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Top Chef: Miami – Final Four

"Top Chef" has gone on too long. Bravo needs to realize that a summer show needs to butt up against the fall season and not try to compete with it. It's as if we're in Pittsburgh and "TC" is the Pirates and the new shows are the Steelers - what do you think people will watch.

Judges: Tom Colicchio, Padma Lakshmi, Gail Simmons, Eric Ripert.

“Top Chef” has gone on too long. Bravo needs to realize that a summer show needs to butt up against the fall season and not try to compete with it. It’s as if we’re in Pittsburgh and “TC” is the Pirates and the new shows are the Steelers – what do you think people will watch. “Top Chef” producers have not upped the game enough to compete with the new and unknown.

The “TC” folks appear to be banking on the lure of Aspen, Colo., and that watching the chefs work in the wilds and on a ranch will be sufficiently compelling. Were they had a great opportunity to dive into the mind of chef and see how they think when resented with a challenge like the preparation of elk, they blew it.

Novices now know that non-fatty meats should be braised two-three times as long as as fatty — that’s eight or 10 hours as opposed to three — no one explained the inherent challenge in working with game. Dale nails it with a berry sauce but never gets to explain why; the Quickfire and Elimination hallenges were won and lost through the proper use of acidity. (Side note: I’m no chef but when a buddy brought three cuts of elk and venison to my house about six years ago, my contribution was four fruit-based sauces. It’s the obvious thing to do).

Brian appeared to open the pantry, take out everything, boil, broil and saute in oil, throw it all together and then ask the diner to top it with one of two blue cheeses. Guest judge Eric Ripert, who bizarrely does not speak during the Quickfire, delivers the dreaded assessment “sweet” after he takes a bite of Brian’s elk slop and it was clear he was doomed. Sending Brian home was a no-brainer – this guy has coasted, winning here and there, and is lucky he was not sent home when he should have been, which was after “Restaurant Wars.”

LYFORD: I couldn’t agree more about the scheduling. Coming home on a summer Wednesday to find “TC” on my Tivo always felt like dessert. Coming home during premiere week Wednesday to it felt like stale leftovers. The most exciting part of the hour was the announcement of the premiere date for “Project Runway.” (Nov. 14 for anyone else having Michael Kors withdrawals.) We’ve hardly been given a chance to miss Tim Gunn, so ubiquitous is he with the retread makeover show and the lame K mart ads.

And good riddance to Brian and his multitude of excuses. “Most chefs don’t consider trout a seafood.” Isn’t it a fresh water fish? And what did that have to do with you blowing the Quickfire Challenge. “I haven’t gotten to show what I can do yet.” Well, you’ve had 13 weeks of pretty diverse challenges so that doesn’t fly either.

GALLO: In lieu of providing cooking or food tips, penultimate episode goes into the individuals’ bios. Dale hasn’t cooked in the 18 months since the owner of his restaurant retired and closed shop, his boyfriend dumped him and he lost his desire to cook. Brian’s from Oregon, who grew up on a ranch and raised sheep and has a wife and has some kids and has some  (Oh! enough!). Hung, who we know was from Vietnam, starts by saying his mother and father taught him how to cook i their restaurants and eventually it sounds like he, his cousins and his cousins’ cousins alternated between sleeping and working in one tiny kitchen. It bordered on Eric Idle’s old “Four Yorkshiremen” routine (“we had to work 25 hours a day and my father would take an axe and split us in two…”).

And then there’s Casey. Cute, 29-year-old Casey. Her back ground is, well, it’s, um… She says she’s a young chef. Why is she allowed to be so mysterious? Has Bravo signed a deal with the witness protection agency? I wonder what she knows.

LYFORD: I kind of find Dale a little more endearing after his speech. And the 18-month absence from the kitchen explains his series of screwups that he always managed to find a way out of. Brian is boring and so was his food. And Hung. Wow. He talks the talk but never walks the walk. He says he’s a team player but never once helped a teammate. He showed no heart or soul in any of his dishes and then waxed on about how his family instilled in him a passion for food and cooking. The only passion I saw from him all season was for that godawful fried egg and Fruity Pebbles diorama he made in the “shop in one aisle” challenge. He seemed really proud of that. I’ll take Casey any day over him. She may be boring but I don’t need to be friends with my chef. She puts her heart and personality on the plate and that’s all I ask. And for someone like me for whom tartare borders on overcooked, I thought her rare elk looked pretty good.

GALLO: Elk is great. Went to the L.A. edition of Craft last week and ad the venison. Excellent. I wonder if there are people who view this as too exotic or barbecue at the zoo. Personally I want to know that a chef knows they’re way around all ingredients. You?

LYFORD: The more exotic the challenge the more interesting I find it. That’s why it was so irritating to listen to both Brian and Hung say they haven’t gotten to show what they can do yet. Better a chef who experiments and breaks out of their comfort zone occasionally than one who coasts on what they know.

I have never had elk, and would have loved to know more about what sets it apart from other meats. After seeing how lean it is, I can’t wait to try it.

GALLO: A final three cookoff instead of a final two this year. Last year we saw Marcel bring Mr. Wizard’s science lab to the finale and lose as the judges opted for personality — and the tasting menu at Mario Batali’s Casa Mono — to determine a winner. Hung and Casey have a suitcase full of Asian ingredients; Dale has who knows what. My prediction for next week: Hung dazzles them with flawless precision and at least one judge really wants to crown him champ; Dale comes up with a solid idea but flubs one of the dishes; and Casey creates a clean and soulful menu that impresses the judges because it is clear her personality runs through the dishes. She wins, and we still do not know much about her.

LYFORD: I’m with you. Hung will continue to be technically, perfectly heartless and serve a dish too austere to inspire passion. Dale will flirt with disaster, pull a magic trick out of his hat and fall just short. And Casey will leave it all on the plate and become the first female “TC” champ.

Top Chef: Miami - Final Four

Bravo, Wed., Sept. 26, 10 p.m.

Production: Taped in Aspen, Colo. by Magical Elves. Executive producers, Dan Cutforth, Jane Lipsitz, Shauna Minoprio; supervising producers, Scott Shasky, Andrew Wallace, Liz Cook

Crew: Running time: 60 MIN.

With: Judges: Tom Colicchio, Padma Lakshmi, Gail Simmons, Eric Ripert.

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