After breakfast on the Creole Queen, the final three meet Padma and Tom for their final challenge. It's simple: Cook the best three-course meal you've ever made in your life. Desserts are optional. They are doing their cooking at a legendary place called Commander's Palace, and they'll be cooking for 12 judges. Richard, Casey and Marcel (all of whom made it to their season finales, but didn't win) are back. They draw knives for who gets to pick first. Hosea wins and picks Richard, who he thought should have won last season. Stefan generously "gives Marcel another shot." He says Marcel is a great chef but a bit of a twat. I'm quite sure the same has been said about Stefan. Carla gets Casey. And its girls against the boys.
Stefan and Hosea butt heads over foie gras during prep. Then they butt heads over caviar. Casey teaches Carla how to cook meat sous-vide.
Then, after prep, they hang out at the hotel and get their fortunes told. Stefan talks about how he's been stabbing Hosea and Carla voodoo dolls, in order to get an edge.
The next morning, they walk in and Tom's standing in front of a table that’s got alligator and other wacky ingredients. They've added a fourth course, which is an appetizer; they have to use either crab, red fish or the aforementioned alligator. Carla's butterflies have turned into bats. They use a king cake to figure out who gets what. Just in time for Mardi Gras (almost). The person who gets the baby gets the pick. Hosea wins it, keeps red fish for himself... gee, that's a challenge for a seafood chef. He gives Carla the crab and sticks Stefan with the alligator. Stefan wrestles with what to make with the alligator. Carla gets pinched by a crab, and then there's a lot of cooking.
Hosea's three courses are: Trio of Sashimi, Scallops & Foie Gras with Pain Perdu and Venison Loin with Wild Mushrooms.
Stefan's whipping up: Halibut & Salmon Carpaccio, Squab with Braised Red Cabbage & Schupfnudeln and Ice Cream & Chocolate Mousse with Vanilla Syrup and Lollipops.
Carla's creating: Seared Red Snapper with Saffron Aioli & Crouton, Sous-Vide New York Strip Steak, Potato Rod with Merlot Sauce and a Cheese Tart with Apple Coins & Marmalade.
A whole bunch of acclaimed chefs -- and Rocco -- are on the judging panel. Hosea's the first out with his appetizer, which is Blackened Red Fish on Corn Cake With Creole Remoulade & Micro Cilantro. That's a big description for the teeniest little hors d'oeuvres you've ever seen in your life. But it looks like it's on an upside down shot glass, which is kind of cool.
Stefan strolls out with Alligator Soup with Celeriac, Parsley Leaves & Puff Pastry, which he serves in itty-bitty espresso cups. Fabio's there. He likes it, he really likes it. Team Europe never says die.
Carla presents her Shiso Soup with Blue Crab & Chayote Thai Salsa. Toby Young is there too... sigh. And, randomly, Branford Marsalis, who is not a chef, so why he's there I've got no clue.
The judges sit down and talk about the food. They seem to really like Carla's first course. Branford likes to listen to chefs talk, because they talk just like musicians... except not really at all. Second course, they like Stefan and Hosea. Carla's attempt at Sous-vide didn't go over so well. Last course, Stefan says that Hosea's not making a dessert because he's chicken. Carla has oven issues (well, she forgets to turn it down) and her soufflé goes bad. They like Hosea's venison, they aren't impressed with Stefan's lollipops. They put Fabio on the spot to pick between Hosea and Stefan… and Team Europe crumbles as he picks Hosea.
The chefs say thanks to their sous chefs, Stefan and Hosea share wine, they all hug and then head off for judges table. They tell Carla that they liked her appetizer and first course, and then it all went down hill from there. They basically try to get her to blame Casey for all her mistakes. They like Hosea's appy, but not his first course. They love his foie gras-filled second course and his non-dessert final course. Toby questions why he didn't do a dessert. With Stefan, they like his alligator, but not his first course. The liked his squab, but his desserts weren't impressive. They all think they should be Top Chef. Carla starts crying and says that when she's in charge of her own food and makes her own decisions, she's deserving... then she starts crying and even Stefan tries to comfort her.
The judges basically put Carla out of the running, and debate forever between Hosea and Stefan. And then they decide on freakin' Hosea. Whatever. - Angel Cohn
After a quick review of the season thus far (Did you know Hosea really wants to beat Stefan? And that Stefan won a lot of challenges? And Carla kind of came out of nowhere?), we head back to New Orleans for the final challenge. The cheftestants prep in different ways: Stefan brushes his teeth, Hosea puts on his shoes, and Carla does an amazing yoga move that looks like The Worm. Wouldn't it be super fun to be seated at Carla's table at a wedding? Even if you didn't know her? She could critique the food, you know she'd be the first one on the dance floor, and she could be your designated driver, since she doesn't drink alcohol. SCORE!
The final three cheftestants are delivered to a riverboat, the Creole Queen, where they eat breakfast. Carla interviews that she's astounded to still be there, but she feels like she's "building momentum." She adds portentously that if she can continue to make the food that got her to the finals, she has a good chance of winning. DUM DUM DUM! Hosea tells the others that this competition really opened his eyes to the fact that there are tons of chefs out there who want to be on top, to borrow a phrase from Tyra. That sounds dumb until you think about the fact that Hosea was a big fish in a smallish pond out in Colorado, and then he came to New York, the biggest pond of all. Hosea interviews that he has more to prove because, unlike his competitors, he still works for someone else and hasn't started his own business. Stefan interviews that he's pissed that Fabio got eliminated, but he really still thinks he has it in the bag. I bet the producers love Stefan because I get the vibe that, in his interviews, they barely have to ask him a question and he just starts delivering gems like, "Hosea, get the fuck out of here" and "It's in the bag. It's over." You may not like Stefan, but he is reality television gold, much like Santino was on Project Runway, probably because he presumably hasn't watched much reality television. Give me 12 Stefans over one All-Star season where everyone has been on television before and is way more concerned about their image and the editing than on just being honest. Maybe that's easier for me to say now, knowing the outcome of the season, but I think I've enjoyed Stefan all along, even if I didn't necessarily want him to win.
After breakfast, the cheftestants don their coats and head to a museum to meet up with Padma and Tom and find out about their final challenge. Colicchio lays out the ground rules, which are pretty simple: cook the best three-course meal of their lives. He emphasizes that dessert does not have to be one of the courses. Stefan interviews that it's almost too much freedom, because there are so many options regarding what to cook. Padma tells them that they'll be cooking at the famous New Orleans restaurant Commander's Palace, and then serving to a panel of 12 judges and guests. They get two hours to prep today and three hours to cook tomorrow. Colicchio pulls out the not-really-surprise that they will be getting some help, and Carla interviews that she didn't think it would be previous contestants like previous seasons, because they were already brought back once. True, but then production could save money on plane fares and hotels, right? Instead, they've brought back Marcel, Richard and Casey from previous seasons. I remember Marcel and Blais, but Casey took me a second, because she was so nondescript, even though she almost won the whole thing. Hosea interviews that all three of them were strong contenders for the title, so it's cool that they are there to help.