Photo: Virginia Sherwood / Bravo
If you wanted to see three chefs losing it -- like, epically, majestically, Charlie Sheen-ishly losing it -- all you had to do was turn on Bravo this week. There, you could witness a textbook example of psychopathia culinarus: nervous laughing, pacing, sweating bullets, bags under eyes, nausea on the verge of projectile vomiting -- sometimes all in the same scene. Our friends at Bravo edited this one for maximum tension, to be sure.
We expect surprises when we're down to the final three, but this was ridiculous. First up was the Quickfire, where the now-overconfident Mike was allowed to further hone his mind-messing skills by getting to choose one of three classic Top Chef challenges for his competitors. His "gift" to Antonia: Cook using only canned food. Meanwhile, Richard bequeathed the "one pot" challenge to Mike (which, as Antonia pointed out, was a massive mistake -- it meant he could choose any ingredients he wanted!).
We're not exactly sure how much we'd stress over a Quickfire at this point in the game, and it seemed as though our trio might've just sailed right through it -- were it not for Padma throwing them a few curve balls: Don't use utensils (Mike), tie one hand behind your back (Richard), cook with a former cheftestant attached at the hip (Antonia and Carla).
When all was said and done, guest judge Wolfgang Puck seemed to be judging on a steep curve, taking into consideration the chefs' handicaps. Richard's hot dog pieces on roti bread was too "ketchupy," Antonia's shrimp broth was a bit overseasoned, and Mike's pork shoulder was not cooked long enough in his malfunctioning pressure cooker. Regardless, Mike took home yet another win.
But that was just the beginning of the stress. As the threesome bounced around their palatial hotel suite in the Bahamas, waiting for the Elimination Challenge, the tension was high. Antonia laughed and tittered weirdly. Mike paced and said whatever came to his head, usually a slam on one of the others. Richard looked like he hadn't slept in weeks -- or maybe it was just his sagging hair, confused by all the tropical humidity.
The chefs were each paired with an icon to try to replicate their favorite meal (their choice for a "last supper," a weird tie in with the author of a book on the topic). Antonia got the shortest end of the stick in that she had to replicate Japanese cuisine for Chef Morimoto, perhaps the most exacting celebrity chef on TV. Luckily for her, her rice was perfect (viewers of Iron Chef will know just how particular the man is on his grains), even if the rest of her bento box was lacking the subtlety you expect from Japanese food.
Mike stumbled a bit in trying to reinterpret fried chicken and biscuits for Michelle Bernstein: Why he turned a biscuit into an egg-filled empenada we'll never know, but the worse sin might've been cooking his chicken sous vide, and then expecting the breading to stick.
Among the group, Richard stood out for executing a great goulash with a side of strudel, even if his spätzle was a little lacking for Wolfgang's taste. (Try saying that three times fast.) As much as his technique bugs us sometimes, we loved the way Richard squeaked out at least one little signature move, adorning the plate with frozen sour cream particles.
His win prompted yet another cook-off between the final two, and about 10 more minutes of Bravo attempting to heighten the suspense. (Did we have to see Padma introduce the twist THREE times?!) Antonia and Mike were to cook one more bite, an amuse bouche to determine which one would be eliminated. Antonia poured in her all, packing apple and dill pollen into a coconut/lobster broth and providing a bite of grouper. It looked beautiful, and certainly, we heard more judge hosannas on her dish than on Mike's (a maybe too-subtle lobster tail and beef tartare).
But the editors misled us! Antonia was the one to be sent packing, for overpowering her broth with perhaps a little too much flavor. As she faced the camera shortly after, attempting to dry her tears with one sad, little, balled-up Kleenex, we realized we weren't just sad to see her go -- we'd rather have eaten her bite than Mike's, which looked like standard surf 'n' turf fare.
But as we know, sometimes it's the standards that win, and if Mike's trajectory is any indication, we might just see him steal the crown from the determined, mock-self-loathing Richard. We'll know soon enough -- just one more reunion special and we're on to the finale.