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'Top Chef': All of a sudden, a family emerges from the kitchen

September 9, 2010 |  6:30 am

It’s something we’d never thought we would see in this season’s “Top Chef.”

Not Angelo Sosa crying like someone who sold Apple at $75. Not Ed Cotton waxing his eyebrows so severely they looked sharper than a cleaver. Not Tom Collichio actually saying something was too salty.
No, the real surprise of the penultimate episode of “Top Chef” Wednesday night was that for once the four remaining contestants looked -- and acted -- like a family. 

Yes, there was the usual one-upmanship. And maybe even a tiny bit of deception. But in taking the final four to Singapore, where they had to work not only with unfamiliar ingredients but also waiters who appeared to speak much more Mandarin than English, the show’s producers seem to have created a coherent quartet as interesting as many clans on television this year.

Facing two high-stakes challenges (for the first time, the quickfire winner passed directly into the finals) in what looked like oppressive heat outside and a cramped kitchen inside, the chefs nevertheless joked, pitched in, shared ideas, covered for each other and delivered -- they ran a great family restaurant, one where you don’t hear the chefs fighting from the dining room.

“I almost forgot I was competing,” Angelo said of the experience, and it was hard to doubt him.

The tears that were shed looked real, especially when Kelly Liken had to take a very long plane trip home (unless she mysteriously returns next week) for a cold cucumber soup and seared prawns that were nearly perfect, save for some poorly cut fish and under-spiced seasoning -- and even then, the judges were reaching for a reason to scratch her.  When Angelo started bawling when Kelly was axed (he was a puddle even before her name was called), she fondly told him to stop it -- like an older sister telling her younger brother not to lose it when she drives off for college.  There haven’t been very many emotional moments in Season 7 (we got choked up when Kenny Gilbert was dispatched, but that seems like an isolated incident),  so it was refreshing to see that “Top Chef” can still generate as many watery eyes as a bowl of chopped onions.

The eight dishes that Kelly, Angelo, Ed and Kevin Sbraga served the judges were, in Tom’s opinion, “probably the best food we’ve had all season.” For a minute, we hoped Bravo would take pity, and say that all four could come back next week for the concluding culinary match. Sadly, that won’t be the case. For the second straight year, all three of the finalists will be men, and no woman has won the show since Stephanie Izard triumphed in Season 4.

The remaining chefs seem remarkably evenly accomplished, and Ed (who won the quickfire test and the elimination challenge, even though he had immunity) certainly has all the momentum. But no matter who wins, the season is ending on a positive note, with all the petty jealousies taken away from the broiler and left to cool to room temperature.

-- John Horn

Photo: Angelo, Ed, Kelly and Kevin in "Top Chef." Credit: Joan Leong / Bravo