It’s no secret, if you’ve been following this blog, that I’m rooting for Luca tonight. So I’m extra hyped to see they flew in his father and sister from Italy.

They have ten minutes in the pantry to get all the ingredients for a three-course dinner that they’ll serve to the judges in the MC restaurant.

They have an hour for their appetizers, which I’m not going to name without the assistance of the chryon. But the announcer reiterates that Natasha’s involves seared scallops, seaweed salad, and couscous, while Luca’s searing duck liver. Gordon talks to Natasha about her dish; Graham talks to Luca. Joe is concerned about sweetness, but Luca corrects him that one of the components has lemon and ginger for acidity. Oh, and while I’m thinking of it, I want to say right now I’m not going to be covering any talking heads, especially Jordan and Krissi.

The two bring their dishes to the usual table, and the judges ask Natasha what she thinks of Luca’s dish. She thinks it looks heavy. The judges head into the restaurant.

Natasha gets to go first, although I have my doubts about Gordon referring to her as a lady. Seared scallops with couscous and seaweed salad. Joe likes it. Gordon says it’s delicious and the scallops are cooked perfectly. Graham really likes the couscous.

Luca sets his dish on the table and then we break for commercial, which gives me time to pose a question I’ve been wondering for some time now: How do the cheftestants keep their dishes warm while they’re waiting for the judges to sample the other dishes ahead of them?

Luca’s plate is seared duck liver with brioche and peaches.  There’s also what he calls an Asian pear chutney. Gordon says it needed another 90 seconds. Graham says it was very rich and if the entrée’s heavy, it could be a mistake. Joe thinks it’s a masterpiece. The cheftestants head back to clear their stations while the judges confer. Graham reminds them they want all three courses to be cohesive. They head out to watch the next hour.

Natasha’s preparing monkfish, Luca’s making beef short ribs and using a pressure cooker to get them done in time. This time, Graham talks to Natasha about how she’s wrapping her fish in tripe. With ten minutes left, Luca has to open the pressure cooker. Everyone counts down as the cheftestants finish plating. They ask Natasha’s opinion of Luca’s dish again, and again she picks at it.

She’s serving five-spice monkfish with rice and coconut curry. Now, that’s an interesting combo. The only five-spice I’m aware of is Chinese five spice, which would not go well with the spices in curry. Perhaps she threw five spices on the monkfish and so that’s why she’s calling it that?

Gordon thinks it looks divine. Graham says the cook on the monkfish is awesome, but the spice is a little hot. Joe says the complexity is amazing, and Gordon says she’s elevated curry. Evidently the monkfish is also the hardest fish to get right.

Luca presents his braised beef short ribs with chanterelle mushrooms. Gordon says it looks fantastic, and the judges start to pull the ribs apart with their forks. I will note that Luca said the ribs would be tender if they fell off the fork. I can’t tell from the shot before the commercial break if they were tough or tender, although I’m leaning toward the latter.

Gordon says he barely has to touch his knife to it before it comes apart, and they’re brilliant. He’s afraid he’s going to die, but he’s glad this was his last supper. Joe wants to make a reservation at his restaurant already. Graham is also complimentary. The chefs return to the station while the judges discuss, and this time, I can see there’s definitely an audience there. I’ll have to check into getting tickets next season.

When the judges come out, Gordon tells them their dishes are better than any finale to date, and they’re basically tied. They have an hour for dessert, and it turns out they’re both making panna cotta. Natasha’s making two, so I hope that doesn’t work. I’m a bit more worried about Luca, who’s putting a salad into his. There’s some kerfuffle about his forgetting to strain something green before the commercial break.

Evidently it’s the whole panna cotta, and he has to start over. He claims there’s enough time for it to set. Natasha’s already set her base in the fridge, but later has to toss one because it didn’t set. She’s actually cut them, whereas his looks like soup in his bowl.

What Natasha didn’t toss is a coconut yogurt panna cotta with passion fruit coulis and edible flower arrangements. Gordon scrapes his plate clean and reaches for Graham’s.  He says it’s the perfect ending to her meal, and Joe agrees that the yogurt helps clear the palate after the spicy monkfish. He does wonder if it’s a little too simple, though.

Luca has a basil panna cotta with tomato jam and honey mascarpone. He says there’s also granulate basil. Gordon thinks it looks like an appetizer and not a dessert. Gordon says the texture is sublime, and seems savory but not sweet unless you add the tomato jam, which makes it explode. Graham knows it’s Luca on a plate. Joe thinks he should’ve structured the dish differently and layered it so they were sure to get all the flavors in every bite.

Well, I think there’ve been a couple technical difficulties with Luca’s dishes, and I suspect that those minor quibbles may cost him the title. We go to break with the judges pretending they’re going to have a draw for the first time.

When we come back, Gordon repeats that question, and Joe says they can’t. Graham says one person has the slightest of edges, and they head back out. I’m going to stop typing and cross my fingers. And Luca wins! Yay! The moment is only spoiled by my friend’s undying cynicism, but I don’t want to get into that right now. I’m just counting myself lucky I could actually live blog this instead of having to watch it tomorrow, especially since I have yet to see the SYTYCD finale.