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August 23, 2014

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The Jet Stream: And then there were four

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Bravo Photo: Trae Patton

Timothy Hollingsworth (far right) and Gavin Kaysen (second from right) talk to the remaining Top Chef contestants.

Wow, what a week of TC. Like I said before, it came down to fine-dining skills to make it into the Top 4. This must have been a tough week to leave for Eli. Coming this far and not making it to Napa. As we start to wind down the season it's important, I think, to just take a moment and appreciate the level of skill of these cheftestants.

With the multitude of chef competition shows out there, no one can quite compare with TC. They even have outdone themselves this year. Never could a Top Chef group compete in a Bocuse D'Or type of competition. Guys, at the end of the day, these are some BAMF cooks! What's BAMF? Bad Ass M***** F*****... you get it.

Top Chef Episode 12

Elimination Challenge Winning Dish by Kevin: Confit of Lamb Saddle with Baked Asparagus and Sherry Glazed Beets Launch slideshow »

Anyone outside of true French gastronomy probably, until last night, has never heard of the Bocuse d'Or. Lemme break it down into bits of information that are easily digestible and won't put you to sleep: Started by Paul Bocuse, one of the most famous and influential chefs our age. So remember a few weeks ago I was writing about nouvelle cuisine being the "modern" evolution of French food breaking away from "Haute" or "cuisine classique", which was the super-calorific version of opulent French food? Think Paula Dean and Guy Fiere as "cuisine classique," lots of butter and fat, unapologetic doses of heart-clogging love and goodness. Old-school thinkers — food is nothing without fatty flavor.

Paul Bocuse was like Alice Waters, thinking about more seasonal, easier-on-the-heart foods that required just as much if not more technical skill than their predecessors like Escoffier and Careme. Bocuse was also one of the first of the old guard to come out and have a public chef life. He always did his best shining a light on French Cuisine and, of course, showing off his restaurants, his three Michelin stars and his mile-long list of accolades.

In the '80s he started the Bocuse d'Or (aka Concours mondial de la cuisine, or World Cuisine Contest), which has always been recognized as the unofficial culinary Olympics! Nowadays, this Bocuse d'Or is becoming a franchise operation with competitions popping up in Asia, Europe, Latin America, and you guessed it ... the good ol' USA. What better way to announce and promote it than on the hottest national and international TV food show! Pretty genius! So now there's a logo for the brand, and everyone in the Top Chef universe is intrigued! And what better way to keep them interested than to see Kevin competing in the inaugural Bocuse d'Or USA 2010! Genius!

OK, to brass tacks! What a week. We laughed a little, cried a little and got to see some of our culinary heroes judging our final five. Great quickfire this week to kick off the uber-Frenchy theme to make a protein-in-protein-in-protein dish! I know it sounds pretty fancy and out there, but we eat them every day. Sausage and hot dogs are the most common example. Anything usually sold as a hotdog, as well. Believe me friends, most sausage and hot dogs are usually more than three different parts of two or more types of animals. Yum, I know.

It's been all quiet on the hater front with the departure of Mike I., but low and behold we have a new prince of hate! Do you guys smell it? The insecurity, the jealousy, the brattiness reeking from Mike V? This episode was full of great Mike V hits such as, "Kevin cooks the food that I cook on my day off" and "He (Gavin) didn't ask for ballotine, and if he did I'm sure mine would've been just as good as his at the Bocuse d'Or!" Wow man, you are about to inherit the "DB" crown from Mike! For new readers to the Jet Stream, DB = D**che Bag!

Congrats to Jennifer on her quickfire win for calamari steak, scallops, salmon, shiitake mushrooms and shiso with rice noodle salad. Very technical dish using the shiso to frame and separate the ingredients. Then tying it together with calamari? That took big balls! I'm sorry, but I got the hots for Jen! Anyone who has spent an extended time in the kitchen has to agree that Jen is a kitchen goddess! As we all know Jennifer is an emotional chef, and her nerves play into her cooking big time! I think this win gave her the confidence to place well in the final challenge.

The final judges' table was a crusher. I don't know anyone that wouldn't be nervous cooking for that group! Keller, Bocuse, Stratta, and Balud? If cooking was the military, these guys would be the Joint Chiefs! So preparing a mini-Bocuse d'Or had to be nerve-racking. I think the theme of the meal was nerves equal undercooked protein. It's funny how we chefs freak out serving well-done meat! It's the ultimate sign of a hack chef to serve overcooked meat, so we always worry about sending proteins out overdone. This fear gripped the cheftestants so deeply that Jen and Bryan served undercooked dishes and Mike V's shortcoming was under-seasoning and lack of harmony on the plate.

It was tough to see Eli go, but it was his time. This is such a strong group of chefs that most would crumble trying to cook against this pack. So Eli should be proud that he made it this far. In any other TC season, this young chef would have excelled! I think any chef with integrity would rather have competed honorably with this group then lay waste to wannabe chefs in other groups. So Eli, toques off to you my friend, and we will surely see you again doing something cool like cooking with bacon, making a Scotch egg or hanging with your mom!

So it's the finals. My predictions? In the normal world, Jennifer's nerves finally erupt and do her in. But in my twisted mind, seeing everyone win around him and the pressure of seeing his brother continue to do better than him completely breaks down Mike! The reality-show producer in me wants to see Mike completely unravel next week. Am I the only one that is subtly seeing Mike break down week after week? Next week is the moment that we see him lose it. So next week's victim? Mike or Jen. Until then, if I'm not learnin', I'm not living! Peace!

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