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February 21, 2013 at 12:05 AM

What we know now about the next Top Chef

Photo by David Moir/Bravo TV

Women fared well on Wednesday night’s first part of the two-part ‘Top Chef Seattle’ finale. When the winner of Last Chance Kitchen emerged to join finalists Brooke and Sheldon, there was a sense of wrongs being righted when Kristen strode back on stage. Here’s our penultimate weekly roundup of the show’s highlights and lowlights:

Passage of time: We learn that months have gone by since the previous episode. Sheldon has staged at a high-end restaurant to sharpen his skills. Brooke, who owns two restaurants with her husband — her former sous chef — has kept the businesses running and bemoans how paperwork and logistics have kept her farther than she’d like from the kitchen.

Adorable child quota: We see Sheldon with three darling young daughters, picnicking on the Hawaiian beach, compared with Brooke watching cutie son Hudson at play and dropping him off at school.

Seattle spotlights: For the fourth week in a row, we get bupkis. The finale is in L.A., following three weeks in Alaska. Sheldon did pick spot prawns to cook with, at least, although we don’t know their origins. Can we imagine that Kristen’s coconut curry chocolate dessert was an homage to the Theo coconut curry bar featured in an earlier episode? Can we at least get the Canlis brothers back?

The challenge: Echoing the season premiere, the contestants were told to cook a meal at judge Tom Colicchio’s L.A. restaurant, Craft. “My customers are really demanding. They expect a lot. Please just don’t screw this one up,” said Colicchio, who psyched them all out by working as kitchen expeditor for the evening.

TMI award: ”I am sweating in places I didn’t know I could sweat,” said Kristen, followed shortly after by the exclamation that “Tom expediting is frightening. I peed in my pants.”

Game plan: Sheldon prepares quail for his main dish, wanting to go outside his comfort zone to show the judges “how much I’ve grown.” Brooke is slow to plan her menu and get all her ducks — braised short ribs, really — in a row. Kristen’s goal, starting out with a chestnut veloute and duck rillette, is that “I’m just going to go in cooking my a#$ off and win this thing.”

The results: Sheldon’s plan badly tanks. Everyone recognizes he is trying on a new style. No one likes it. “This is not Sheldon. This is another chef who put on Sheldon’s hat. I want the old Sheldon,” said judge Hugh Acheson. “He’s been brainwashed. I don’t know where he went,” said judge Emeril Lagasse. Brooke’s food was well-received, from her crispy veal shortbreads appetizer to her short ribs to a dessert of brown-butter cake, but she lost points for her failure to properly prep. Kristen’s food won praise, except for her dessert, but she “played it a little safe,” Colicchio said.

Packing knives and going home: Sheldon. I hated to see the nice guy go, but he’s right that he’s doing it “with my head held high.”

What we know now about the next Top Chef: We know it’ll be a well-qualified woman, which will be a pleasure to see after nine completed  seasons and eight male winners. “Congratulations, lady,” Kristen said to Brooke. “Congratulations to you,” Brooke replied.

Drinking game: Before checking out this excellent article on the state of food TV, guess which Top Chef figures author Anthony Greenwald is referring to when he describes “that stoned and regal puma,” “a Wookie in winter,” and “a Renaissance master of kindly bemusement.”

Taking any last bets on the winner?

Photo by David Moir/Bravo TV

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