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Top Chef Review: Mauie Wowie

For the first episode of the finale, the chefs travel out to Hawaii, specifically Maui. For this finale-before-the-finale, it’s not just Nicholas, Nina and Shirley competing, there is the winner of last chance kitchen to consider.

On last week’s Last Chance Kitchen, Carlos went head to head with Louis in an anonymous tasting judged by Nina, Shirley, Nicholas and Tom. Louis’s dish received all of the votes, bringing him back into the competition, but the question is: for how long?

Scene from Chef

Quickfire Challenge
Things get started with the typical Quickfire Challenge, but this time, the chefs need to feature one of the wackiest foods that Hawaii is known for: SPAM. Oh, yeah. SPAM and eggs, baby! Louis is pumped, Nina and Shirley take it in stride and Nicholas is a little blind sided.

Despite this, Nicholas proves that he spent his time away from the competition working on his seasoning, or lack there of, and knocks it out of the park with his SPAM Ragu. He seasoned his dish to the point that he felt it was ‘aggressively seasoned’ but the judges felt it was perfect.

He wins the Quickfire and $10,000. At least it’s not immunity.

Elimination Challenge
For the Elimination Challenge, the chefs are challenged to use traditional Hawaiian Canoe Crops to create inspiring dishes that will hopefully win them one of two spots in the finale. That’s right, two chefs will pack their knives and go at the end of this challenge.

During prep cooking, Nina seems slightly off her game and starts breaking down the wrong type of fish for her dish, which sets her back a bit. This is unusual for Nina and the other chefs definitely take note. The chefs are also thrown a wrench during cooking time when their outdoor kitchen gets rained on.

This wreaks havoc on several of the dishes, but overall, the final cooking time is fairly calm and uneventful. The chefs keep their heads down and get it done. One thing is for sure, no matter who ends up in the finale, it’s going to be a good one. Although I secretly (or not so secretly) hope that it comes down to Nina and Shirley. Those girls rock.

The chefs do an impressive job of creating four distinct plates from a limited pantry and their final dishes are as follows:

Louis: Grilled Opah with Sweet Potato & Coconut Sauce – slightly inconsistent with fish cooking
Nina: Grilled Opah with Taro Root & Coconut Sauce – slightly over spiced, but well cooked and had nice texture
Nicholas: Opakapaka with Jalapeño & Crispy Chicken Skin – nice contrast in texture with mixed feelings over his jalapeño
Shirley: Honey-Glazed Pork with Sweet Potato & Tumeric Puree – lovely, but too sweet

Judges were pleased with the chefs’ levels of inspiration with the Canoe Crops. Each chef wowed the judges with their dish, but each had just a whisper of, dare I say, a mistake or criticism. It comes down to what dishes stuck in the judges’ minds and which minor mistakes become deal breakers during Judges Table.

Nicholas is on a roll and wins the Elimination Challenge, surprising everyone. He has clearly learned to season to the point that the judges like, even if it’s out of his comfort zone.

Louis’s fatal mistake was that the portions of fish in his Opah recipe were cooked unevenly, with some judges receiving over cooked pieces and some under. It’s this inconsistency that gets him sent home, narrowly missing a chance at the finale.

This is crushing for Louis because of his hard earned place back in the competition after having won eight Last Chance Kitchen challenges. Louis proved himself as a confident and creative chef and should hold his head high.

It’s down to Nina and Shirley, and it breaks my heart to see that only one of these amazing chefs will get a chance to cook in the last episode. Both were arguably the most consistent chefs in the entire competition, creating flawless dishes time and time again.

In the end, the judges just felt that Shirley’s dish ate too sweet and she gets sent home. This is a true blow because Shirley is unbelievable to watch in the kitchen and it’s crushing to see her not get a chance to show her voice in the finale.

Nina, however, will get that chance and she has more than earned it. Nina is a powerhouse in the kitchen and has such pristine technique and such thoughtfulness, that she stands out above the rest of the chefs.

Next week, Nina and Nicholas will go head to head and while I commend Nicholas for his hard work, Nina has been the one to beat the entire season, and I truly believe it will be her challenge to lose. Either way it will be a finale you won’t want to miss!

Thanks for reading – and remember: you can watch Top Chef online over at TV Fanatic!

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