Top Chef

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Walking on Broken Stained Glass
if we didn't see them pushing shopping carts around a store and arguing with the dude at the fish counter? Kevin interviews that he's making a salmon dish with vegetable slaw and tomato broth. How that ties in with the Mirage, I'm not entirely sure.

Michael interviews that he's been cooking for half his life and would like to open his own restaurant, and he thinks winning this competition could help him achieve that. So his inspiration is New York, and he's been inspired by the chicken wing. Which is from Buffalo, not New York City, but whatever. He claims he's going to put his own twist on it.

Robin explains that she's making a dessert, a panna cotta, and then she's going to use sugar to make stained glass. Except she hasn't really done that before, and so she's not sure why she's trying to do it now, so close to the finals. What HAS Robin made before? Because it seems like every week, she's trying something new. And while I admire that in a home chef, in a competition, it seems like you might want to stick with what you know.

Jen has decided to base her dish around The Sword in the Stone, and so far I'm kind of with her. She's also making three different dishes with red wine in them, and I can kind of see that. She's working with her theme. She's still not sure how it's all going to come together, though. Sigh.

Eli had, you may remember, Circus, Circus. So he's making a caramel apple and peanut soup which sounds sickly sweet and terrible! And then he's putting pulverized popcorn on top? And he's totally using microwave popcorn. Oh, this sounds bad. And then because he doesn't have enough sweet stuff between the caramel and the apples, he's adding a whipped raspberry dome. I have quite the sweet tooth and that even grosses me out. Also, literal much? And is that really a dish? It sounds more like a snack for someone who's trying to contract diabetes.

Bryan is going with his whole sustainable fish idea, so he's making olive-oil-poached fish. Hey, there's something we've only seen like a million times already this season? Why not add a couple of scallops while you're at it? Eli interviews that he thinks Robin is lucky to still be there and he hopes her time is running out. But at least he's not making it personal. Everyone bundles up their food to transport to the party, and they head out.

The party is at the World Market Center, which has a sort of huge conference room on the top floor, and that's where the party is taking place. There's a beautiful view. The cheftestants have an hour to prep before the guests arrive. Michael is cooking chicken. Jen worries that her lack of focus is going to screw her over. You think? Like it has every other week? Robin's sugar did not travel well and it didn't set. It's almost like she didn't have any experience with making that sort of sugar. It kind of just looks like the top of a crème brulee -- I don't know why should couldn't use a kitchen torch to harden it more? I mean, it's worth a shot, since she decides to just ditch it anyway, and it was kind of the centerpiece of her dish and the thing that made it fit her theme.

The guests arrive, and I'm not sure if this is so much "the elite of Las Vegas" as "people they recruited off the street." Kevin tells some of the guests that he had The Mirage, so he thought about just putting a picture of his dish up and then filling the bowls with sand. I wish he had done something clever like that (although not serving bowls of sand, but something edible that looks like sand). At least then I might understand how his dish fits his theme.

The judges arrive at Jennifer's table first, and she has no food out. Oops. While she's desperately trying to plate some food, she explains that she had Excalibur and made New York strip with a red wine reduction, beets, truffles, and herbs. She styled it to look like a sword in a stone, and served bigger bites to fit with her theme. Toby has trouble biting into it, and Nigella has trouble cutting her steak. She finally picks it up with her fingers and comments that it's like eating a stone, so it must be kind of tough.

Kevin tells the judges that he had Mirage and made wild Alaskan sockeye salmon cured in salt and sugar with Napa cabbage and cucumber. He advises people to eat the fish and salad and then drink the broth last. Again, I hate when people tell me how to eat their food. Toby notes that it had a Thai flavor, and Tom thinks the broth is "just stunning."

Michael had New York, New York and made a boneless chicken wing confit with curry and fresh pepper juice and a blue cheese disc. He goes on about how chicken wings are something that firefighters like to eat. Oh....kay. Unlike other food? Nigella likes how crispy the skin is, and Padma likes the cold blue cheese, although Toby doesn't love the flavor. Here's my problem with this dish: he basically made a boneless chicken wing with blue cheese. It's not like the flavors were THAT inventive. You can't order a dozen wings in this part of the country without getting blue cheese, whether you want it or not. I would have been more impressed if he had paired chicken wings with something else cool.

Robin tells the judges that she had the Bellagio and made a panna cotta. It was supposed to have a stained glass-like garnish sort of like the Dale Chihuly sculpture in the casino, but it didn't work out due to the humidity, so she didn't put it on the plate. She shows them that part and Tom looks really annoyed with her. Nigella likes the smell of the dish, but she and Toby agree that the texture of the panna cotta is all wrong, and the sauce is too sweet. Padma and Nigella think her inspiration works, but Tom points out that she didn't serve the stained glass part, which was the main part.

Bryan had Mandalay Bay and made an escabeche of halibut with bouillabaisse consommé, pine nuts, parsley coulis, and garlic chips. I had to look up escabeche, and it turns out it refers to fish that is either poached or fried and marinated in something acidic. Padma thinks the "parsley fluid gel" sounded gross, but it tastes good. All of the judges love the flavors.

Eli had Circus, Circus and made a caramel apple peanut soup with popcorn and raspberry froth. I like a peanut soup, but I want it to be savory, not sweet. Nigella refuses to be the first to try the food, and after she takes one bite, she shakes her head. Tom thinks the soup was too grainy, and Nigella agrees. Toby likes that Eli went balls out, but he "gambled and lost."

Weird interstitial. The remaining cheftestants drink champagne and give a toast to the fact that they made it so far. BOOOO-RIIIIIIIIING! What happened to Kevin going down the waterslide? I liked those kind of interstitials.

In the Stew Room, Kevin jovially tries to start a conversation, but no one responds. Either they're annoyed with him, or they don't want to talk about it. Padma comes in and asks Kevin, Michael, and Bryan to join her. To the surprise of no one, they are the top three. Tom tells Kevin that the texture of his food was great, and Toby liked the broth the best. Nigella compliments Bryan's dish, which she calls "quiet and elegant." Tom tells Michael he reworked Buffalo wings. Really? How much did he rework them? The flavors were the same. There's not much time for praise, so Nigella quickly announces that the winner "performed the challenge perfectly," and that is...Michael. Bryan looks kind of pissed. Michael won a bottle of expensive wine and a trip to a vineyard.

Eli, Jennifer, and Robin have to go face the music. Padma asks Jennifer if she's surprised to be there. Jen admits that she didn't have a clear vision of what she wanted to do. Tom throws some history at her and explains that medieval cooks used a lot of spicing to cover up rotting meat. Yum! That's definitely a trait she would want to replicate. Anyway, Tom wishes she had taken her theme further. Nigella comments on how tough the meat was, and Toby agrees, and adds that there wasn't enough sauce.

Padma calls on Robin, and she babbles on in her usual way and admits that she

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