As a former contestant, there are many times when I watch the show now and know exactly what a chef is thinking. Not by their words or video interviews, but by the slightest of body language. Earlier in the season, I mentioned this to my wife when I witnessed one of the chefs get called out in a Quickfire. The chef was Stefan, and he showed us then, and again tonight, what I refer to as the “gulp” moment. That exact moment when one of us (and I feel like I can say us) gets criticism that actually hurts. I mean, the type of moment that incites a physical reaction. The slow, uncomfortable swallow that you can plainly see is full of grief. The type of thing you may see in sports, when a basketball player misses a free throw and then has to make the next to tie the game.
With as many cameras, more actually, than we have cooks at this point in the game, it’s easier to pick up. And with the pressure mounting, the last few episodes should give us plenty of these moments. As the chefs stood at Judges' Table tonight I was reminded of that gut-wrenching feeling. It’s not life or death. But for a guy like Stefan, it feels like it.
I was happy to see the last three eliminated chefs come back to play into the finale. This season for sure, and I say this as a viewer, has had the most intricate challenges. The format has been jiggled just enough to keep everyone, viewer and contestant, guessing.
But as a contestant, you imagine every possible scenario. Every twist that could be thrown at you. And you do this a thousand times in a few minutes. I believe Jamie when she says she sort of had an idea something was going on. She’s smart. She probably had this thought out on the plane ride to NOLA. Even during casting, I was thinking about challenges. I remember sitting in my hotel room, thinking I was on a secret camera. Scoping out the room for sconces to plate on, if necessary. Figuring out, if indeed, the iron in the closet could act as a griddle. Not eating the mini bar snacks, because I might need them. Shaving my entire body to be more streamline (OK, that's a hotel thing I do, not a chef thing).
With Jeff now back in, due to the twist , the challenge turns to inspiration. And although this isn’t this group’s strong point; they do some really nice work. Hosea obviously has done some research on the region and is really pouring it into his roux. Roux BTW, is seldom used in the modern kitchen. It’s as ancient as it gets. It’s a cassette tape. Atari. Useful, but totally prehistoric. There’s a great shot of Stefan mincing herbs. The tiniest frame, but one that shows the guy’s work. Look at his cutting board and the precision of his knife work. Tight.
Carla hasn’t shucked oysters before? Really? This is an alarming admission, but really speaks to her strength. She’s not concerned with what she doesn’t know. She isn’t running around worrying about how Stefan is the guy to beat. She’s in her own world. It’s a strange place I’m sure, but it really is her greatest attribute. It’s not love, or spirits, or soul, or whatever we are led to believe. It’s keen self-awareness and confidence.
Jeff is focused. But somehow you get the feeling the hill is just too steep to climb.
And Fabio really has brought himself to this challenge. I think it was conceptually the best work. He marries his Italian cuisine to New Orleans. It’s not as far a stretch as it sounds. Both cuisines have tremendous soul. And it comes down to one of those decisions where you just have to trust the judging. We can’t taste. And that’s the biggest hook this show has.
At the end we are left with two talented chefs awaiting their fate. With 18 cameras bearing down on every angle of their agonized faces. You know it could be you. It could be anyone. You can’t scream or go crazy. Sweating, crying and passing out are all options. But at that moment, when the angel of bad news is about to make her money. All you can really do is gulp.