Season 1, Episode 6

Thunderdome Finale

The final four cooks will compete in three challenges to determine who is America's Best Cook and will win the $50,000 grand prize. After each challenge, guest judge Chef Bobby Flay will eliminate a cook until just one cook and one mentor stand victorious.
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It's Anyone's Game

In the finale, the remaining four home cooks will have to compete in three rounds, all judged by the same guest, but the kicker is that one cook will be eliminated after each round. "I want to prove that I wasn't a one-hit wonder," says Christina, referring to her previous cook-off win. But first she has to get through Round 1, which has them cooking peppers. Christina has chosen to make a chile relleno.

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Game On, Dream Set

Ben is sure he can knock this challenge out: "I won a habanero-eating contest in Phoenix," he says confidently. "Me and peppers have met." He decides he wants to show off his skills by cooking game meat. Cat suggests elk. "If I win this $50,000," he says, "I would start a supper club to sort of chase that dream of bringing food back into my life."

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Time Is of the Essence

Michael worries "30 minutes is gonna be tight," especially for Marc, who wants to stuff poblanos with crab for his version of a chile relleno. Stephanie wants to make a chipotle and butternut squash soup topped with a poblano-filled pot sticker, and she wants "to bring some of my own style to it," she says.

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Under Pressure to Win

Christina is letting her nerves get to her, and she's running around her station and the pantry, leaving a mess in her wake. "You're losing it. Keep it together," Alex yells from the catwalk. "You've been so calm this whole time. ... Don't lose who you are now, OK?" Alex decides to use her SOS button to get Christina back on track.

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Calling In the Chile Pepper Expert

"I heard that you guys are cooking with peppers today, which is something that I've made my career out of," guest judge Bobby Flay tells the home cooks, who are all intimidated, none the least of which is Ben. Bobby finds Ben's elk cooked "spot-on," calling it a well-balanced dish, however, the textures of all the components are just about the same.

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From the Pressure Cooker Into the Clear

Cat is putting all her hope in her only home cook: "Ben's been in every Pressure Cooker, and that's tough," she says. "I really want him to nail this dish." Luckily he does, as Bobby calls it the best of the challenge, which means Ben's the first cook to be cleared to move onto Round 2.

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A Tale of Two Stuffed Peppers

Also moving on is Stephanie; Bobby commended her soup for its "sense of risk but also for a really fantastic execution." When it comes to choosing Christina's or Marc's chile relleno, Bobby chooses Christina's as his favorite, as Marc's poblano was more or less raw. "I'm sad that I'm not moving forward," Marc says as he exits the arena, "but I'm still proud of myself having got to the final four."

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Don't Underestimate the Underdog

Michael is glad to be still in the game. He tells Ted, "Now it's all got to be about Stephanie." In the second round the home cooks "will be making a Bobby Flay specialty: burgers," Ted tells them. Stephanie wants to prove to her fellow competitors that she can cook an amazing burger despite the fact that she was a vegetarian, and she's topping hers with onion-bacon marmalade.

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Multitasking Gone Wrong

Alex recommends Christina cook the burger with fatback, grating some for the burger itself and then cooking the burger in rendered fat. But soon it all goes wrong: "This whole fatback-grating session is putting me in the weeds," Christina says. Her shallots and radicchio are burning by the time she switches gears, so Alex buzzes in to help. "I'm not crashing and burning yet," says Christina. "It's not over till it's over."

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Perfect Artistic Execution

"Cooking burgers for Bobby Flay is like painting a picture for Picasso," says Ben, who's making a stuffed burger for a "different experience" and because it "leaves a blank canvas on top" for other components he plans to make. However, because the burger is stuffed, it takes special attention to ensure it's cooked right, so Cat jumps in to see it through.

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Falling Flat in Flavor

"I really hope that he gets the playfulness of it and the bold flavors that I've tried to impart on the burger," says Ben as he watches Bobby break into his burger. Bobby calls it "innovative," but he's not a fan of stuffed burgers in general, and this one didn't deliver enough flavor in the way of its filling.

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A Surprising Move

The teams react to hearing Christina's burger was Bobby's favorite. "To have top burger when I had almost crashed and burned," says Christina, "that just feels so good." And for his second favorite, Bobby chooses Stephanie's burger, which means it's over for Ben in the competition. "I leave with my head held high," says Ben. "I mean, I think that I'm a winner even though I didn't win the whole thing."

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Cooking with No Support System

"For your final challenge, you can make anything you want," Ted tells the cooks, but there are a couple of restrictions the mentors won't like: They can meet with the chefs for only 60 seconds to discuss the dish, and they won't have access to the SOS buttons. Ted further explains: "In fact, you will not be on the catwalk. You will be watching from the bleachers." Alex and Michael are not happy.

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Aiming to Please Her Mentor

"I want to show Michael that I can cook meat perfectly," says Stephanie. She's chosen to cook lamb chops in a yogurt marinade, paired with tabbouleh, which is a dish she calls "close to my heart." On the sidelines Michael worries the lamb might be too rare, and Stephanie had the same worry, so she puts it in the oven, checking it constantly.

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Flying on Her Own

"I'm gonna go bold and do shrimp with heads on that I've never done before," says Christina. She decides to put a scampi spin on her dish and fries the heads separately. Christina's convinced it's the right move for her to make to show Alex she can fly solo: "Baby bird's getting pushed out of the nest and has to fly on her own," she says.

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Critical Moment, Difficult Decision

Bobby doesn't leave anything untouched in his critique. With Christina's dish he thought it could have used "aggressive salt and pepper." Upon seeing Stephanie's dish, he thinks the lamb could have been charred better, but he concludes it was perfectly cooked on the inside. "I felt like Bobby had pros and cons on both dishes," worries Christina, "so it didn't seem clear to me which way it was going to go."

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And America's Best Cook Is ...

Bobby tells the home cooks he was very impressed with their growth through the three rounds, but there can be only one winner. He names Stephanie America's best cook. "As a social worker, I do a lot for others, and it makes me feel good," she says. "But this experience wasn't for anybody but me." Stephanie leaves the competition with the title and $50,000 in prize money.

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