The final four rivals meet Alton Brown and a special guest, master of illusion David Copperfield, at Copperfield's own International Museum and Library of the Conjuring Arts in Las Vegas, and together they reveal the Chairman's Challenge of Transcendence. In two pairs, the chefs must prepare a buffet focused on salty, succulent bacon, offering three hot dishes and two cold ones for 30 people.
Putting her advantage to work, Chef Freitag chooses with which rival she wants to cook. "My strategy is to choose somebody (with) the same sensibility of food," she explains. But only after she's selected Chef Appleman does Alton reveal that the rivals on the least-successful team will face off against each other in the Showdown. "That's not why I chose Chef Appleman," she says later. "He's a fierce, fierce competitor."
Chef Guarnaschelli has begun another one of her team's hot dishes, the Lobster Bacon Beurre Monte. Having last cooked lobster over an open flame in the first Chairman's Challenge at the beach, she opts for a more refined preparation of lobster in this test. Ultimately these shelled beauties will be served in a butter sauce made with garlic and herbs.
Not only will the rivals be judged on the appearance and taste of their food, but they'll also be critiqued for the design of their buffet. Fashion director of InStyle magazine and former restaurant critic Hal Rubenstein joins the judges' panel and brings with him his eye for style and palate for flavor.
With her partner of choice, Chef Freitag works to create a mix of Southern classics like cheesy biscuits and a BLT-style salad and Vegas-inspired treats. Here she gets to work preparing the Elvis, a dessert of flambéed bananas with bacon-peanut brittle in honor of the King of Rock 'n' Roll. "I couldn't leave Vegas without somehow, some way putting a little Elvis on the plate."
Chef Appleman recognizes the risk in preparing crepes — a close cousin of pancakes — just one week after his okonmiyaki flop last week, but he admits, "I'm here to redeem myself." After a few unsuccessful attempts, Chef Appleman flips standout crepes, which Chef Freitag later stuffs with a Canadian bacon-lobster mixture.
"It was really important to make the food on this plate beautiful, delicate and petite," Chef Freitag explains, using three words not often associated with classic buffet fare. The judges are wowed by their bacon fat-roasted potatoes, but they're disappointed in the BLT salad, which lacked dressing. Hal notes that the team needs "a remedial course in draping" their buffet tables, but the chefs are nevertheless confident.
Chef Vigneron believes the "sexy" bacon-wrapped chicken to be one of the stars of his and Chef Guarnaschelli's plate, and the panel agrees. Hal, however, notes that the chickens "are piled high like golden bowling balls" at the team's buffet station. Their other dishes receive mixed reviews, among them a comment from Iron Chef Zakarian that their chocolate-bacon mousse is "grainy."
On account of several technical flaws, Chefs Guarnaschelli and Vigneron, rivals who faced off against each other in the Chairman's test of Simplicity, are deemed the least-successful cooks of the day and are once again returning to battle, this time in a Secret Ingredient Showdown. "This might very well be my last chance to prove to the judges that I deserve to be The Next Iron Chef," Chef Vigneron admits.
Alton unveils an altar of sweet-tooth-satisfying treats — Hershey's chocolate and candy products — but instead of preparing a predictable sweet dish with only one ingredient, the rivals are challenged to use two different Hershey's items in a single savory offering with a holiday focus. Chef Guarnaschelli says of her lofty challenge: "I've never made anything with a Hershey's chocolate bar other than to open the wrapper and eat it."
In her premiere Next Iron Chef Showdown, Chef Guarnaschelli decides to cook with Hershey's Kisses Special Dark Chocolates and Hershey's Bliss White Chocolate Meltaway on account of its "tartness that I think can work well in savory food," she explains. With the chocolate preparing a spiced duck breast, red wine onions, fried duck heart and fennel salad.
In an effort to embrace the holiday theme of the Showdown, Chef Vigneron opts to prepare a rack of lamb, white chocolate-curry risotto and eggplant caponata with Hershey's Milk Chocolate and Hershey's Special Dark Chocolates. His plans for the lamb, however, are foiled when he finds the rack still raw with just minutes left to cook. "Plan B. Take the racks off the bone," he says, deciding to poach them in herb butter instead.
The fennel salad with pink ornament-shaped peppercorns and snow-like shavings of white chocolate add a bit of holiday flair to Chef Guarnaschelli's fennel salad, which Donatella deems a "very successful dish." For Iron Chef Zakarian, however, the star of her dish is the fried duck heart, which she's prepared with dark chocolate and balsamic vinegar. "Who doesn't like a heart — fried?" he wonders.
Chef Vigneron's Italian-style offerings of caponata and risotto receive rave reviews from the all of the judges, but it's his lamb, inspired by holiday meals his mom used to cook, that garners mixed reactions. Simon calls it "pretty rare" and "slightly tough," while Iron Chef Zakarian notes that his serving "was cooked really lovely."
Alton announces that although he was "outcooked just a little bit" by Chef Guarnaschelli, Chef Vigneron would be leaving. Later, Chef Vigneron reflects on his journey, "I came into this competition to become The Next Iron Chef, but I also came into this competition to redeem myself. I proved that I matured as a chef, as a person and that I can cook some pretty delicious dishes."