 1) they have to prepare a fourth course, and 2) now the booted compadres have come back to give them a hand. Hung is paired with Sara, Casey with Howie, and Dale with CJ.
More panic. More altitude issues. The guests take their seats -- it's the usual judges plus Tom, the sous chefs from the day before, and Malarkey. Finally the food goes out, and Casey doesn't do very well; Dale and Hung both get mixed-to-good reviews. Ditto at judges' table, where Casey is out of it quickly and it comes down to Dale versus Hung.
Interspersed with the episode proper are the "live" bits before and after commercials, which add nothing except to the episode's running time, but we're repeatedly told that the cheftestants are backstage, watching the show. Ouch. At long last they're paraded out in front of the live audience (which includes Hung's BFF Marcel). More speechifying from both judges and cheftestants (particularly painful in Casey's case, since, having seen the footage now, she knows she's toast), but fast-forwarding through the gimmickry to minute 74, Hung is declared the winner. He jumps all around and is genuinely over the moon about it, which is nice to see.
(Totally ganked my show page title idea from the brilliant minds at Amuse-Biatch.)
Casey. Dale. Hung. Hit it.
Actually, make that Dale. Hung. Hit it. Clearly, Dale's preview comments about Casey being unfocussed were painfully prophetic.
As the show opens in a live Chicago studio with Padma in the navy version of a bridesmaid dress my babysitter wore in the early '80s, I am reminded of Sars noting in her recaplet how worthless these little spots are. You know what that means? I don't have to recap them! Much. Padma welcomes us, reminds us why we're tuned in, and tells us that the three final cheftestants are backstage awaiting the final decree. Man, just...poor Casey.
Yield: 1 strong cocktail
3 ounces apple cider
1 ounce Pommelle, or other cider-flavored liqueur
1 ounce golden rum
1 ounce bourbon
Slam everything together, stick it in the fridge, and let the cloves macerate in the drink overnight. When ready to serve, garnish with a non-sous-vide apple cheek, stick in a bendy straw, and drink the loss away.
Aspen. The cheftestants wake up with various nervous or excited reactions to the finals. Casey is having trouble breathing because of the altitude, but she still thinks she can GO! ALL! THE! WAY! A short time later, they all just happen to be hanging in Casey's room when room service wheels in a tray of food. Their appetites are immediately suppressed when they open up some Top Chef stationery (when you care enough to scare the very best) and find lift tickets. Casey reads, "Meet us at the top of the mountain to find out about your final challenge..."
The three cheftestants and a camera guy or two ride a gondola up to the tippy top of the mountain, where they find Tom and Padma standing next to tables full of food. There's also a totally unnecessary ice sculpture with "Top Chef" carved into it. Frankly, I would have thought an icy representation of Gail Simmons would have been more impressive. Since they're on the grounds, Padma drones a quick commercial about the Aspen Mountain Club, which seems rather pointless since we learn that the waiting list is "years long." Colicchio delivers the final challenge: "Cook us the best meal you've ever cooked in your life." So simple. Colicchio throws a spanner into the works, though. Unlike in past years, when each cheftestant cooked a meal in turn, this time they're all going to cook at the same time, in the same kitchen, and serve their food simultaneously. They have thirty-five minutes to plan their three-course menu, and they get to choose their ingredients from what they see in front of them, as well as use the special ingredients they brought with them.