Photo: Virginia Sherwood / Bravo
Oh, it's time. Time for the home-stretch confidence. Time for the daring flavor combinations. Time for the bravado. Time for the beards and bikinis.
No, that's not a euphemism. The former was provided, rather feebly, by Richard, who summed up the key to being among the final four on Top Chef: "I've been bakin' bread, growin' a beard -- all the things you have to do in the finale!"
The latter was provided by Padma (what, you were expecting Mike Isabella?) who introduced the night's challenge while striking her best SI swimsuit cover-model pose. Cue the lascivious comments from the aforementioned Mike.
Inviting the chefs to hop aboard a boat chartered by some dude who looked like Sammy Hagar, Padma led the foursome to an island in the Bahamas where they were given the Survivor treatment: Cook only with what Bravo left on the shore and, just to add physical insult to culinary injury, go snorkeling in shallow water to supply your own conch for one of your proteins.
For some, the fishing wasn't the worst of it. "No liquid nitrogen?" Richard noted. "This is, like, survivalist cooking!" Thank you, Richard, for making us realize just how primitive our kitchens at home really are. (We prefer the term "rustic.")
Given the circumstances, all four whipped up some impressive food -- even if cruel nature conspired to mess up their dishes, some more than others. Richard was clearly the chef favored by the editors, since a lot of time was devoted to his innovative use of conch and lobster in a dish inspired by East Coast clams and linguini. Featuring thinly sliced sweet potato masquerading as noodles -- that one even threw Tom, who thought it was fresh-made pasta -- Richard's cooking impressed everyone but the faux-self-hating Richard, and guest Lorena Garcia, whose lobster was undercooked.
How do we know Richard's "hatred" of his cooking isn't genuine? Maybe it's the way he vehemently denied that his lobster could possibly have been undercooked. Or maybe it's just his cockiness.
In any event, it was another cocky East Coaster, Mike, who stole Richard's thunder. He executed his grouper with conch vinaigrette perfectly, wrapping it all in banana leaf in an uber-local presentation. Though Tom questioned his use of butter in the dish, Mike walked off with the trophy -- not to mention a great deal ofoverweening confidence going into the finale.
That left our kick-ass ladies to battle it out for the bottom. Were it not for Antonia's unevenly presented red snapper with tartar of conch, she might've won. She certainly won the hearts of the Nassau Yacht Club guests she cooked for, about a dozen folks whose snow-white polos, tunics and beach shirts made them look like members of a New Age cult. To them, her dish was perfectly spicy; to Tom, a little too much so.
But alas, it was a former fan favorite, Tiffany, who was cruelly ejected after making it slightly further in the cycle than she did the first time around, in season 7. Serving up a bold conch/coconut chowder adorned by ceviche, her flavors seemed to be there, but the temperature was not -- the chowder chilled in the late-afternoon breeze, and threw off the balance.
We like Tiffany so much we hate to say that we saw this coming -- she's surprised us with so much great food, especially this season! -- but if a woman's going to drive a wedge between the bro ego-fest that's going on between Mike and Richard, our bet has been on Antonia. If she can just keep the guys from throwing her off her game, she might be golden.
Hungry for news about fast food, slow food, food politics, food personalities, and food controversies? Then sign up for our weekly newsletter. Plus, be sure to check us out on Facebook and Twitter.