Each week we chronicle how Seattle represents in the show's tenth season. Except now they're no longer in Seattle.
Previously, on Top Brooke: Josh has a baby! Josh gets the boot!
Brooke and Sheldon dance around their big house in Juneau and collaborate on a celebratory ditty on Sheldon’s ukulele. Sure, an unknown third chef (probably one named Kristen) is going to show up in the finale, but tonight, it’s just the two of them and their weird, goofy, sibling-like camaraderie.
Flash forward…SIX MONTHS? Two weeks before the finale a camera crew is all up in Sheldon’s restaurant, Star Noodle, in Maui. He’s in the kitchen, wearing his red cap. Now he’s in the same kitchen, but wearing a gray cap. Now it's red again. Sheldon, are you messing with me? After Juneau he staged at Vintage Cave in Honolulu to sharpen his skills, since Brooke is no stranger to fancypants techniques.
As Sheldon grills meat on the beach (not a euphemism) he talks about how supportive Hawaii has been, as his friends sing his praises and his three cute daughters play in the sand. His wife apologizes for all his swears on national television, “but I guess that happens in the kitchen.” All is beachy and sun-drenched.
Meanwhile, back in LA, Brooke brushes the teeth of her blonde little son. She and her husband drop him at school before commencing their workday of running two restaurants. The couple met when Brooke was “this bossy chick in the kitchen” and he was her surly sous chef. He is not nearly as attractive as Brooke. Later they hang out at Roy Choi’s restaurant A-Frame as Brooke declares, “I have what it takes to be the next female Top Chef.” Feminists everywhere groan.
At long last, the actual finale commences. Since it’s set in LA, Brooke has the home team advantage. But Sheldon has a secret weapon of his own—a never-before-seen knit cap that is identical to his other two, but in blue. The two of them arrive at the LA outpost of Tom Colicchio’s restaurant Craft to see who their mysterious third competitor is. Not so mysterious—they’re both pretty sure it’s Kristen.
“Only two challenges stand between you and the title of Top Chef,” Padma intones. Something else stands between them and doing any actual cooking: A never-ending Last Chance Kitchen clip show. Seriously, we are reliving every single challenge? “Welcome to your nightmare all over again,” says Tom. He is talking to one of the competing LCK chefs, but I know how he feels. Of course we spent a lot of time revisiting CJ’s burger debacle. And remember John-the-most-hated-chef-in-Dallas? Yeah, neither do I.
Okay, it is fun watching Kristen eviscerate Stefan. To the surprise of no one, it’s Kristen who comes bounding through that door to join Brooke and Sheldon. The natural order of the universe is restored. Can we please have some sort of cooking challenge now?
Finally, we get down to business. The three chefs will run the kitchen that night at Craft, each cooking an appetizer, an entrée, and a dessert. Tom will be in the kitchen expediting. He begs the chefs to not screw this up and piss off all his customers.
After ogling all the great proteins in the pantry, Sheldon plans a roasted quail with pine nuts. Brooke thinks that sounds very un-Sheldon, but he wants to show the judges that he has grown as a chef. Turning your back on your heretofore successful cooking style…What could go wrong?
Hugh arrives in the kitchen, doing his best Tom impression and trying to not just make fun of stuff. He tells Brooke that she has really impressed him this season, what with the mussels and frog legs and the lamb and squid. Both of these sound like Wes Anderson movies. Or Renee Erickson bars. Either way, I’d be there opening night. Brooke is starting with a sweetbread salad, and he advises her to clean them thoroughly. It’s nice to see Hugh in mentor mode, though he still gives the best burns at judges table.
Kristen promises Tom that this time around she will go simple but “not boring and safe.” Next Emeril sidles up to Sheldon. He gives the sideeye to the quail and pine nuts plan. “One piece of advice: taste, brother.” The two bond over being dishwashers and not forgetting their roots, and Emeril says, “mahalo.”
Brooke is falling behind in prep and Sheldon and Kristen sort of halfass their desserts. Kristen is nervous. “I’m sweating in places I didn’t know I could sweat!” If only Stefan were around to enjoy that visual. Finally, Tom strides in so service can begin. But not until he makes the chefs clean up their mess in his kitchen.
Out in the dining room, Padma, Hugh, and Emeril arrive with John Besh and Martin Yan in tow. They’re not sure who deserves their sympathy—Tom for unleashing potential disasters on his customers, or the chefs for having to please Tom.
Here come the appetizers. Sheldon’s spot prawns are perfectly cooked, but Kristen’s pork rillettes needs a hit of acid (and Chris Pratt to show up and make a joke about that). Brooke probably shoulda cleaned the sweetbreads a little better, just like Hugh advised. Martin Yan says the poor beets are hanging out alone on the side of the plate “like a stepchild.”
Back in the kitchen, Brooke is a one-woman shitshow. Tom tells her to replate something—and fast. He is in total hardass mode. He demands more veloute from Kristen, who admits, “I peed in my pants a little.” Kristen, I know you've been gone a while, but oversharing about what happens in your underwear is Sheldon’s thing.
Main courses arrive. Kristen’s and Brooke’s are fine, but Sheldon’s quail confuses everyone. “This is another chef who has put on Sheldon’s hat,” says Hugh. He does not specify which color hat he means. “He’s been brainwashed,” laments Emeril.
Dessert. Brooke’s brown butter cake fares decently but Kirsten’s bowl of chocolate curry impresses no one but Padma. And the raw fennel in Sheldon’s white chocolate mousse grosses out everyone but Padma, who is apparently a dessert apologist.
Judges table. Emeril asks why we saw a new Sheldon tonight when there’s nothing wrong with the old Sheldon. Padma gives him an amen. Nobody liked the lemon in Kristen’s second course, and even she admits her dessert was lame. Brooke should have cleaned her sweetbreads better and been more organized in general.
Tom gives a fatherly speech and says that after watching them all season, it’s sad to see someone go. And that someone is Sheldon. Even Padma looks sad. Though not as sad as I look after Sheldon’s sweet speech about honoring his father and the people of Hawaii. He bids everyone aloha, and I am embarrassingly misty eyed. Brooke and Kristen high five. Lady power, y’all. Somebody dust off that rendition of "I Am Woman" that played when Kathryn Bigelow won her Oscar.
Next week: A live studio audience! Paul Qui! Michael Voltaggio! And hopefully the answers to questions like, will Kristen maintain control of her bladder? Does Brooke have any fears relating to arena-style TV stages? Oh, and I guess somebody will be named Top Chef, right?
Final note: Dang, if Carla had appeared, we would have had ourselves a legit Top Chef bingo. Next week, gadget. Next week.