Top Chef 4: Finale Live Thoughts

Tonight, we learn which of the final three cheftestants from Top Chef 4 - Stephanie Izard, Richard Blais or Lisa Fernandes - will actually win that top spot. 

The Bravo promotional photo to the left seems like a relatively appropriate representation of how these three have approached the competition so far.  Stephanie looks solid with a mild air of being stunned, Lisa with her lips pursed and arms crossed, and Richard...well, in this shot Richard looks like he's either praying or about to pass out, so maybe it's only two-thirds appropriate.

What will bring these three to this final state?  We'll find out tonight.  I'll be here throughout the hour with live thoughts, so refresh often and comment away yourself!


We start off the finale with a review of the last three chefs' performance, which includes Stephanie shaking, Lisa grumping and Richard being focused on winning.  We also see, again, the moment from last week when Lisa demanded her recognition.

Richard says in interview that he has everything to lose, and he's critical of Lisa and surprised she's still in the competition.  Lisa in interview says she's there by the skin of her teeth and doesn't care that the others have won more.  Really?  I would.  I would care like a lot.

Padma and Tom greet the chefs.  April Bloomfield, Dan Barber,  and Eric Ripert are there with them and will be the sous chefs for the final competition.  Four courses: fish, poultry, meat, dessert.  Yes, Tom says, you must do dessert.  I love it when Tom is gruff.

Each guest chef has a bunch of different proteins.  Way too fast for me to tell you what they have.  Nice stuff.  The chef with the most elimination wins gets to pick the sous chef and his/her proteins, but Richard and Stephanie are tied.  Richard tells Stephanie to go first, like it's his to decide.  Stephanie picks knife 1 and goes with Eric Ripert, the silver fox.  Richard picks Barber.  Lisa gets Bloomfield.

Nine diners, three hours prep today, four hours tomorrow.

Lisa is going Asian, and Bloomfield is not familiar with it.  Lisa thinks she'll have fun with Bloomfield, which is good because it might not be good for her career to grump out.

Richard says he is waiting for a lightening bolt. 

Stephanie is looking to maximize flavors.  Ripert is impressed.  I heart his cartoon French accent.  Stephanie is telling him how to cut the fish and she worries he's mildly offended. 

Cooking montage!  Cooking montage!  Jazzy music!  Product placement!

Richard is using liquid nitrogen, one of his special ingredients.  He wants to make Tabasco ice cream, so he pulls it out and finds himself doing a demo for the other chefs.  He's not even sure he'll use it, I get the sense that he is maybe showing off a touch for the big names.  This is not a bad move.  Ripert is also impressed with him. 

Stephanie is surprised how well Lisa and Bloomfield are going well.  Lisa notes she doesn't cook well when stressed. 

Cooking montage!  Product placement!

Richard doesn't know what he's doing and says he needs to conceptualize.  He's got overnight to figure it out.

Lisa is awfully cheery and confident in her interview.  Hmmm.

The next day, they head an empty kitchen.  Tom tells them the sous chefs are not going to be there today, it's all on them.  I also love it when Tom delivers bad news. 

The cheftestants handle it as well as they can.  Lisa says her menu is going to be big flavors like her personality.  Richard wants to tell a story with his menu, and show he has more to offer than gimmicks.  Stephanie is getting the mildly-comic Top Chef music as she describes her menu.  What does this mean?

Tom makes his rounds.  Richard is in a BAAAAD mood. Snaps a little at Tom that he is in the sh*t right now.  Lisa is super cheerful.  Stephanie is Stephanie.

Tom thinks Lisa's swagger might help her, notes Richard is all over the map, and worries that Stephanie is trying something too unfamiliar for dessert.

Richard decides his liquid nitro will be better used to make a bacon ice cream. Stephanie worries her cheesecake sucks.  Lisa notes she always says this and then she wins.  Lisa continues to be a very chipper mood. 

Cooking montage!  Countdown!  This has been a strangely anti-climactic buildup to the final service. 

The judges assemble...time to eat!

The sous chefs are eating with the regular judges.  They are joined by a chef from Puerto Rico, the Zagat guy from the Zagat guides,  Gail Simmons and of course Tom.

The chefs talk about their menus briefly and then service begins.  Plating montage!

For first course...Lisa has prawns with homemade potato chips, Stephanie snapper with potatoes and asparagus; Richard barely cooked scallop, he says he has bright bold flavors to help build a progression.

Richard's need to be simplified, Lisa's gets some praise and knocks, Stephanie's is named the best by one chef...Tom just says "It's almost really good."  I ALSO love it when Tom is withholding.

Second course: Lisa has a Thai soup, Stephanie has an egg and quail, and Richard has a hen and foie dish.  The judges think Richard's dish was hard to taste and make a distinction between ingredients, and showed he was more in love with technique.  Lisa's soup was well-balanced and delicious.  Stephanie's quail was well-seasoned and perfectly cooked, but her leeks are irrelevant and undercooked.

Third course: Lisa has beef with hot sauce and chips; Stephanie, medallions of lamb with mushrooms; Richard has pickled radish and pork belly.  The judges think Richard doesn't season well enough, but radish is borderline genius, says Ripert.  Lisa's beef is not seasoned well and the sauce is a sweeter version of the first course sauce, but they like the veg.  Stephanie's dish shows the chefs a flavor combination they did not expect.  Gail thought she would crash and burn, but everyone says they love it, and Ripert notes it's the first time they've loved it.

Dessert: Lisa has a rice pudding, Stephanie has a ricotta poundcake, Richard has a banana scallop with bacon ice cream.  He says, it's "Something I've done before..." Uh yeah, banana scallop?  Like twice!  Lisa's dessert is well-liked with some reservations.  Richard gets some praise, and Stephanie's is okay but a clunker. 

Okay, so so far, it seems pretty much like Richard can't win.  Lisa is being painted very positively.  Stephanie is her usual mixture of brilliance and misses.

Judges’ Table!

The judges are pleased and the cheftestants arrive for the verdict.

First Course

Richard says it went okay in the kitchen. He seems a little muted. The judges say the first course lacked seasoning.

The judges ask Lisa if she made the first course so hot on purpose. Ted liked the potato chips.

Stephanie’s dish gets praise from all the judges.

Second Course

The judges ask Richard what he could have done differently in the second course, and he admits he could have lost the foie gras.

Lisa’s soup gets a lot of praise.

Stephanie’s dish gets praise but again, the leeks were a problem.

Third Course

Richard gets even more critique for the third course.

Lisa’s beef also gets some critique for the cooking and the sauce.

Stephanie says her lamb was cooked perfectly and gives a small “Woo hoo!” So cute. The judges loved the surprise.

Fourth Course

Richard’s dessert gets a solid response, but Padma points out he’s done it before.

Lisa’s dessert more praise. Holy crap could she possibly win this?

Stephanie’s dessert is a miss.

Last words…

Stephanie says she second-guessed herself. Lisa says she deserves to be Top Chef. Richard said he choked. His face is totally glum and it is completely heartbreaking. He looks devastated.

They leave, and the judges are shocked by Richard, but they say they agree.

The judges seem to be putting Lisa in the top spot for a few of the courses - first, second and fourth.  Richard also gets praised for this fourth course, and Stephanie's first and third courses also went over well.

The judges bring the chefs back.  Richard is whimsical, sometimes outrageous. Lisa has strong Asian flavors. Stephanie is a wild card. Which meal would we like to have again? Richard’s face shows he knows he can’t win. 
Padma: Stephanie, you are Top Chef. Oh THANK GOODNESS.  I am sad for Richard, who looks so heartbroken, and I am glad Lisa redeemed herself somewhat, but of the two who performed best this episode, I wanted Stephanie to win.
We'll be talking with all three chefs over the next two days, so come back for their thoughts on the competition.
- Leslie Seaton, BuddyTV Staff Columnist
(Image courtesy of Bravo)