The Final Four!

Ted Allen sizes up the remaining chefs.

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One thing's sure: None of us, and none of you, has any business being pissed off about the four chefs going into this finale. Not the viewers, not the network, not the blogosphere, nor the judges. All four put their passion on the plate every time. All four are charismatic and gifted. All four of them are fighting for this, with integrity, strength, and imagination. All four of them WANT this. One more thing is sure: Only one of them will get it. On tonight's elimination battle:

Casey: I disagree with the quibbling about the (true) fact that a dish isn't really coq au vin when it's not cooked for hours using an old rooster. I think that position is too rigid, here. Old roosters are hard to find in supermarkets. And faced with Andre Soltner and the deans of the French Culinary Institute, I think Casey was spot-on and brave to present a modern interpretation -- an interpretation, not a literal execution -- of this classic, using the sort of chicken that was shown her at the outset of the challenge. From the moment the chefs announced their intentions, because of their intentions, I thought this was a battle between Casey and Hung. And I was right.
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Hung: Gentle viewer, please try to put aside your feelings about a young chef's cockiness, and look at what he is cooking. And how well he is cooking it. Most great chefs are cocky, as are most great artists. When you're sitting in a restaurant, you rarely even meet the chef. It doesn't matter whether he is nice (and most of the time, Hung probably is). What matters is that he cooks delicious food for you. Plus, it's fairly obvious that Hung is sometimes playing for the cameras and strategizing to win -- but, always, using great skill to cook yumminess. This is not something to dislike him for; this is something to respect him for. Hung demonstrates by far the most precise knife skills of anyone in this cast. He is knowledgeable of and excited about sous vide, one of the most modern and important cooking techniques in cuisine today, an approach that not one of his competitors has demonstrated any facility with (which is weird). Yet, he still bows to the past (and, importantly, here, to the French) with his potatoes Dauphine, imperfect though they may have been. The only thing I didn't like about Hung's performance tonight was his attempt to blame his inadequately fluffy spuds on the fact that no one helped him to plate them. Can't fault him too much, though -- he's giving the judges ammo to let him off the hook for that one, small flaw.
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Dale: Let's put aside Top Chef's decision to portray him as the sweet, lovable gay guy. Dale has capital-B balls. He always takes risks in this competition. Dale always innovates, yet also always wants his food to feel like a big hug. He really went for it tonight with the duet; true, maybe, that the two preparations did not relate or contrast appropriately, as Tom said, but I love that Dale went for it. (Certainly true that they failed when he forgot to put his lovingly prepared sauces on the plate -- big, fat, juicy ouch.) Still, judges, let us not forget: Effort. Ambition. Difficulty. Dale aimed to give you two different preparations of chicken, potatoes, and onions in the same amount of time that other chefs gave you only one. I fully believe that what Dale said tonight is true: that after about two more iterations in his afternoon kitchen time, he will have this dish tasting as spectacular as it looked. (Dale, may I suggest doing one puree of potato, the other of parsnip or celeriac, and two different sauces? Mmmmm. And I'm sure you've already thought of something much more clever than I would.) Brian: Even before Dale called Brian's dish "a big green turd," I was worried about what Mr. B was cooking. You have the deans of a fancy French culinary school judging your approach to three simple, but crucial, bistro fundamentals, and you take as your inspiration a British comfort food -- Shephard's Pie? Wrong play, in my view. Yes, Padma loved it, and most at the table found it rich in flavor. But Padma has spent a lot of time with Brits -- Ha! I think the death knell was sounded from the moment Tom asked Brian why this dish should win against all others. I love comfort food as much as the next guy, and I, too, love the Brits. But this is the time to wow people -- and we're talking French people. And a Swede. Who knows what the hell Swedes eat. Come to think, I'm sure it involves sausage. Maybe Brian was right?
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And Sara: Well, aside from the execution, resulting in several diners who agreed the chicken was undercooked, I think her choice to nod to her personal roots in Jamaica was flawed. Again, you're facing a great French culinary lion in the person of Andre Soltner; you want to press his personal buttons, you want to acknowledge France's supremacy in cuisine, you want to do something special-occasion-y, not spicey and island-y. In my opinion. Every chef must always think about his or her audience. This audience is going to be very old-school, very classic, very haute, very meticulous in their attention to your understanding of the classics. Going Jamaican, as delicious as I think those flavors are, was a bad decision.
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Good episode, no, y'all? Would love to have been there for the last one, but I was munching lasagna with my family in the Midwest, and lemme tell ya, my sister Lisa turned it out! I think I gained five pounds! Soon, I'll be as fat as Thom Filicia! Want to say a fond s'long to C.J., a.k.a. Chef 1-Pac, who is a hugely classy act, and who I hope to dine with again ASAP. It is always tough to see a true talent leave this operation. He has come so far; we all know that he will go so much farther. And I'd like to leave y'all with the quote of the night, once again from my brother, Dale: "Cooking is love; you can taste it when a chef has not had their heart broken and you definitely know who did not get laid last night." True effing that.

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