Tom said it all when he talked about the importance of "working smart." It seemed to me there was a lot of not-smart working going on in that kitchen. Ironically, while I was watching I thought Howie was working the least smart by sticking with braising when the time was cut to 90 minutes. As Tom pointed it out, switching to roasting would have been the obvious thing to do--it's what I would have done. But Howie stuck to his guns and pulled it off. I respect that, especially since I remain amazed his pork turned out to be the big winner given the timing. What I respect even more was Howie's graciousness about his win--giving that bottle of wine to Joey and citing his dish as the best. It was a sweet moment.
And it brought another irony to mind--Hung's assertion about the necessity of having finesse, style, grace, and elegance to win. Given his frenetic demeanor in the kitchen (I gasped at his near knife miss with Casey; kitchen injuries go with the territory, but that kind of carelessness is frightening.) and his somewhat arrogant response to what were unanimous criticisms of his chicken and rice, he is not displaying those attributes.
Which brings me back to Lia, who dealt gracefully with the trashing her dish got, defending it as she should without giving off attitude. And she exited with aplomb, admittedly embarrassed at being booted off so early by clearly embracing the experience. Actually, there's another irony here: Lia is out of the running, but she may have snared the biggest prize of the competition, a new lifelong friend in Casey.