The week foodies have been waiting for has finally arrived -- at least in Canada. Lucky Americans already know who won the $50,000 for their charity in the final episode of "Chopped: All-Stars" (which aired Sunday night in the U.S.) but I've avoided any and all spoilers leading up to Tuesday's Canadian finale.
The final four consists of Michael Symon (who beat out fellow Iron Chefs Cat Cora, Marc Forgione and Jose Garces), Jeffrey Saad (who took on Aarti Sequeira, Keegan Gerhard and Marcela Valladolid), Penny Davidi (who battled former "Next Food Network Star" contestants Vic "Vegas" Moea, Chris Nirschel and Justin Balmes) and Marcus Samuelsson (who, along with fellow judges Chris Santos, Marc Murphy and Alex Guarnaschelli, got to see what it felt like on the other side of the "Chopped" kitchen).
Who else was cheering for Alex? No offence to Marcus (or Chris and Marc), but I've always been a fan of Alex. OK, squash that. I used to think she was a big meanie, harshly judging the chefs on those cooking for $10,000, but since "Alex's Day Off" has never aired up here (I guess Chuck Hughes cornered that market), we've never witnessed her relaxed personality, until her first appearance on "The Best Thing I Ever Ate." We got to see her in a different light and it was her eye-opening obvious passion for food -- and her spiced-up vernacular as she drooled over her favourite dishes -- that made her a true joy to watch. Alas, Alex's run on "Chopped: All-Stars" is over, but that just makes who I'm rooting for that much easier.
Michael Symon: His incomparable cooking sense, bubbly personality and infectious laugh (that laugh!) makes him the one to beat. I'll let slide his sampling of the coconut rum straight from the bottle in his first round -- typically, a "Chopped" no-no -- and pick him as the odds-on favourite.
Marcus Samuelsson: I couldn't stand Marcus on the most recent season of "The Next Iron Chef" because he never listened to the judges. So. Frustrating. He tried to do too many things at once, all the time, but on "Chopped," that game plan actually works if you work the clock right. His kladdkaka with goat cheese two ways would've gotten him a scolding from the "Next Iron Chef" judges, but the "Chopped" panel couldn't get enough of it. Marcus impressed me, I admit begrudgingly, and his worldly travels and bold flavour combinations could make him tough for Symon to beat.
Jeffrey Saad: I was rooting for Aarti in his round, but after she was chopped, Jeff was the man (though, admittedly, I knew absolutely zero about him and his cooking style; just that he was runner-up in the fifth season of "Next Food Network Star"). But only he could concoct an entrée involving maraschino cherries, peas, parsley root and tripe (mmm, stomach lining) and make it enticing enough for me to eat. If he makes it to the final, he might be the sleeper in all this.
Penny Davidi: I don't watch "Next Food Network Star," mainly because it's more about the contestants' personalities than it is their cooking sensibilities (it is the series that made Guy Fieri a household name). I knew nothing about Penny, but it's clear she's still driven by a hunger for fame, rather than a substantial win for her charity, which has seemed more like an after-thought. Of the four in her episode, I wanted Vic to take it, but somehow Penny eked out the win, despite her dry-as-dust filo dough in her dessert round. Pfft. If there is a foodie god out there, the triple-S threat of Symon, Samuelsson and Saad will take her out in the appetizer round and we'll only be subjected to her arrogance and grating voice for 15 minutes.
I know it's "Chopped" and anything can happen, but unless he slices off his finger, or serves up raw onions to Scott Conant (wait, didn't Cat Cora do that in the "Iron Chef" round and live to tell about it?) I think Symon's got this one in the bag, followed closely behind by Samuelsson. Really, though, I'd be happy if any of the three dudes take it.
(Please, if you've seen the finale, don't spoil it for anyone in the comments!)