Conversely, Brian went home because he got mired in a Plan A that was ill-conceived from the beginning. There was no Plan B, although even Brian seemed to acknowledge maybe there should have been. He questioned whether three hours was enough time to braise the lean dense elk meat. Then went ahead and did it. Why? Why take that kind of a risk at this stage of the game? Moreover, he was bucking another important Top Chef mantra about working smart. And just when I thought, after last week, he had grasped the fact his tendency to overplay his hand with too many ingredients has been to his detriment, Brian throws just about everything at his disposal at the dish. Indeed that may have been Brian's Plan B -- trying to mask the fact the meat was tough and tasteless. It failed miserably, only compounding his original error in judgment by proving no amount of flavor, aromatic, or auditory diversions could conceal the elk's faults.
As for Casey, she was competent and confident, once again demonstrating she has become a strong contender for the top toque title. She played to the elk's rich, strong flavor strengths Which brings me to Hung, whose declaration that elk was boring seemed to determine how he dealt with it -- in an all too nonchalant manner. He claimed he was cooking for the judges, but he didn't relate to the meat's characteristics, the result being a dish that was, as always, technically proficient, but boring. Nothing really terribly wrong with it, but nothing special either. Plus, it was a mistake for him to dismiss his audience and environment as much as he did the elk. Yes, the judges' taste buds are the deciding factor, but consistently they have considered context in which dishes were served as part of their evaluation. So now we go into the final finale with Hung and Casey the clear favorites for anyone laying odds. But I wouldn't underestimate Dale, especially with the momentum his first win may have given him. Casey has proved there's a lot to be said for being on a roll, and Dale's timing to start one couldn't be better. Regardless of next week's outcome, Dale just could be the biggest winner. As he so eloquently expressed at the Judges' Table, he's gotten his culinary mojo back.