Top Chef Finds Finalists in the Big Easy

Top Chef Finds Finalists in the Big Easy
Michal Lavine/Bravo

02/19/2009 AT 12:00 AM EST

They took some time off to rest, study up on Creole cuisine and, in Fabio's case, grow a mohawk. Then the remaining four chefs -- Stefan, Carla, Fabio and Hosea -- packed up their knives and headed down to New Orleans recharged and ready for the semifinals.

After arriving in the Big Easy -- and, if you're Carla, interpretive dancing through the airport -- the competitors were shuttled to a plantation outside of the city where they were met by local luminary Emeril Lagasse, who dished out their Quickfire Challenge. In a twist, the final four learned they would not be cooking in the challenge -- and that they might not be the final four exactly.

Then walked out Leah, Jamie and Jeff, three chefs whom Tom Colicchio explained had been strong competitors and would be given a second stab at the competition in the spirit of "rebirth." Faced with crawfish, the three had to serve up an authentic dish in little time.

As they cooked, the original final four watched and stewed. "These guys got kicked out, all of them. Now they're going to be part of the finale again," Fabio said. "Give me a break. Please!"

But Stefan wasn't daunted. "There's no way I'm walking away a loser," he said.

So, the three competitors served up their dishes -- all of which earned praise from the judges. But Jeff's crawfish and grits creation stood out and put the Miami chef back into the kitchen. But in order to compete in the finale, Jeff would have to win the Elimination Challenge.

And that would not be easy. The chefs were asked to create two dishes and a cocktail at a masquerade ball for the Krewe of Orpheus inside the New Orleans Museum of Art. Naturally the dishes would have to have a Creole influence -- and Emeril would be an expert judge of that.

After hitting the kitchen, the chefs planned their menus -- or, in Stefan's case, grumbled something nonsensical to show how blasé he is about his competitors ("This is a competition; this is not a butt-rubbing contest," he said). They also schooled viewers about what makes an authentic Creole dish: layer flavors richly; in a gumbo, the roux (a flour and butter combo) is everything; darker roux means deeper flavor.

Before long, it was time to eat and the guests, in masks, filed in. Back this week, Gail Simmons reclaimed her rightful place at Judges' Table. After making the rounds, the judges stopped to offer their mostly positive feedback, while the chefs sweated it out behind their stations.

Hosea and Carla's dishes were labeled soulful and authentic -- so it looked like they would move on to the finale, which they did. Carla, in fact, won the challenge -- and earned herself a new car. Jeff's dishes were praised but he had to go home again.

In the bottom, Team Euro, Fabio and Stefan, stood before the judges. Both missed the mark -- and Stefan's cocky attitude failed to impress the panel. Or as Lagasse put it, "Stefan's food doesn't have soul." Ultimately, though, the judges spared him one more week and sent Fabio home for a homemade pasta that didn't have enough spice and a too-sweet cocktail.

True to form, the loquacious Italian left on a high-note, high-fiving Stefan and telling him: "If you don't win, I'll kick your ass. You have no idea." -- Brian Orloff

Tell us: Did Fabio deserve to go home? Did Stefan deserve to stay with his cocky attitude? Who will win Top Chef?Michal Lavine/Bravo

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