Soul Kitchen

Casey Thompson: still in the saddle, one of three remaining chef vying for the title of Top Chef

Wednesday was almost a very bad day for Mark Cuban and Casey Thompson, both of whom came this close to getting shipped from reality-TV back to the real world. Cuban finished in the bottom two on Dancing With the Stars -- hard to believe for a guy threatening to whip out the Motorboat. But he's sticking around at least one more week: Model Josie Maran got the hook instead, leaving the Mavs owner a little humbled. Writes Cubes on his blog, "I have to take the bad with the good. I've got to turn this into a positive. ... Now everyone thinks we are the ones to go next week."

Thompson, still a contender for the title of Top Chef, will definitely be done in six days regardless of performance: That's when Bravo airs the season finale, and either Casey, Hung or Dale will pocket the $100,000 and other parting gifts. Thompson almost didn't make it to the last episode: After winning a fairly ridiculous Quickfire Challenge that involved stooping over a tree stump perched by the river upon which the cheftestants had to scale and serve trout, Thompson's Elimination Challenge elk dish was a Rocky Mountain low for most of the judges -- save for Le Bernardin's Eric Ripert, who thought her smoky tomato butter elevated what was otherwise a relatively raw rack of "black-and-blue" game. (Yum!) Casey and Brian made the bottom two -- outta four, not good. But Brian and his knives were sent packing -- about 10 episodes later than most figured.

Ripert clearly dug the Shinsei exec chef: He told Thompson her trout was "soulful," which is about the nicest compliment you can get without a wedding proposal. But Thompson did the craziest thing: She neglected to use the prize bestowed upon her by Padma Lakshmi after winning the Quickfire. Lakshmi told her she won a significant advantage over her competitors, in that she'd get to prepare her Elimination Challenge dish using the special ingredients she schlepped from Dallas to Colorado -- most of which Thompson uses in her Pan-Asian dishes, her specialty at Shinsei.

Then she ignored her bag full of tricks entirely, telling head jugde and Craft-man Tom Colicchio she was waiting to whip 'em out in case she made the final-final episode. That's taking one hell of a risk, ditching your hard-earned advantage to duke it out on a level playing field upon which you've got a 25 percent chance of getting discarded before showing the world the magic you can make with ... chili strands? After all there's a good chance she won't even get to use the home-brought ingredients -- that's one tricky, sadistic show.

And the promo for next week's episode leads us to believe Thompson has a hard time of it next week; it even leads us to believe she won't be the first female to take the title: "Best dish he's made yet," Colicchio says to someone, just before Dale warns us that Casey's lost her focus and gotten lost in the weeds. Then again, you never can tell a damned thing from those promos, which are so misleading they're kind of genius. And for those so interested, Colicchio has an entire page devoted to last week's episode -- specifically, Thompson's Coq au Vin that wasn't. --Robert Wilonsky

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