Top Chef New York New Orleans: Finale, Part 1

The final four have moved down to New Orleans for the finale (Hello, Emeril!), and we would have eaten just about anything that came out of the kitchen in last night's episode. Beignets, check. Grits, check. Gumbo, check. There were a few surprises, including the triumphant return of Gail (let's hope for good).

Note: We reveal the winner and loser, below...The first twist was that Jamie, Leah, and Jeff showed up for the quickfire challenge. We assumed they'd be there as sous chefs, but no. They cooked for a spot in the elimination challenge—one we thought Jamie would grab easily. Also no. Here are our thoughts on the rest...

1. Jeff brought his A-game. He won the quickfire with a version of shrimp and grits, using crawfish instead of shrimp. And he would have beaten out Stefan in the elimination challenge if he hadn't had to win the whole thing in order to stay.

2. Is being Southern an advantage? The judges continually talked about how Jeff knew Southern food (we'd beg to differ; he's from Miami, which isn't the same), and that Carla was also comfortable cooking Southern dishes (which is true). But creole food is unique to New Orleans, not really any other part of the South, and much of New Orleans cuisine is influenced by the French.

3. Carla's "love" ingredient? Crucial, it turns out. What we do think Southern food and New Orleans food have is soul, an intangible quality that can't be bought with presentation or perfect ingredients. The judges mentioned it more than once in describing Carla's food versus Stefan's.

4. A non-alcoholic drink...oh boy. We've lived in New Orleans. We thought that idea would go over like a lead balloon. People seemed to be complimentary, although we think it might have been because the other drinks were disappointing. We hope there was a backup bar somewhere at the museum.

5. Maque Choux is worth making. We were so happy to see Fabio make maque choux, a stewy corn and vegetable side dish. It's not a dish that's widely known, but it's so so good.

6. Hosea redeemed his seafood reputation. His pecan-crusted catfish looked great, and a Tabasco beurre blanc? Yes, yes, yes. He also nailed his gumbo, according to Emeril, which made Stefan look ridiculous when he pronounced Hosea's gumbo inferior to his own.

7. Emeril Lagasse is afraid to be critical. We know that all the food was good and that, at this point, there aren't any stink bombs in the bunch. But Emeril's overly-magnanimous attitude (everyone's a winner!) just made us stop taking him seriously after a while. There are so many amazing chefs in New Orleans. Why is it always Emeril who gets the attention?

8. We easily predicted the outcome. Jeff clearly hadn't done enough to win, and they clearly couldn't send Stefan home. So Jeff and Fabio were eliminated. And Carla's win wasn't too surprising, either. She obviously backs up her love with some incredible technique. Those beignets (below) looked scrumptious.

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So, what were your thoughts on last night's episode?

Related:
Episode 1: Ethnic Foods Galore
Episode 2: Hot Dogs and Angry Chefs
Episode 4: Lights, Camera, Kathie Lee Gifford
Episode 5: Make Your Own Sushi at a Bridal Shower?
Episode 6: And a Martha in a Pear Tree
Episode 7: Pop, Pop, Fizz, Fizzle
Episode 8: E-I-E-I-O (and Really Good Chicken)
Episode 9: Restaurant Wars!
Episode 10: Super Bowl Showdown
Episode 11: Of Eel and Eric Ripert
Episode 12: What Would Your Last Meal Be?

(Images: Bravo)

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