It was down to the final four on last night's episode of "Top Chef,"  and I think it was definitely a fun — Yeeha! — episode. So far, this year's finale is proving to be exciting, if not somewhat surprising. The Bravo editors didn't give away the result until the end, and neither will I. To find out who made it to the next round,
At the beginning of the episode, the cheftestants arrive in Aspen/Snowmass and are whisked away to an awaiting hot air balloon. They get an amazing aerial tour and pop open a bottle of champagne, only to arrive at the quickfire challenge. On the banks of the Frying Pan River, Padma and guest judge Eric Ripert  present them with fresh trout, a frying pan, a camping stove, and basic pantry ingredients.
They then have 20 minutes to scale, gut, and cook a tasty fish. Brian struggles with — and even drops — one of his fishes, while Hung finishes seven minutes early but manages to forget an ingredient. In the end Casey is declared the winner and will be able to use her own personal supplies/ingredients during the elimination round.
After the quickfire, they're told that they each must create entrees for 45 cowboys and cowgirls at the Snowmass Rodeo Riders annual shindig. They have three hours to cook, and the main ingredient, elk, has already been determined for them. Dale and Casey are thrilled to use the gamey meat, while Brian and Hung seem less enthused. Oh and did I mention that during prep, Chef Tom tells them that there will be three finalists and only one of them will be going home?
When it comes time to serve up their meals, Dale is victorious with his Seared Elk Loin with Cauliflower and Fingerling Potatoes . It is Eric Ripert's favorite meal and, even though Gail thinks it has too many components, it is declared the winner.
Dale's victory — which really elevated Dale in my book — leaves Casey, Hung, and Brian shaking in their cowboy boots. All the meals were considered fantastic, but someone has to go home. In the end it is Brian who is asked to pack his knives — and his cowboy hat — and go.
Things to ponder:
- Can you believe this product placement in this photo?!?
- Didn't they know there would be a quickfire at the end of the balloon ride? Didn't they learn that this is how "Top Chef " works?
- Were you surprised that three folks moved on to the finale?
- Was Casey's drawl suddenly more prominent?
- Was it funnier when Hung said, "What the hell do cowboys and cowgirls eat? Baked beans and baked beans and baked beans?" or when Dale said, "I really don't know that much about cowboys. I mean I've slept with a few, but that's about it" ?
- Were you as impressed by Dale as I was? His reason was quite touching and I almost think he could win the entire thing!