Wednesday’s episode of “Top Chef” was one of the most suspenseful in a long time. And the wait isn’t over yet.
After winning the Quickfire challenge (and a Toyota Corolla) with his roasted red pepper soup, Chicago chef Carlos Gaytan found himself on the chopping block in the Bravo cooking competition. Nina and Shirley were safe, leaving Carlos to square off with his petulant nemesis, Nicholas.
The Carlos-Nick stand off was a long time in the making. Nicholas has been treating Carlos poorly for a while now, getting all uppity in an earlier episode when Carlos dared to tell the judges he couldn’t cook his fish in the oven because Nicholas had taken it over (to warm his plates, no less; way to be a team player, Nick). Later, Nicholas had no problem insinuating in front of the judges and anyone else who would listen that Carlos might have sabotaged his dish by jacking up the heat and burning his quinoa. Nicholas also got in Carlos’ face for having the audacity to move his pots on the stovetop (Nicholas is the master of laying claim to kitchen appliances that emit heat) and not cleaning Nicholas’ sushi knife soon enough.
After all of Nicholas’ bullying and smack talking, I really wanted to see Carlos send the guy packing. Alas, Carlos’ seafood tamale narrowly lost out to Nicholas’ under-seasoned fish. (“Nicholas, meet Salt. Salt, meet Nicholas.”) A genuinely sad Padma told Carlos to pack his knives and go home, leaving Nicholas to jump for joy with Nina and Shirley.
Carlos packed his knives, but instead of heading home, he headed to Hawaii for Last Chance Kitchen. (Whomever thought of these webisodes should be promoted immediately.) There, he faced off with a formidable opponent: Louis, who’s riding quite the winning streak in Last Chance Kitchen.
In a twist, the winner of this final Last Chance Kitchen will be determined largely by the three “Top Chef” finalists: Nina, Shirley and Nicholas. Emeril and Tom also get a vote. (While the judges didn’t know which chef cooked which dish, I think it was pretty obvious. So here’s another opportunity for Nicholas to stick it to Carlos.)
We’ll have to wait until next week to see if Carlos survived Last Chance Kitchen, leaving him in the running for the $125,000 prize and the title of “Top Chef.”
I recently ate at Carlos’ West Town restaurant, Mexique. The soft-spoken chef visited every table in the place, stopping to take photos with star-struck customers. When he dropped by ours, we talked briefly about the initial “oven incident” with Nicholas. Carlos smiled and shook his head, chalking up at least part of the controversy to the show’s editing.
“Keep watching,” he said with a grin.
I will. The first of the two-part finale starts at 9 p.m. Wednesday.