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Our time with the approximately 15-week long commercial that was the ninth season of Top Chef ,is almost over. Next week, we’ll see our last two competitors battle it out for the $125,000 furnished by Healthy Choice, as Padma has lovingly reminded us in all the credits.

This week’s episode featured, what I think must be, the most crushing elimination of all, the one where you almost make it, but fall short, the bronze medal. While it must suck to be the first let go, at least no one remembers you. But here, we’ve watched the eliminated contestant for weeks, so we might feel some attachment.

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The quick-fire this week was actually a true joy to watch, with three Top Chef Masters, Takashi Yagihashi, Anita Lo, and Floyd Cardoz coming in to play “Culinary Relay.” The wonderful thing about that show is watching the expertise and friendly competitiveness of the masters, and this was so evident in the way they set up the dishes for the cheftestants and then switched off three times to have them work and finish the dishes.

This was a great chance for the chefs to show off who skilled and intuitive they were, and they all shone, except for Paul, who got a bit zealous with the chilis on his sashimi. Sarah, who had interviewed that she wasn’t comfortable at all with the curry dish chef Chef Cardoz had set up for her, ended up winning the quick-fire, with her commenting that she’s only won money in Canada. The cold air makes her better!

After last week’s ridiculous ice challenges, which seemed like they were taken from something The Amazing Race would do, it was a relief to see the chefs take on an elimination challenge that made some sort of sense. With five hours to cook, they had to prepare a dish and cocktail that incorporated “fire and ice.” Paul and Sarah both ran with this challenge and immediately got super creative, with Lindsay deciding to play it a bit safer, saying that the others were gimmicky and staying true to yourself was a better shot. Still not letting the Restaurant Wars halibut debacle go, she decides to cook halibut. Sarah goes for homemade pasta with ginger mousse, which is supposed to melt, and Paul goes for a more complicated-sounding crab with accompanying lobster broth.

Surprisingly, there is very little drama as the chefs prepare their meals without any mysterious ingredients going missing. Lindsay finds some piles of kale that Sarah seems to have forgotten for her pasta, but it isn’t edited to be a huge tragedy. Everyone just does their thing, which is why we watch this show. If I want people yelling, I’ll watch Gordon Ramsay. All the chefs look stressed (as they should be, cooking for 150 people which includes Vancouver’s most important chefs) but thank the Top Chef lords, there was no funny business, just cooking.

Sarah‘s ginger mousse is immediately dubbed too frozen (also, how cool was the anti-griddle she used to freeze the mousse? Never heard of that before) when it’s served, but the judges love her gin cocktail. Paul’s dish gets universal praise, except it really bothers Tom that the arugula he’s placed in the dish seems to be an after-thought. You have to make arugula the star, baby! Lindsay finally does prove that she can, indeed, cook halibut, since you know, we were all wondering.

At the judge’s table, Sarah and Lindsay each get asked why they should move on to the next stage of the game. Sarah knocks this one out of the park with a lovely answer on how she sees food as a story, and she wants to continue telling it. We also learn in this episode, Sarah dropped out of high school to enter culinary school at age 16, so, moving on would be a great natural progression. Lindsay answers it in a more standard answer, saying she wants an opportunity to outdo herself.

In the end, it’s this more conventional approach that seems to do Lindsay in and get her eliminated. Tom said her dish just didn’t seem to be doing much, conceptually, which is always a big problem during these more abstract challenges. The problems the judges had with Paul and Sarah’s dishes were smaller issues: Paul’s arugula, and Sarah’s lack of spiciness with the cannelloni were the criticisms Tom gave when judgement time came. Paul also ended up winning the challenge and a trip to Costa Rica to see fair-trade coffee, which seemed like a non-sequitur since coffee wasn’t a prominent part of the episode, but you gotta put in those sponsors anywhere you can!

Sarah moves on to the next challenge, Lindsay quietly thanked the judges, packed her knives, and went.

Next week: The finale is finally here! It also looks like they bring in the cheftestant’s friends and family for some real waterworks.

TELL US: ARE YOU READY FOR THE SEASON TO BE OVER? DO YOU AGREE WITH THE FINAL TWO CONTESTANTS? WHO DO YOU THINK WILL WIN THE TITLE OF TOP CHEF?

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