The final challenge is for Mike and Blais to each open the restaurant of his dreams. The other fifteen cheftestants return to cook an amuse bouche, and Mike and Blais do a blind taste test. Their top three dishes each will determine their sous chefs for this final challenge. It's tough, because they each obviously have friends and favorites (and non-favorites), but they don't know who made what.
Blais ends up picking the dishes made by Spike, Angelo and Antonia while Mike ends up with Tiffani, Jamie, and Carla. Oh my God, how much do I love that Mike has three women (except he calls them "angels," yuck). Then they have one hour to plan and five hours the next day to cook in their restaurants for seventy diners and the judges.
The guest diners are a real Murderer's Row: Hubert Keller (also judging), Lidia Bastianich. Alfred Portale and Bill Terlato (who donated the wine) join Padma to judge Blais first, while Art Smith, Curtis Stone, Gail, and Tom judge Mike first, and then they swap.
Blais calls his restaurant Tongue And Cheek (shouldn't it be Tongue In Cheek?) and wants it to be tasty food with a sense of humor. He almost pulls the amuse bouche, but goes with it at the last second: raw oyster with crème fraiche pearls and salsa verde. The first course is raw hamachi with fried veal sweetbreads, garlic mayonnaise and pickled celery. The second course is pork belly, black cod cutlet, bone marrow, beets, Brussels sprouts and kumquat. The third course is beef short rib with mushrooms, red cabbage marmalade, and celery root horseradish puree. The fourth course (dessert) is cornbread with whipped mango and foie gras ice cream. Yes, you read that right. The first group of judges liked everything except the ice cream, so Blais tinkers with it for the second round of judges and it seems to go over better.
Mike calls his restaurant Iz (for his last name) and calls it pub food refined, with Italian influence. He serves his first course: spiced beets with mozzarella, truffle, and chocolate vinaigrette. The second course takes a bit long to come out, and it's halibut with kumquat marmalade, cauliflower puree, and pancetta crumbs. Where did this dish come from? We've never seen Mike serve anything like this before, right? I mean, kumquat? The third course is braised pork shoulder with pepperoni sauce, roasted cabbage, and turnips. The fourth course, dessert, is rosemary caramel custard and pine nuts with citrus, celery, and apple. The first group of judges cannot praise his food enough, which is making me really nervous, although they're not wowed by the dessert. They don't show a lot of his second round of judges' comments, but what they show is positive.
Tom says that it was the best food they've had in any finale. The judges think that Mike's food was subtle and understated, and this technique was flawless other than his dessert. They loved the strength and assertiveness of Blais's flavors. Mike and Blais both get choked up talking about how much this would mean to them, and Mike drops the swagger for a second and I almost like him, but I still don't want him to win. While they wait to hear the results, their family members (Blais's uncle because his wife is too pregnant to travel and Mike's wife, mom, and sister) come to visit them. Man, they are really jerking the tears.
The judges, from what we see, are really torn and can make a case for either chef to win it all. They bring out all the former cheftestants and the family to see the results, like that doesn't make it more nerve-wracking, and the winner is BLAIS. Oh, thank God. Although I felt a little bad for Mike, but maybe he shouldn't have been such a dick throughout. Next week, reunion, and Tom and Elia get into it.
I suffered through the horrible, horrible Watch What Happens Live for you people, just so I could find out that the Fan Favorite was Carla, beating out Fabio. You owe me. Mike Isabella was so drunk and braying like a donkey. Ugh.
The episode opens with Mike and Blais in the immediate aftermath of Antonia's elimination. Mike is telling Blais that the judges said it was really close, but Antonia stumbled a bit with the aggressive seasoning. Mike promises us that he's the better cook than Blais, and he will beat him. So that's probably going to happen. End the show! The winner has been crowned. Blais laughs that he was hoping Antonia would knock Mike out. Because she's just a silly girl! Blais doesn't want to go up against a real man who didn't seem to be able to cook his way out of a paper bag until suddenly he came to the Bahamas and was a totally different chef. Blais does make the point that he already beat Antonia once, although that was years ago and presumably both have matured as chefs since then. Blais interviews that he's worried since Mike came back a different chef, so I'm not imagining that, at least.
Padma and Tom walk in to announce the last challenge, and they promise it will have no twists or turns (thank God). The challenge is to create the restaurant of their dreams. Blais has goosebumps. He's kind of a nerd. Then they have a montage of "the journey" which consists of Blais winning tons of challenges and Mike telling us how awesome he is and winning not that many challenges.
Blais says that he had nothing until he had his wife and family. Does he not have parents? Or siblings? Or friends? Anyway, he says that the kitchen has always been his home. Tom explains that they will create a four-course tasting menu, and Padma says that they'll get the rest of the details in the morning. They are both giddy with excitement. Mike reminds us that he quit his job and missed his honeymoon to do this, so he really needs to win.
The next morning, the two men hang out and talk about their role in the competition. Blais thinks he's the underdog, which is crazy, and Mike points that out. Mike trash talks a little and says that Blais is the favorite, but everyone thinks he'll choke in the end anyway. He's kind of joking but kind of not. I don't mind the trash talking in this instance, because they're both giving and receiving. It's not like Mike is being a bully NOW. Blais says he doesn't want to be the favorite, because it's better to be an underdog. Less pressure. Well, he doesn't get to decide if he's the underdog or not, unfortunately for him.
Blais asks who Mike would pick if they get to choose from the entire cast as their sous chef. Unbeknownst to the finalists, the entire cast (minus Gay Dale, whose absence is not explained) is gathered in the kitchen, where Padma tells them that they have thirty minutes to cook an amuse-bouche. Mike and Blais will taste the food and determine their sous chefs based on the food. Too bad they can't pick based on non-douchiness, because Marcel is wearing sunglasses indoors so he'd go right to the bottom. Back to Mike and Blais, Mike says that his first pick would be Jen, because they are friends outside of the show and she's a great cook. He wouldn't want Jamie, not just because of her attitude, but also because she's slow. Blais wants people who want to be there and who will listen.
Time is up and Mike and Blais enter the kitchen to applause from their former competition. Padma explains that Mike and Blais will pick their three favorite dishes in a blind taste test, and the creators of those dishes will be their sous chefs. This is really interesting, because obviously they can't pick based on who their friends are. But will they sort of know who cooked what based on that chef's typical fare? It also sort of assumes that you would want the best cooks to be your sous chefs, and I don't know that it's true. Yes, you want technical expertise and speed, but you also want someone with a good attitude, and someone whose strengths compliment your weaknesses. Like Blais would do well with someone like Carla, who will be positive and lift him up when he has doubts, right?
Blais interviews that he can't figure out who cooked what, so he's just going to pick based on flavor profiles. Mike is hoping to get Jen and avoid Marcel, based on past experience working with those chefs. Blais wants Dale, Angelo or Jen, because he thinks they would all have his back. As they taste, Spike comments that some of them have jet ski reservations and everyone laughs. Yeah, I'm sure some of them are just there for the free (?) trip and would rather not cook. So that kind of sucks.
Blais goes first, and picks Spike's ceviche of squid. Both look disappointed but when Blais asks if he's mad about having to cook, Spike says no. I'm sure Spike will step up. Mike picks Tiffani's yogurt curry. Mike admits that he thought the dish belonged to Jen, but he's happy with Tiffani. Blais picks Angelo's chicken, and he's really happy about it. Mike picks pork tenderloin, which was made by Jamie. Oof. Mike knows that she's cranky and prickly, but he thinks he can handle it. For his final choice, Blais picks Antonia's egg dish, and he knew it might have been her. He's thrilled, but a little worried that she's mentally still thinking about her elimination. Mike picks a salsa that Carla made. So Mike has three women, which is ironic, but then he ruins it by saying that they're his Angels. Ugh. He always has to categorize chefs into female and male; he never thinks of them as just chefs. The unchosen chefs are thrilled that they can go play and don't have to work. I can't really blame them. They wish the chefs luck and take off.
Padma tells them that they have an hour to plan today and five hours to cook tomorrow for seventy diners and the judges. The teams split up. Mike explains to his team that he's going to call his restaurant "Iz," which is a horrible name. It sounds like a bug or something. He explains his dishes, and that he's going to use ingredients that he grew up with, like mozzarella and pancetta. He obviously learned from the family history challenge that he does well with Italian American food. Blais, meanwhile, is divvying up the tasks. He gives Angelo the first course and Spike the dessert, and then also wants Spike to handle front of house. Spike's like, "Only if I can wear a fedora," and Blais is like, "Done."
Mike's team are giving him ideas, and he dismisses all of them. I can't really blame him; I'm sure that he's been planning these dishes throughout the break. They knew they'd have a lot of freedom on the final challenge, so they had a lot of time to think about possible dishes. It's not like he wanted to make fish, and then was told he had to make chicken. Blais interviews that Mike's strengths are confidence and swagger (are those strengths?) but they are also his weaknesses. Because it makes everyone hate him.
The next day, both teams head to the kitchen and start prepping. Mike knows that he couldn't have handled this challenge on his previous season, but he feels that he's grown a lot as a chef. He adds that being a chef in this circumstance doesn't just mean vision and cooking skills, but he also has to manage his team and the front of house. I like this challenge. I think it's more realistic than cooking a dream meal. The judges are saying, "We're giving you this money to start your own restaurant, so prove to us that you can do it first."
Blais, meanwhile, thinks that he lost his season because he tried to tell too much of a story instead of just cooking delicious food. He also wants to show the judges that he no longer makes creative dishes just to show off his imagination; that he understands that they need to taste good. I'm glad to see it. I felt that was always Blais's weakness. Blais also thinks his experiences have made him a better leader in the kitchen.
Mike is cooking and sweating. A lot. Then he goes out and gives instructions to the front of house. Then he picks the wine pairings. Then he tells Jamie how to plate one of the dishes. He explains that Tiffani will be working on the fish station, Jamie will be working at another station, and Carla is doing desserts and front of house. What?