Let’s put it this way: if this had gone the other way, I’d just have posted “I don’t want to talk about it” and that’d be that. In fact, I’m tempted to just post “Whew!” and let it go at that, seeing as this season ran about two episodes too long, but I suppose I should close out the season properly.
Tom and Padma meet with Blais and Isabella to deliver the final challenge: “Create the restaurant of your dreams.” Blais gets goosebumps. They must each create a four-course tasting menu for seventy diners plus the judges. This is a little different from the usual “cook the best meal of your life” and it’s the first time they’ve had to serve a restaurant instead of a single table of judges. So it’s like Restaurant Wars all over again, except only one person’s head is on the line. They go home to fret overnight until the next morning when they’ll get the details. They fight over who gets to be the underdog. Blais, you may not be the favorite given Isabella’s sudden momentum, but you are Our Final Hope.
The Choosing of the Sous Chefs.
Isabella and Blais huddle by themselves and compare who they do and do not want as sous chefs. Isabella doesn’t want Jamie because she’s slow. He doesn’t want Marcel, having worked with him in Restaurant Wars. He wants Jen because they’re good friends and she’s a beast in the kitchen. I like Jen less and less as time goes on, you know? Not just for this. I didn’t like her attitude when she was cut. Though she was extremely classy in the media afterwards. Richard wants someone who wants to work and will listen. He’d love Dale Talde, Angelo, or Jen, because they’d have his back. I suppose it has nothing to do with the fact that they can cook.
But as it turns out, they have to pick dishes, not sous chefs. Everyone from the season has prepared an amuse in 30 minutes, and Blais and Isabella go tasting and alternately select three each.
Blais can’t match dishes to chefs, and he sure can’t taste who wants to work (though I suppose someone who didn’t want to do it might make a lousy dish on purpose) or who will listen, so he just goes on flavor profiles. First pick squid ceviche, which happens to be attached to Spike. Spike had jet ski reservations. Spike does not look thrilled to be chosen. Blais is concerned. Will his head be in the game? Then he picks chicken wings which earn him Angelo’s services. Blais calls him a thoroughbred; he is happy. He then selects an egg which turns out to be Antonia. He thought that was a possibility, and he’s fine with Antonia except she just got cut, so her head might be in a bad place.
Isabella picks yogurt curry, and it’s by Tiffany Faisson. He acknowledges her pedigree is top notch even though she can be difficult to work with. I smirked. He should’ve known her in Season One. Then he gets Jamie and her pork tenderloin, which is not good news: she’s been cranky and tough to deal with all season, he says. I smirked again. Though I wouldn’t disagree with that assessment. He picks tropical salsa, and I’m hoping like hell it’s Marcel, but it’s Carla. He says he’s got three women, his “Angels.” Shut up, Isabella.
They get one hour to plan today (sounds like Spike will make his jet ski lesson after all), and tomorrow, five hours to cook.
Isabella will call his restaurant “Iz.” Which is kinda cute, I have to admit. He’s talking about mozzarella and panchetta since he’s inspired by the things he grew up with. Which, until the Family Tree challenge a few months before, he hadn’t had any interest in for thirty years. He’s talking about dessert and all three sous chefs offer suggestions, but he shoots them down and says no, it’s his dessert and he’s going to do what he’s planned. I have no problem with this, actually. In fact, I hope Carla is paying attention. Tiffany will do the fish station, Jamie gets the cold station, and Carla has dessert and front of house.
Blais names his restaurant ‘Tongue & Cheek”, to indicate whimsy and a duality of meaning. I’m wondering if he knows the actual expression is “tongue in cheek” and if he’s going to serve tongue and/or cheek, which would help the pun make actual sense. But no. Maybe if it was a real restaurant he would, but if he only has four dishes, he isn’t going to waste them on beef tongue (Antonia or no) and veal cheeks (which might be hard to find in the Bahamas). Other than his amuse, there isn’t much duality of meaning in his dishes. Angelo will handle the first course, Spike will do desert and FOH, and Antonia is handling the veggies. He plans Cap’n Crunch ice cream for dessert. Cap’n Crunch? I’m worried. He wants to serve things chefs like to eat. Chefs like to eat Cap’n Crunch? He has a burger restaurant but this is his chance to serve “his” food to people who will get it.
Blais says Isabella’s strengths are confidence and swagger, and his weaknesses are the same thing, confidence and swagger. I’ll agree with the second half of that.
Time for a commercial message, and to show the LA Party hosted by Padma and featuring Fabio and Antonia. Padma seems a little hysterical, but it might be she can’t hear. Nothing of any importance gets said.
It’s time for the Retrospectoscope. Isabella admits the Las Vegas version of him wasn’t mature enough to handle this big a challenge. Blais recognizes he tried to tell too much of a story, and this time he’s going to just cook tasty food over creativity for creativity’s sake. He feels he’s a better leader and team player now, and his failures have served him well. He’s a little concerned because he’s put multiple proteins on every dish. Maybe too much going on. Angelo demos cleaning oysters to, I don’t know, servers? Do servers shuck oysters? Seems like an important thing to leave to someone who has to be shown how to do it.
Blais is also concerned about dessert, and changes from Cap’n Crunch to foie gras ice cream. Now that’s a change. I mean, he leaped over quite a few levels there, in terms of taste, texture, and sophistication. Wow. Just because he had six lobes of foie gras sitting around, the first thing he thought of was to make ice cream out of it? Hey, Blais, remember that thing about creativity for creativity’s sake, that thing you weren’t going to do this time?
Tom does his sniff and sneer – Isabella mutters he’s in the weeds. Tom points out he hasn’t been through this before, and confides, “I don’t know if anyone pictured you being here.” Isabella says, “I did.” If I didn’t hate the little bastard I’d think that was cute.
Tom goes to Blais and asks how he’s dealing with pressure. Blais does the whole “Hopefully I don’t blow it this time” thing, and declares that running a restaurant is about managing mistakes.
Tom says Richard knows about the pressure, Isabella has plenty of time, and organization is key. This challenge is a true test of what a chef’s job is, not just making dishes but leading a team. Chef means boss (actually it means “chief” but I’ll give him “boss”).
Blais likes that his sous chefs are being “ultra-collaborative” and are improving his dishes. He thinks about pulling the amuse, because the oysters don’t look good (well, you have servers prepping them instead of someone who actually has done it before, isn’t that kind of stupid?). He’s been waiting two and a half years, but he doesn’t know if he can do it; maybe he’s destined to be one of those people who is always a bridesmaid. I’m getting tired of this constant reminder about The Heartbreak of Poor Blais. I also feel bad for Stephanie, who by all accounts is running an amazingly successful budding food empire in Chicago and is being disrespected every time Blais runs into his “I blew it last time” routine.
And it’s time. Spike lets folks into Tongue & Cheek. Spike is wearing his dopey hat and an untucked plaid shirt. It looks woefully out of place, but no one says anything about it.
And it’s time for a suspenseful commercial break so Gail can check in from her party in Chicago where she’s hovering over Carla and one of the Housewives. I won’t go into my deep loathing for all things Housewife here. Not actual housewives, you realize; just Real Housewives. I hate them, every one, in every city.
We come back to the action. The judges are: Lidia Bastianich, the Italian grandma who wanted roast chicken for her last meal; Hubert Keller; Alfred Portale, and Bill Terlato (which is why they’re serving Terlato wines).
Blais serves his amuse bouche, which is not part of the four courses. In his blog, Tom says this amuse was not considered in judging because it wasn’t part of the challenge. He also assures viewers it’s not in any way similar to Thomas Keller’s Oyster and pearls dish, which is a sabayon with tapioca and caviar. It’s the oyster which at the last moment he decides is ok since he can put together enough decent looking ones for the judges, with frozen crème fraiche pearls and salsa verde. Hubert says the amuse is refreshing. Blais has “Crafty” Spike wandering around (looking awfully conspicuous for a spy considering he’s still wearing his hat and plaid shirt and looks rather like the gardener wandered in to wash his hands and can’t find his way out) listening to the comments. He tells Blais the judges like the amuse. Spike does a very good job throughout in interpreting the judges’ reactions to dishes so as to keep Richard calm.
T&C First course, raw hamachi with veal sweetbreads, garlic mayonnaise and pickled celery. Blais planned to start with explosive flavors.
T&C, second course is pork belly, black cod, bone marrow, beets, celery root horseradish puree (actually, this last may be on the third course, I got a little mixed up here). Alfred says great job. Blais seems to be worried that the plates aren’t cleaned, Spike says, they loved the dish, concentrate. Spike’s pretty good at this, much to my surprise.
T&C, Third Course is beef short ribs with mushrooms, red cabbage. Alfred says it’s not highly creative, but execution is great, and it’s delicious. Bill Terlato sees personality in the dish. Spike reports he showed “restraint” on short ribs, which is a very artful dodge.
T&C, Fourth course is foie gras ice cream, cornbread with whipped mango. The ice cream has a crumbly texture. Lydia says foie gras doesn’t add a lot. Spike reports back that it was “controversial” and they should make another batch for the next service with more cream. I have to say again, as much as it hurts me, that I’m really impressed with how Spike is conveying info to Blais.
Isabella serves the other judges first: Gail, Art Smith, Curtis Stone, and Tom.
Iz, First course is beet salad with, mozzarella, truffle, and chocolate vinaigrette. Curtis says it’s a good composed dish. Tom says he’s off to a good start. But there’s a delay before the second course, as they note.
Iz, Second course is steamed halibut with kumquat marmalade, cauliflower puree and panchetta bread crumbs. Tom says the fish is the best fish he’s tasted on the show.
Iz, Third Course is braised pork shoulder, pepperoni sauce, roasted cabbage and turnips. It’s his “Tom” dish since Tom is always harping on braised meats not being glazed enough. Curtis says it’s a nice plate of food, Art says good, Tom says it’s as good as anybody’s food in the finale.
Iz, Fourth course is rosemary caramel custard. Tom says it was cooked too hot and for too long, Art says flavor is good but doesn’t like the way it feels.
The judges switch restaurants and they do it all over again, but faster and with fewer comments and details. The only negative comments are for the desserts.
And there’s the usual dithering. I’m really over Richard’s redemption arc. I still want him to win but I’m sick of hearing about redemption. It’s a contest, not religion.
Judges’ Table, the last one. Finally.
Padma says they both did wonderful job. Tom says it was the best food of any finale. Gail says Iz had a subtlety, femininity, really delivered. Fish was strongest dish. Tom says it was great. Gail says the pepperoni sauce was crazy and a stroke of genius. Hubert says shoulder was great. Tom says custard was cooked too high too fast, had bubbles. Blais: Gail praised the intense flavor, course after course. Hubert says it was great, the amuse was terrific. Tom says flavors were strong and clean, successful. Padma says black cod was flawless, Tom says beef dish was safe but perfectly done.
They go away to stew room, and their families show up – Isabella’s wife, mom, and sister, and Blais’ uncle, since his wife is very pregnant. Isabella’s wife looks really sweet. I wonder what’s wrong with her.
The judges debate. Tom says something odd, that Isabella’s first dish, the salad, was the weakest. He said at the time he was off to a good start. Maybe that means the dishes that followed were so good, the salad was weak in comparison? But the custard wasn’t made correctly, was the salad worse than that? I don’t quite get it.
Tom admits he said Isabella’s halibut dish was the best fish he’d tasted, but that was before he had Blais’ fish.
For the braised courses, Gail says nothing in Blais’ that blew her away, where Isabella gave her pepperoni sauce, and it was both elegant and comforting. They talk about the difference between the foie gras ice cream in the first and second seatings. It was softer the second time around. I think this reflects well on Blais, the ability to adjust, to react to mistakes which is what he said in the beginning. They finally give the first two courses to Blais, second two to Isabella, so it’s a question of by how much. Gail would go to Iz during week and T&C on the weekend.
Blais wins! Of course Isabella has to be a jerk and say he beat him, he just didn’t get the prize. But I guess that’s a step up from the guy who wouldn’t cook Italian food for 30 years because his grandmother died.
Andy Cohen does his stupid show from the New York party with Blais and Isabella. Fan fave is to be announced which is the only reason I’m watching. He brings up the Reunion which has already been taped, and shows a clip of Elia being raked over the coals for her criticism of Tom after she was eliminated. I can’t wait to see this. Both guys say it was uncomfortable, and it apparently went on quite a while. Mike gives kudos to Jamie. A fan asks who should’ve gone home sooner, which is an awful question; Blais wisely demurs but Isabella says “Dale and Angelo should’ve gone further and Tiffany not so far” which is his typical sexist attitude – except that I pretty much agree. Not that they should have, but that I would’ve expected it to be different. I also would’ve expected Jamie to go much, much earlier than she did, like the first time she didn’t cook.
Jen is yelling in the background about Elia and about Tiffany. At least, Andy says it’s Jen yelling in the background. I think Jen might have a problem. Seriously.
Harold appears to announce the Fan Favorite, either Fabio (who is in LA but can’t hear) or Carla (who’s in Chicago and can). Harold looks pregnant.
Carla is fan favorite, yay! She gets $10,000.
According to Andy’s poll, 82% said the right person won. I’m sure it’s pleasant for Isabella to be sitting there while this is announced. But it sounds low to me.