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'Hell's Kitchen': And then there were two

May 1, 2009 |  6:30 am

Stop the presses! Chef Ramsay smiled!

A near-perfect dinner service led Chef Ramsay to actually bust out a grin and praise his underlings for  "bloody great service." But that lasted all of two seconds. It was soon time to put someone on the chopping block. And it was Andrea.

Who would have predicted that quiet-as-a-church-mouse Paula and redneck Danny (his description) would be the last two chefs standing?

When the field started with 16, it looked like Ben or Giovanni or even Andrea would be among the final contestants. And Andrea nearly made it to the end through sheer willpower and despite numerous flops in the kitchen. But it all caught up with her Thursday night, when Chef Ramsay sent her packing.

The night started with visits from friends and family but quickly shifted gears into a brilliant challenge that should become a "Hell's Kitchen" mainstay: practically a who's who of Los Angeles chefs (Mark Peel, Suzanne Goin, Celestino Drago, etc.) were in Hell's Kitchen to judge the final three contestants' dishes. "Los Angeles must be starving because you're all here," Chef Ramsay joked.

Seriously though, scheduling that must have been a nightmare. But it was worth any hassle. The judging elite was unanimous: Danny's dish was the dog's dinner, and Paula's was the best. The win earned Paula a makeover, and a segment on Fox's morning show.

When the three chefs took their turns running the kitchen -- perhaps the marquee challenge in "Hell's Kitchen" -- Paula stumbled badly, as Chef Ramsay said, like a "mouse with no voice." Danny's voice cracked like a 13-year-old boy asking a girl out on a date. And Andrea overcompensated -- putting on her "assertive panties," as she put it -- and is lucky that Chef Scott didn't kill her. ("She was riding him like a donkey," Paula quipped.)

So who do you think it will be? Paula or Danny? I think Paula has the edge. I think both chefs have the skills and the smarts to be molded into Chef Ramsay's image. But Danny has had a few slip-ups, taste-wise. (And apparently more to come with the final challenge, when the chefs must open their own restaurants. To the designer's apparent horror, Danny suggests mounting fish as part of the decor.) And there's no way that Chef Ramsay can teach him that.

The single funniest moment of the night -- and perhaps of the entire season -- was the "spark" between Paula and Jean-Philippe. Do you think? Could it really be??

-- Rene Lynch