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Top Chef Local Debriefing: The Final Four

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Post Restaurant Wars and Dale's unexpected exit, here we are, five chefs left in last night's episode of Top Chef and only four are going on to Puerto Rico. Of course each wants it, they can taste it just as much as the next person, but there's still a few hoops to jump through to get there. Last night brought it all home that at its core---without all the Uncle Ben's Instant Rice and chefbian plot lines---Top Chef really is a test of skill. But because everyone played it safe and kept their antics in check, it was once again a bit ho-hum. Antonia, however, still in it to win it. On the recap!

QUICKFIRE: Steph confirmed what we've spoiled before: There's a possibility that there will be three girls in the finale, which has never happened before. (And yes, little lady, we pretty much already pegged you as one of them from the get-go.) For the Quickfire, the final five head to Meat Wars: The cheftestants had to break down a long-bone, dry-aged prime rack of beef in 20 minutes. With French bones. Antonia acknowledged that her butcher skills aren't stellar, Stephanie played the girl card ("It's such a huge piece of meat! It's awkward."), and Spike bragged that because he comes from a long line of butchers it's in his blood. After cutting the chops, the crew heads back to the kitchen where Chicago chef Rick Tramonto (Tru/Tramonto's Steak) and Pads are waiting to tell them that they now have to cook a "perfect steak." Stone-faced Tramanto inspected each steak and picked the winner: Loved the crust on Antonia's steak and it was cooked perfectly, but Spike pulls out the win for great butchering. At this point Spike thinks Stephanie can take it all, and ponders whether Antonia and Lisa can handle it: "I'd like to see Antonia go home."

EC: The chefs took over Tramonto's Steak & Seafood for one night. "Don't screw it up," says the RT. Each has to come up with an appetizer and entrée based on what they find in Rick's kitchen. Because he won the QF, Spike got first pick of ingredients and went for tomahawk steaks and scallops?which are frozen, which he'll never hear the end of throughout the entire night. Antonia made a warm mushroom salad with artichoke, poached egg and bacon vinaigrette for an app, with a bone-in rib-eye and shallot potato gratin for the entrée. Stephanie made crispy sweetbreads with golden raisins and pine nuts, and beef tenderloin with wild mushrooms and apple sauce. Richard also went for sweetbreads with hamachi, and beef tenderloin with pickled brussel sprouts. Lisa throws everyone off by touting her peanut butter mashed potatoes and apple-caramel sauce for the steak, and "grilled and chilled" shrimp with lemon confit.

The chefs learn that Big Tom C will be expediting in the kitchen, while former Top Chef winners Harold Dieterle (season 1), Ilan Hall (season 2) and Hung Huynh (season 3) are all guest judges. Comments for Stephanie's dishes were "gorgeous" and "I wanted to finish the whole dish." Tom told Richard he was playing it safe, but the group loved his appetizer. Gail says Lisa's grilled shrimp shouldn't have been chilled, but Tramanto was surprised to admit he "loved" the mash. The Big C gave Spike a hard time for choosing frozen scallops, and in the end, the dish didn't wow the judges either. Antonia's egg was poached perfectly, but the salad was mush; her entrée was favored by all, and Tramonto called it the best dish of the bunch.

JUDGES TABLE: With solidarity hand-holding at the judges' table, the five chefs met their makers. Richard's app was good, but his entrée missed the mark. Lisa's app not good, but her entrée was surprisingly decent. Antonia won them all over with the steak. At this point we're convinced those frozen scallops were placed there on purpose, just to see who would pick them; at this stage in the game, everyone has proven themselves solid chefs, so it takes only one slip up to throw the whole game. (Aha! Confirmed!) Spike got reamed for using an inferior product, and in auto-defense mode he accused Tramonto for having the scallops in his kitchen to begin with. Tramanto simply responds: "Wrong move." After Stephanie pulled out yet another win and GE kitchen booty to boot, Lisa and Spike were on the chopping block. Poor decisions would strike him down: Spike was told to pack his knives and go. The judges had something positive to say about everyone, but Gail's remarks about LA's own was our favorite: "I think Antonia is a very insightful cook. She's thoughtful about the food she does." So there we have it, folks, the Final Four for Puerto Rico: Richard, Stephanie, Lisa and Antonia. And it must hurt to see Antonia there, huh Mr. Vanilla "Butternut Squash Soup" Love. Next week: New haircuts! Hacking and sawing meat! Dancing in the streets!
· Full Top Chef Coverage [~ELA~]

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