Top Chef: Aspen Highs

Top Chef: Miami
Finale Part 1

The final four started out in the episode, even though for some reason, I kept thinking that Sara was there somewhere and forgot about Brian. I kept looking for her, and then would think why are there only three people? Oh yeah, Brian is there, not Sara. During the quickfire challenge, I kept thinking thinking the same thing, except I wasn’t looking for Sara. I just kept thinking, “Why are there only three people?” even though they were showing Brian. I just didn’t remember him after seeing him. He’s that memorable, I guess!

Quickfire Challenge

After a sublime hot-air balloon ride, Padma was waiting next to a river with Eric Ripert, executive chef of Le Bernardin, who had a hard time smiling without scowling at the same time. I swear, this is him smiling.

The Frying Pan River challenge had the chefs making a dish with fresh trout, a frying pan, camping stove and basic pantry ingredients in 20 minutes. For some reason, Brian was complaining about not liking the challenge and being out of it, but seafood is his thing! Dale admitted that he’s horrible with seafood. Hung said he was awesome. Everyone was struggling with the uneven ground with pans and fish sliding everywhere. It was pretty amusing. Hung showed off that he was done with seven minutes to go, so he stood around looking pretty proud of himself. Then when the timer went off, he realized he forgot to add lemon juice. Oh Hung, so stupid.

Trout Cooked in Rendered Bacon Fat, Trout Eggs, Red Pepper & Brown Butter

Ripert noticed that Brian has some nice looking fish halfway prepared, but not on the plate, which was just a bunch of mush. He asked what was up with that and Brian said that it wouldn’t cook in time so he had to abandoned that idea. Errr….

Trout Filet with Crisped Skin, Grapes & Summer Corn

Ripert and Padma said it was good.

Curried Filet of Trout with Sauteed Mushrooms

Hung told them his dish and said it had sauteed mushrooms and lemon juice, no wait, no lemon juice. Then Ripert glared at him after Hung admitted he forgot the lemon juice. Well, it could have been a smile. It’s hard to tell with that guy!

Filet of Trout with Cayenne Bacon, Apple, Fennel & Bourbon

Padma looked at Dale in utter confusion after trying his dish. Ripert asked him again what the spice was and after being told, it was cayenne, he gave him the same look that Hung received. I really don’t think it was a good one.

His least favorites were Brian and Dale. Brian’s salad was not seasoned and his fish was bland. Brian told the camera later that he didn’t fail his seafood skills since no chef considers trout seafood. Dale’s cayenne choked Ripert and Padma.

His favorites were Hung and Casey. He said Hung’s dish was very precise and if it would have had the lemon, it would have been perfect. He said Casey’s dish was well seasoned and he said the sign of a good chef was their soul coming through the food. He could tell Casey’s soul was behind that fish. She was the overall winner of the quickfire challenge. Hung told the camera later that he tasted Casey’s dish, but his was more refined. You forgot the lemon juice dork!

Elimination Challenge

They show up at Moon Run Ranch to find out that they were going to be cooking for 45 rodeo cowboy and cowgirls. The regular caterers took the night off, but the chefs would be using the same food they were going to have in the kitchen. As the winner of the quickfire challenge, Casey was able to use the special stuff she brought from home, while no one else could use what they brought. Casey didn’t look overly thrilled, probably because she only brought asian-inspired stuff with her and that wasn’t going to work with her cowboy meal. They had three hours to prepare.

When they arrived in the kitchen, they found out they were going to be cooking elk. Hung was complaining to the camera immediately saying it was boring and wasn’t able to cook anything he likes. Well, it is all about him. Brian looked scared since it wasn’t seafood. Dale knew how to cook game, so he was excited. Casey is from Texas so she knew what she was doing.

Brian went with Whiskey-Braised Elk Shank, Horseradish & Sour Cream Potato Puree, Pancetta Corn Asparagus Relish and Blackberry Balsamic & Sage Brown Butter. He wanted something more difficult. Brian thought three hours was enough to braise it. Dale looked over and said that since it had no fat, he would have braised it 10-12 hours, but Brian has pulled stuff out of his butt before so he was probably going to pull it off again.

Hung went with Seared Elk Loin, Pommes Boulangere and Chocolate Red Wine Sauce. He said it didn’t matter who else he was cooking for, he was just going to cook good food for the judges. I was thinking that the judges take into account the audience when picking the best dish so that was the wrong way to think, but Hung can do no wrong.

Dale made Seared Elk Loin and Onion & Goat Cheese Tart. When he went to go make the tart, the kitchen didn’t have any cream cheese. He decided to try to make it anyway and see how it turned out. Dale said he gets the best response from his sauces so he wanted to make the best sauce possible. When he checked on his tart later, he didn’t think it was working so he decided to put another vegetable dish together as a back up plan.

Casey went with a Mushroom Crusted Loin of Elk, Smoked Tomato Butter, Whipped & Caramelized Cauliflower and Poached Pear. She heard Dale and Hung were using the loin so she wanted to make something different.

Tom came into the kitchen to check on the chefs, followed by the Dun Dun noise that goes with his shock face. He asked Brian what he was doing and when he found out he was going to braise in only three hours, Dun Dun, shock face. When Hung told Tom he had never cooked elk before, but he wants to cook spontaneously, Dun Dun, shock face. Tom didn’t make a face at Dale. He actually smiled when he walked away. Tom did tell the chefs before he left that only one would be eliminated since the quality of the chefs this season, they were going to have three going to the finals.

Mushroom Crusted Loin of Elk with a Cauliflower Duo & Tomato Butter

The cowboys loved it, but Ripert and Tom were not thrilled with how rare it turned out.

Spiced Elk Loin, Huckleberry & Blackberry Sauce, Cauliflower & Fingerling Potatoes

Padma enjoyed it and Gail talked about how much was going on in the plate.

Seared Elk Loin, Pommes Boulangere, Chocolate & Red Wine Sauce

Ripert talked about how tender it was. Padma asked a cowboy and cowgirl what they thought. They said it was good. They said they eat a lot of elk, but it never tasted as good as Hung’s dish.
Whiskey-Braised Elk Shank, Potato Puree, Pancetta, Corn & Asparagus Relish

Gail mentioned how it took an hour for Brian to tell her what he was putting on her plate. Cowgirls loved it and said it looked fabulous and was very colorful.

Judges’ Table

Ripert said the dishes were overall delicious, but he liked Dale’s dish best. He said he loved the way he cooked the elk and the huckleberry sauce was excellent. Gail was astounded by how many ingredients Dale had, but she didn’t say that was a good or bad thing. Tom said Hung’s dish suffered from seasonal disorder. The fennel was more summery, but the potatoes were more of a fall dish. Ripert talked about how Hung cooks, and it being technical perfect, but too controlled. No soul in his food! Padma loved Brian’s shank. Ripert didn’t didn’t like it. He thought it was dry. Padma loved the cheese, but Tom was put off that he had two different kinds of cheeses for people to choose from instead of him just deciding the best one for the dish. Tom had issues with Casey’s dish. It was too rare and he didn’t like the cauliflower. Ripert loved the smokiness of Casey’s sauce.

The judges told all the chefs that all their dishes were really good. They asked Dale about his dish. He said he gets great reviews on his game, so he was thrilled they had elk to work with. Tom asked if Dale regretted how his dish turned out and Dale said no, it was better, even without the tart. Ripert complimented him on the sauce and asked why he had so many components. Dale said he felt it was a controlled chaos. Casey said she made the side dishes that went well with elk. Tom talked about how he didn’t like there were chunks of cauliflower in the puree. It made it too heavy. He also said his meat was too rare, almost raw. Ripert complimented her smoky butter.

Hung talked about how he loved the challenge, but he didn’t want to give the clientele what they are used to, but something different. Tom called Hung on being the best technically, but they haven’t seen him in his food. He talked about if they send him to the finals, he’ll show them Hung. I’m thinking, why haven’t you done it already? Padma asked Brian if there is anything in the pantry that he didn’t put on the plate. Ripert got on Brian about the choosing the cheese and how it is the chef’s role to choose for us. He didn’t have a good answer.

The judges asked each chef why they are there and what did they want to tell the judges. I loved what Dale said about how he was a great chef, fell apart and hadn’t cooked for a long time before he joined the competition. He said he feels like he is a chef again. Casey talked about being a hard worker and loving to cook. Hung talked about how his passion is food and cooking. Brian said he hasn’t cooked his food yet and he wanted the judges to see his food during the finale. His was the lamest answer out of everyone. Everyone was heartfelt, even Hung’s that came out of nowhere and too bad that came come through his food, but Brian’s answer was just bleah.

The judges sent them out to chat some more. Gail said that Dale’s dish was her favorite and the strongest dish. Padma said it looked like too much on a plate. Gail said Hung’s dish didn’t showcase the components of the elk. Tom said Brian had a cop out saying he hadn’t cooked his dish for the judge’s yet. Ripert talked again about the cheese choice thing and how it didn’t make sense. Tom didn’t really like Casey’s dish. Gail said it wasn’t memorable, but Ripert loved the smoky sauce. Gail agreed with that but wasn’t sure if it was enough. I was thinking, oh no, don’t send Casey home!


Ripert chose Dale as the winner. It was Dale’s first time winning. Yeah! Eric Ripert invited Dale to a food demonstration with him and to spend some time in his restaurant. I think Dale was going to pee his pants. More scary smiling from Ripert! Dale would be in the finale.


Casey’s dish had a great combination of the elk and the smoked tomato. Hung had a technically great dish and out of all of the dishes, his elk was perfectly done. Brian had a great spirit in cooking for the cowboys and they do feel like they have seen Brian’s dish since part of who he is would be to please people and that came through. Brian was the one sent home. Bye Mr. Invisible that I already thought was gone!

That means Casey and Hung are off to the finale with Dale.

Photo Source: Top Chef


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