A few episodes into Top Chef no one even thought twice about Casey. And now, here she is in the final three, ready to steamroll Dale and Hung, her competition.
Even after being out of the Top Chef world for one month (between the final five and final four - "Literally we were plucked from society and dropped into a washing machine, then plucked out again and then dropped back into it," Casey said), the Texan gal came back with her skills a-blazing and took the quickfire win. Granted, she didn't win the elimination challenge (that title went to Dale), but most viewers have agreed that the real competition is between Casey and Hung.
Hung said he originally believed the final four would consist of Tre, himself, Lia, and "probably Casey." Once Casey started to consistently be praised by the judges, and Tre and Lia were eliminated, he definitely knew that Casey was a viable competitor (Although Hung did say, "I don't feel competition at all... I did not really feel threatened by any people's skills.")
Casey's take on the situation? "I know that I did start giving him a run for his money. I felt him sort of looking at me differently and talking to me differently." Casey said Hung started to ask her questions about her restaurant and her menu, although she wasn't blind to his motives. She said she kept thinking, "Quit sizing me up, dude. I wasn't born yesterday."
So what was the turning point for Casey? "I think initially you start trying to do too much and go way overboard trying to impress everyone." She explained. "After awhile it became more comfortable and I kind of found my groove... You start listening to what the judges say. I was watching one of the reruns the other morning and Padma said something like, 'The challenge is simple,' so I'm like okay, that's a clue word. That means keep it simple. They don't want to see you do something crazy. It's a simple challenge." As Casey became more at ease she said "I felt like the dishes started winning."
Casey doesn't attribute her winning to luck, but to skill, and preparation. For the final four challenge, the cheftestants were sent to Aspen, and it was quite obvious, based on the previous seasons, that the chefs' challenges would include local cuisine. Casey took advantage of that knowledge. "I studied the fish that were in season. I actually called my produce purveyor here. He has a branch in Denver and I actually called there and had them fax me a sheet of local produce that was available to them, knowing the show would have to use local purveyors."
Yet Casey also didn't take her prep work for granted. "Definitely I did know that they could change it at any given second. There could be twists and turns... There's really no way to prepare... That's their main purpose - to trip you up."
And although the judges' job was to throw off the contestants, Casey couldn't be happier with them. "I really love Colicchio. I just think he is the coolest guy," she said. And as for Anthony Bourdain? "If he ever wants to sit down and have a beer... we could smoke cigarettes together. I don't smoke, but I would!" And later, while saying that she would "love, love, love to have Anthony Bourdain's job," she added, "If we got married, that would be awesome!"
Of course Casey said all of that with a sense of humor, which is part of what makes her so likeable. She's a great chef, has a charming personality, and has integrity - all qualities, which, together, make a Top Chef.
On top of that, Casey has one attribute that makes her different from the previous Top Chef winners, Harold and Ilan - Casey is a woman. "I'm not pulling the woman card, but I think it's time for women to be recognized," she said. "It has been a male dominated business, but there are some females putting themselves on the map.
Top Chef judge Gail Simmons seemed to share the sentiment, as she wrote in her Bravo TV blog, "Along with the obvious physical stresses that any kitchen imposes, there was an undercurrent that made me feel as if I had to prove myself just a little more than everyone else because I was a girl... It pains me to think that even in 2007, most top kitchens in the country are still heavily male dominated."
Of course, Casey said, "It'd be a really cool thing for a female to win."
And if Casey does win, what will she do with the $100,000 Top Chef prize? For one, she won't be following in season one winner Harold's footsteps. "I'm really happy where I'm at currently. I don’t plan on leaving this restaurant, so it's not like I'm opening a restaurant or doing anything immediate," she said. Instead Casey would like to invest it and use it to travel. "I want to experience so many different countries and their cuisine and techniques... It's very pricy. I definitely can't do it on my chef's salary!"
Luckily for viewers, we'll finally found out who will win this third season of Top Chef on Wednesday night at 10 p.m. on Bravo. Will it be Dale, the underdog? Hung, the extremely competitive one? Or Casey, the chef who came out of the woodwork to surprise us all? Tune in to find out!