Did you miss Top Chef? Here's what you need to know for tomorrow's water cooler conversation:
The setting: The Los Angeles branch of Craft
The elimination challenge: Create a three-course meal for Craft customers.
The guest stars: Chefs Martin "Yan Can Cook" Yan and John Besh
The drama: Finalists Sheldon and Brooke are introduced to the winner of Last Chance Kitchen: Kristen Kish, who scorched the competition to earn a spot in the second-to-last show.
The triumphs: In keeping with the understated elegance on which Craft prides itself, the contestants prepare dishes which the judges tactfully call "safe." Still, a few of the entries are singled out for praise, including Sheldon's spot prawn appetizer, Kristen's seared tuna and Brooke's brown butter cake.
"Holy smokes," Besh says of the dessert. "That is really, really good." While Tom Colicchio doesn't think the cake's appropriate for a restaurant, his fellow judges are smitten: "It's just perfect," Yan says.
The debacles: Although Brooke's adopted "think clearly" as her motto and has the home court advantage in L.A., she never finds her rhythm after taking too long to settle on a menu. Problems "start to snowball" after she panics over expiring time; Coliccho, playing expediter, has to repeatedly prod her for guest orders. But the only plated evidence of her troubles is thinly-sliced sweetbreads which weren't as thoroughly cleaned as judge Hugh Acheson would have liked.
The losers: Sheldon is eager to show off his growth, which is the term he uses to describe his mastery of continental techniques. But his quail bores the judges, who fondly remember the flavorful, island-influenced cuisine he showcased all season. "I want the old Sheldon," Acheson whines.
Sheldon's white chocolate-based dessert, garnished with raw fennel, also fails to impress. "You can't just put raw fennel in there," Colicchio scolds. Acheson likens Kristen's dessert to a "badly thought-out pot de crème," but Sheldon can't overcome his quail issues. The judges ship him back to Hawaii.
The future: The finale, shot in an arena-style kitchen in front of a live audience.