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'Top Chef': All aboard the Finale Express

December 3, 2009 |  1:53 pm

K7nxt2nc Give Padma a few weeks off and she comes back with a baby bump, an odd haircut and an awkward "Matrix"-style wardrobe. She and her new look joined Michael Chiarello (finalist on "Top Chef Masters") and the rest of the gang for the Season 6 finals in Napa Valley.

The quickfire challenge was to cook on board the Napa Valley Wine Train using the region's most famous ingredient, grapes.

Transitioning from the sprawling kitchens of Vegas to the compact galleys of the train proved a challenge, especially for Kevin, who battled with some motion sickness. No one's dishes were completely derailed by the challenge, however; only small details separate the contestants at this point.  Mike edged out the others to win a 3G Prius with his creative version of dolmas and kebab (grapes and scallops skewered on top of a stuffed grape leaf). 

The chefs then headed off to prep for the elimination challenge: cooking at the Rutherford Hill crush party. The challenge was to make two dishes for 150 people, one vegetarian and one meat. The ingredients had to come from within 50 miles of the region. Kevin's ideas about simple, sustainable comfort food were most suited to the philosophy of wine country, but in the end it was Bryan's ravioli and short ribs that garnered the win.

The judges agreed that Jen's dish was "very duckie," since, after all, she used an entire duck to make it. They also raved about her foie gras vinaigrette. Despite their enthusiasm (and the fact that they were not pleased about Mike's undercooked 63 degree egg), Jen got sent home.

It appeared it was her uneven temperament that earned her the boot. The judges saw her fret, stew and stumble toward the end of the competition. She even forgot to manage her coals to fire the duck. I guess she doesn't have that harmonious balance of confidence and composure they feel a "Top Chef" needs.

Who do you think does have what it takes to be "Top Chef"?

-- Krista Simmons

Photo: Pinot noir grapes Credit: Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times