Just think, this episode's elimination could have come down to a piece of arugula -- a wisp of a flavor dose so tiny it contributed almost nothing to the dish, which was the root of the problem. In the final elimination episode before next week's head-to-head finale, it was only the teeniest details that determined which of three dishes would send one chef packing.
But a lot had to happen before that tense moment of discernment at the judges' table. A hit parade of Asian chefs and former Top Chef Masters competitors showed up for the Quickfire, each teaming up with a contestant to cook a dish, taking turns in the kitchen in 10-minute increments. It seemed Paul, incredibly dexterous with Asian cuisine and paired with Takashi Yagihashi, would have the upper hand, but Sarah, paired with Floyd Cardoz, reached deep down inside and realized she has a knack for making curry -- and a winning dish that earned her $20,000.
Again, as we have come to expect, all of the dishes were well-executed and pleasing. None were complete failures. Not one chef made a single terrible mistake. It was yet another pee-wee soccer tie-match, though judges had to choose a winner. The elimination round would prove similar, but tense. Very tense.
The challenge was open to interpretation: serve a "fire and ice" dish, each with a hot and cold element, and a perfectly paired cocktail. Conceivably, fire could mean spice or temperature -- or both. But how to accomplish such a pairing without making it lukewarm or a total gimmick? Where's Chris Jones when we need him?
Here are the episode highlights, from all three great dishes to the stand-out moments:
Dish that made us feel crazy: Sarah's cannelloni We're not here to argue that perfectly cooked homemade pasta isn't absolutely soothing to our soul, especially when stuffed with beautifully prepared greens. But why would a freezing cold sformato block benefit this dish? Even if it were executed perfectly (it wasn't), it would chill the pasta and could never smoothly envelope the beautiful cannelloni cylinders the way a sauce would. It seems like the definition of putting a square peg in a round hole. Judges praised Sarah for stepping out of her comfort zone, but they were correct -- is a pasta dish really a stretch for someone who's proven their adeptness at other variations of exactly that?
Most heartfelt description of a dish: Paul As Lindsay noted, this was the first round that the chefs didn't have the chance to explain their dishes at service. Paul took the opportunity to do so at judges' table, and it was adorably poetic:
Paul, looking like a proud father discussing his gifted and talented preschooler: "I wanted to hit all the points in the challenge in different levels. I wanted a lot of shellfish flavor just to pop in your face when you ate it. The dish was cold initially. I wanted there to be snow and the Pernot gelee was going to be kind of like ice cubes."
Most persnickety focus on a flaw: Tom's obsession with Paul's arugula leaf One leaf of the green in question was set atop Paul's king crab with sunchoke chips, lobster broth and lemon snow. One lousy leaf, but Tom felt it lacked purpose -- and voiced his sentiment ad nauseum. "I don't understand how you can have that complete of a thought and then at the end just don't trust it," he said.
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Even dainty diners have had much larger things stuck in crevices between their molars, and yet, it was nearly the straw that sent Paul packing. Our conspiracy theory: Perhaps Tom focused so heavily on the leaf to keep viewers from guessing that in the end, Paul would win the elimination challenge and move on to next week's finale. Clever, nice and clever.
Most Texan Part of Top Chef in Canada: Two chefs with Texas ties are in the final round -- Paul and Sarah Paul honed his craft at Le Cordon Bleu in Austin before he worked his way up the kitchen food chain at Uchi training under Tyson Cole and eventually became executive chef at Uchiko. Sarah hails from Houston, where she started her culinary career before moving to Chicago, where she helms the kitchen at the city's only four-star Italian restaurant, Spiaggia. Even in Canada, we've arrived at a Texan showdown.
"The two Texans!" Sarah said, clinking glasses with Paul after his win.
Next week's preview: Again, don't expect any screw-ups. "I think this is the best food we've seen in a finale," Tom said in the preview. (Are the judges going soft on us?) For next week's finale episode, eliminated chefs come back to help out. Will Bev surface once again at the eleventh hour? We shall see.