Recap: 'Top Chef,' Season 11, Episode 16

The three remaining chefs — Nick, Nina, and Shirley — showed up at a luau to start the Finale, where Padma introduced them to chef Sam Choy, one of Hawaii's most renowned chefs. We then learned who won last week's Last Chance Kitchen, and it turned out to be Louis Maldonado, who won a whopping eight of them (that means he's beaten everyone since Episode 7!). We're definitely okay with him returning for the finale.

The Quickfire revolved around that wonderful 'luncheon meat' Spam, which is seriously popular in Hawaii, and whoever made the best dish with one of the Spam varieties (could they really be a sponsor here?) would win $10,000. Some were more well-versed in the canned protein than others, and certainly showed off its... er, versatility. Here's what they served:

Shirley: Deconstructed Spam musubi with spam-infused rice, nori, and cucumber slaw
Louis: Spam mousse with garlic, chives, scallions, snap peas, beech mushrooms, and togarashi
Nick: Spam broth with pancetta, seaweed, dried shrimp, clam juice, and quail egg
Nina: Breadfruit and teriyaki spam croquette with sour orange and mango flaw

Choy liked the crunchiness of Shirley's Spam, and found it to be "incredibly tasty;" Louis' was silky and well thought out but lacked Spam flavor; Padma found Louis's silky; Nick's broth was good and flavorful; and Nina's slaw was full of flavor, and the breadfruit was a good choice. Nick took the win, and with it $10,000.

The Elimination Challenge involved using what locals call "canoe crops," food items like coconuts, taro root, sugar cane, and tea leaves that the earliest settlers brought with them from Indonesia.  And out of all the times during a season to have a double elimination, this was seriously the wrong time.

The challenge got off to a shaky start for Nina, who started breaking down Nick's fish instead of hers, meaning that she'd need to serve opah instead of what she was planning. But she seemed to regroup and they finished their prep and retreated to their new digs. They then took a trip to a scenic lookout, which, once again, was poorly timed; the middle of a high-tension cooking challenge isn't exactly the best time to take in the scenery.

The next day they set up at the waterfront event space and got to cooking. Tom dropped in and told them that the winner would have an advantage in the finale, right before it started pouring. The clock doesn't stop, obviously, so the chefs had to keep right on cooking. It also happened to be super windy, which didn't help either. Thankfully the sun seemed to reappear about 5 minutes later, and the dishes were basically none the worse for wear. The guests arrived, including chef Peter Merriman, and the chefs presented their dishes.

Louis: Grilled opah with sweet potato and coconut sauce
The fish was cooked inconsistently (Opah is notoriously difficult to work with), but he used the canoe foods perfectly.

Nina: Grilled opah with taro root and coconut puree
The judges liked the way the fish was cooked, and it was bright and lemony if a bit too spicy. Some thought that the sauce overpowered the dish, though.

Nick: Opakapaka with jalapeno and crispy chicken skin
There was a good contrast in textures between the fish and skin, and as a bold, strongly-flavored dish it was a good change of pace for him. Some guests took issue with the jalapeno, though.

Shirley: Honey-glazed pork with sweet potato and turmeric puree
The only chef that didn't cook fish also cooked everything perfectly, with the pork falling apart, but it was quite sweet.

At this point in the season, it's so subjective as to who goes home because the level of play is so high that the average diner wouldn't even notice the tiny mistakes that the judges do. While the dishes looked pretty solid, there each dish had a couple small errors: Louis' cooking was inconsistent; Nick's was too spicy for some; Shirley's could have used more acid and less honey; and Nina's had too much habanero, making the sauce overpowering. 

Nick took the win, and with it a trip to the finale, and an advantage in it. Louis was told to pack his knives and go first due to his inconsistent fish, and Shirley was next, due to her pork being too sweet.

Nina and Nick will be in the finale next week, and it's tough to argue with the final two being where they are. They've been consistently on top all season, and it's still a complete tossup heading into what should be a pretty exciting finale.