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'Top Chef: Las Vegas': The brothers Voltaggio sweep Napa, and duck confit gets a contestant sent home

December 3, 2009 |  8:47 am

Never thought that duck confit would get someone sent home, but in the end, Jennifer's last-minute switcheroo got her tossed right before the finals. She couldn't muster her old "I make boys cry" bravado, and apparently time away and a new perm weren't enough to fuel her A-game. It's an all-guys finale.

Having said that, the judges' decision -- and how they arrived at it -- seemed a bit murky for me.

Jennifer's mistake was kind of a big one. She wanted to grill her duck and forgot to prep the most important component of making that happen: the grill. That's a major boo-boo. It was a charcoal-powered grill, Jen -- how could you forget to tend to that? That's like wanting to roast a chicken and forgetting to turn on the oven.

But -- and it's a big but -- was it fair that Tom did a walk-through, found out she was going to grill the duck, and held her accountable for doing a confit instead? I guess on "Top Chef" it has to be. Jennifer did admit she would have preferred to grill her protein to get a smoky flavor, and I suppose knowing that she had made a misstep was enough to send her home, even though Michael Chiarello and Tom liked the "duckiness" of her dish and no one said anything bad about it during the tasting. Michael really enjoyed her addition of basil to the goat cheese and radish appetizer. And in fact, right before the chop, Tom pointed out that (1) she made an error in the kitchen, (2) he still thought the duck dish was nice and had good flavor, and (3) her goat cheese and radish dish was a little salty.

To this viewer, it felt as though her failing to grill the duck as she intended is really what got her sent home.

NUP_137266_0582 That would be fine, but the night's winner, Bryan, got critiqued on both his dishes for being under-seasoned, which is an equal offense. No salt? Less flavor! They liked both the ravioli and the short ribs, but also commented that the "figginess" of his fig glaze was missing. It sounds like more errors so far. Maybe the judges thought his ideas were more complex? Hard to tell. If you can explain it, leave me a comment!

Mike got dinged for Padma's slightly underdone poached egg. Fine. Gail wanted more pear, turnip and foie gras in her soup. Mike admitted that he was nervous about not having enough food for the crowd of 150 and had leftovers. But they all liked the dishes otherwise. Not enough to get him cut, and he had impressed Padma and Michael with his grape-tastic quick-fire win.

Kevin got huge props for his super simple appetizer of roasted beets and carrots with some pureed carrot tops. Thank you, Bravo, for the reaction shot of Mike "Kevin's food is what I cook on my day off" Voltaggio when Tom said, "That dish was stunning in its simplicity. I'm sure some of your competitors may look at that dish and go, 'C'mon ... what's the big deal?'"

But here again, when it came to his "toothsome" short ribs, the judges harped on his process -- but his answer was far better than Jennifer's. Asked if he had 24 hours to cook his short ribs, would he have done it the same way, Kevin said, "I don't know," and explained that he didn't think it was a bad thing for the short ribs to not be melt-in-your-mouth tender on top of creamy polenta. (Me? I agree! I'm a meat-eater who orders short ribs a lot when I go out, and if it's on polenta it really does all become mush in your mouth if the meat is literally falling apart. I don't mind being given a little something to chew on.)

But the judges didn't love its ropey texture, and here's my take: He's just tons more confident than Jennifer, and it shows in gutsy dishes like his appetizer. If Jennifer acted a little more like Mike, she may have had a fighting chance.

What do you think, "Top Chef" fans? Did Jennifer's confession that she would have grilled the duck get her sent home? Or was her food simply not as good as the guys? Did someone else deserve the boot? Are you surprised Bryan won the night?

-- Denise Martin

Photo credit: NBC Universal