Top Chef: Season 3, Episode 12 Recap
Episode Overview: With a crucial elimination standing between the chefs and the final four heading to the finale, it's time for the chefs to get serious. The challenge is classic cuisine, and for some of the chefs, their lack of classical training might be about to catch up with them. Which chef will take Manhattan in the Top Chef roadshow and secure their spot in the finale?  And who will find that when it comes to New York, they just can't make it there?

Five chefs finally made it out of Newark Airport and onto the isle of Manhattan: Dale Levitski, Sara Mair, Casey Thompson, Brian Malarkey and Hung Huynh. Dale hasn't exactly been a front runner this whole season of Top Chef, but he insists he's “a big gay chef who will outcook your ass.” Casey, who's been winning challenges lately, is starting to feel a little more confident about her chances.

The chefs now head to some big time Big Apple cuisine, where they meet with Padma Lakshmi and Sirio Maccioni at his restaurant, Le Cirque. They sit down to eat a meal of sea bass wrapped in potatoes, served over leeks and mushrooms, a classic Le Cirque dish reserved for VIP customers.

Their Quickfire? Recreate this 20-year-old classic – in 20 minutes. The chefs each have a turn in the kitchen of Le Cirque, under the piercing gaze of the Le Cirque sous chefs, to attempt to recreate. After askinga few quick questions of the sous chefs, it's Hung's turn first, and he is pretty successful – Sirio is impressed.

When Hung returns to the kitchen, he is ecstatic at his dish's reception. The other chefs ask how he cooked the fish, but he won't say. The chefs exchange looks, and Dale, in interview, seems to be saying this is somehow unsporting.

Huh? It's one thing to help a chef if you are all cooking at the same time; then your help is an unknown quantity. Maybe your advice would help the dish, maybe it won't, but at least you, as a chef, as still responsible for taking all the input blind and making some decisions.

But the chefs already know that Hung's preparation was spot on. In this case, it's not just that Hung isn't being a team player…it's that this would be cheating. If someone helps you study for a test, that's fair. If someone takes the test, gets a good score, and tells you what formula they used to arrive at the answer they used to get the score, that's cheating. Maybe I'm a goody-two-shoes, but I think not only was Hung within his rights to not share, he was duty-bound not to.

So each chef must – imagine that – stand on his or her own skills. Dale and Brian don't make as much of a mark with Sirio, but Casey's dish turns out well. Not so for Sara. Her fish is undercooked.

Casey and Hung are in the top, but although charmer Sirio admits he could be swayed by Casey's prettiness, he must admit that Hung's is better. Hung's prize will be extra time in the Elimination Challenge.

The Elimination Challenge will once again test their ability to work with classical concepts. They will be featuring the simple ingredients of chicken, potato and onion, and must prepare a dish for several intimidating professors and the founder of the French culinary institute. Yikes!

Hung, classically-trained, is excited. He will be preparing chicken sous vide, including a crisp made of chicken skin, and a classic potato dish, Pommes Dauphinois.

Casey, not classically-trained, is a little intimidated, but it seems her recent wins are giving her confidence. She's making a Coq au Vin, which is a little risky since technically, the classic dish is made not with a chicken but an older rooster.

Brian's going on about flavor, whatever, every time he talks I see PowerPoint presentations; there is just something so corporate-slick about the way he presents himself. I think I saw something on slide three about a peasant pie? With sausage?

Dale is making one potato sauce and serving it two ways: one with mushroom flavor profile and once with honey and rosemary.

Sara is going to her Jamaican roots, and trying to redeem her Israeli couscous from prior episode.

Hung's dish pleases most of his judges, although they do have a quibble with the texture of his potatoes. Hung had told Tom Colicchio he hadn't made that dish in eight years, so this was a gamble.

Sara's concept seems solid to the judges, but her execution is off. Not just off, dangerously so: Gail Simmons chicken is undercooked.

Brian's has excellent flavor, but the judges are underwhelmed by the presentation, and Tom seems to have his doubts that this dish is refined enough for this challenge.

Dale has a major misstep: he forgets part of his sauce. And his concept is cluttered and the judges are not thrilled.

Casey's dish also pleases the judges, although they think she shouldn't have called it a Coq au Vin.

After the dinner, all five chefs are called in front of the judges. Brian, Hung and Casey are all named as the top and then Hung is announced to be the winner. Hmm…based on the past couple of episodes, is anybody else seeing a Casey-Hung Top Chef finale? It's totally Good vs. Evil, just how we like it.

The top three are safe, so they are free to go. Sara is called out for her failed execution, Dale for his failed concept. And failed concept, the judges feel, has more potential than failed execution, so Sara is cut free.

So now we know our final four, and I will eat a Hat Dauphinois if the order of elimination isn't Dale next, then Brian, then down to Casey and Hung in the final two. Of course, they've made it seem so obvious, maybe they have a trick up their sleeves…what do you think? How do you think the final eliminations will play out?

- Leslie Seaton, BuddyTV Staff Columnist
(Image courtesy of Bravo)