Previously on Top Chef: The final five arrived in the Bahamas for the beginning of the marathon finale. After a face-off with the chefs who won the finalists' original seasons, the five got deluded into thinking the Bahamas had a royal family, set a restaurant on fire, had to start over ... and poor Carla was sent packing.
After Carla is booted, the chefs ruminate on her elimination and do the whole "we're almost at the end" thing. They retire to their sumptuous digs at the Nassau Palms Hotel. Richard wears a silly hat to sleep and we get the overwhelming joy of knowing what DoucheyMike looks like in bed.
The gang heads down to the hotel kitchen where they are met by Padma and NBC cross-promotionalist, Venezolana exquisita Lorena Garcia. The theme of this challenge will be "consistency."
The premise: The chefs will break into pairs and will have to create 100 plates which, in addition to being delicious, will have to be be "consistent." They'll have to look "consistent." They'll have to taste "consistent."
The boys end up pairing up against the girls. Consistent.
Richard and DoucheyMike decide that since they're clearly superior to the women in every way, they'll win easily by making their own pasta and preparing the 100 identical plates in the hour's time.
The women, Antonia and Tiffany, decide to do (what the guys tell us is) a simpler dish, a cold dish something that involves seared meat on a salad of some kind. (Reminder: I love eating fine meals. I don't understand cooking for squat.) However, while the preparation of the meal itself may be simpler, the fact that there are four separate components to the dish means that it is theoretically harder to make all the plates the same.
Richard dismisses what the women are doing as being "sear and serve," something the chefs do when they can't think of anything else. DoucheyMike remarks that if his team had tried that, he could have sent Richard out for beer while he did it all himself. Consistent.
When time is called, Padma and Lorena each pick two numbered plates at random. Pads picks a number of an "important birthday" in her family. Lorena picks 62 and 89. (Golly, could it possibly be her birth year and the year she was married?)
The judges love both teams' offerings. And they think the dishes from both teams are "consistent."
But, based on the level of difficulty with having to put together four components the same way for 100 dishes, rather than serving a simple (yet "consistent") ladle-full, the win goes to ... Team Estrogen.
Tiffany shrieks. Also consistent.
And the boys are reeeeeally upset. Antonia contemplates their salty, sour grapes.
With that out of the way, it's now time for the ...
The chefs will be preparing a lunch for the members of the Lily White Yacht Club of The Bahamas who are celebrating its 80th anniversary. And they want conch. They're suckers for conch.
So the chefs get on yet another boat, making this officially The Season Of Dramamine.
The clock on the challenge is to start the second they hit the beach. And as they near their destination, the chefs see that they will be cooking with wood fire grills. And there appear to be some crates awaiting them on the beach where they'll be cooking and serving.
They jump in the water and immediately book it towards the sand to be the first to get their hands on the best proteins.
Here is where a bit of clever editing takes place. We first see them opening crates marked "Lobster" and "Grouper" which contain the chilled goods. And then, when they open the one marked "Conch," we hear Richard in voiceover ask, "Where's the conch?" as they look inside and discover that it contains only snorkeling gear. (Translation: They'll have to go snorkeling to retrieve the conch, which have been conveniently scattered under the sea by some Magical Elves.)
Of course, if you were looking closely, you'd have noticed that the conch crate was one of the first ones they opened. But where's the drama in seeing them make the discovery and then watching them stop to consider things, before production says it's time to go for a swim?
Now, what happens next is something that has scarred me deeply. If you saw it, you have my condolences.
Not hungry. Not anymore. Probably not ever again.
So, from my position curled up in fetal position in the corner, I see through my inflamed eyeballs the four chefs struggle to gather up the conveniently scattered sea creatures from the sea bed. (Who knew conch love to space themselves out so evenly?)
Antonia's a strong swimmer and does rather well with the task. The others, though, seem to have trouble understanding the "you'll have to go underwater to actually grab the conch" concept.
Once back on the beach with their shellfish, they set about trying to get their conch to come out of the shells. While they go hammer-and-tongs at the critters, both Richard and Mike mention that they've spent a great deal of time having worked with conch before.
Well, they are guys, after all.
But aside from that, it's a testament to the fact that these two did work and research in the months leading up to this Bahamian experience, practicing with the ingredients which are most common here.
Not so much with the ladies. Both Antonia and Tiffany express that they've never worked with conch before.
No joke here. This just saddens me deeply. I really would have hoped that they would have known that their extant (though great) skills alone would likely not be enough to win the big prize this time.
While they chik-chik-chik way at the conch, Mike shows us that he's even one-up on Richard in knowing that dropping the shell in hot water gets the conch to let go and slip out easily. Oddly, no one else seems to catch on to this.
As they cook, they all remark on how sandy everything is and how it will be near impossible to not end up with some sand in their dishes. And I start to get itchy just thinking about it.
The four describe what they're preparing and Richard goes against expectations in saying that he's making a dish which is more Long Island than it is Bahamas, offering up a play on linguine and clams, with conch in place of the clams and sliced sweet potatoes masquerading as pasta. (I had been waiting I-don't-know-how-many weeks for Richard to pull out his patented something-disguised-as-something-else trick.)
Tiffany tells us she likes things that have hot and cold elements in them and will be making a hot conch chowder with a cold ceviche on top. Antonia is making a fish dish with diced conch on top.
And Richard is using every local ingredient, element and cooking technique at his disposal for his dish. He's searing sweet pineapple to make it savory. He's making a conch vinaigrette. He's wrapping fish in a banana leaf. He's getting in a dig at Elia (who was eliminated first for a fish-in-a-banana-leaf dish).
Finally, the Lily White Yacht Club members arrive for their meals to be served by the Not-So-Lily-White Servant Class Club. They have some totally engrossing stories to share about term limits for the club's commodores, small sailboats for children and how to achieve that perfect Ken Burns bowl-cut-n-bangs look.
The chefs each serve their dishes and everything seems to go over quite well for the most part. The only issues are that Mike's fish was a mite greasy, Antonia's conch may have been diced too finely and that Tom can't tell that Richard's "pasta" isn't actually pasta until filled-in by Gail.
Tiffany is the last one to serve and we see that she's actually ready to serve well before time. This results in her soup sitting for longer than it should and, by the time it's eaten, it's cold.
Oh, and during our Fakeout Scene, we discover that Richard and Mike don't have the first clue about Gilligan's Island, seeing as they think Tiffany is the Ginger of their squad. (Not that she's a Mrs. Howell either. ... If anything, she's a Gilligan.)
Was this even necessary? Did anyone think this would go any other way?
Mike was given the win and his head expanded past the side of his still-expanding waistband, crowing how he beat Season Six champ Michael Voltaggio last week and how he's beat Richard two Elimination Challenges in a row. He's only sorry that there's no one left back in the Stewed Room to get a load of his greatness.
With that, the judges nitpick about Richard, Antonia and Tiffany's dishes before the inevitable is announced.
"Tiffany, please pack your knives and go."
They just couldn't get past the cold soup.
They head back to the Stewed and let Mike know that she's gone. The smile on his face translates to, "Yeah. You should have gone home ages ago, chickie. See ya in Texas sometime. Hugs."
Tiffany cries again.
Next time on Top Chef: The 32-episode-long finale continues. Celebrity chefs. Something going rancid. And a mystery envelope?
Also ... I'm going to be incommunicado from roughly the moment after the next episode airs to past the end of the never-ending finale. So, it's really unlikely that there's going to be a recap next week and really really unlikely that there's going to be a recap of the actual, likely infuriating crowning. This upsets me. But I'll probably be more upset when I hear who won.