Top Chef: Don't miss a calorie

Now in its third season, Bravo’s Top Chef is down to four contestants, with the finale coming up this week. On the show, contestants compete in a Quickfire Challenge to get their culinary juices flowing, followed by an Elimination Challenge, the loser of which must hear host Padma Lakshmi’s fatal words: “Pack your knives and go.”

In case you missed the beginning of this season, here’s a look at what’s happened so far:

1. “First Impressions” Meet the cast of season three: two Saras, two mohawks, and a variety of funny hats, among other oddities. For the Quickfire Challenge, the contestants have to make an amuse bouche (a bite-size bit that will “amuse” the judges’ palates) out of the remains of their welcome party’s catered hors d’oeuvres. Micah wins, and Clay (the southern underdog) humiliates himself by making something larger than bite-size. Howie only manages to complete half of his dish, but the judges prefer his half-dish to a whole one by Clay, who is eliminated.

2. “Sunny Delights” The Elimination Challenge calls for “upscale barbecue,” which proves to be harder than it sounds. Howie has trouble with the time limit once again, as he struggles with slow-cooking pork. Joey’s chicken (finger-licking required) is hardly upscale, but Sandy’s poached lobster, not at all barbecue, sends her home.

3. “Family Favorites” For the Quickfire Challenge, contestants have to fish out conch, crayfish, and other underwater goodies before they cook them — Brian, who works at a seafood restaurant, wins. The Elimination Challenge asks for reinvented family classics. Howie wins (and redeems himself) with pork chops; Dale daringly uses mashed potatoes from a box in his chicken dumplings; C.J.’s tuna casserole comes out an unappetizing slime green; and Micah goes home for her uninformed meatloaf (she’s from South Africa, after all).

4. “Cooking By Numbers” Episode four begins with booze as contestants have to make dishes inspired by various cocktails by Bombay Sapphire — oh, product placement. Casey wins this Quickfire Challenge, earning herself immunity. In the team-based Elimination Challenge, Dale, Camille, and Sara M. wind up in trouble for a trio of pineapple-themed desserts, and Camille (who had barely been on camera all season) gets the boot.

5. “Latin Lunch” The chefs use frozen pie crusts for the Quickfire Challenge, and Joey’s tarts wind up taking the cake. For the Elimination Challenge, the contestants are asked to create a Latin-infused lunch for the cast of Telemundo’s Dame Chocolate. Joey and Howie (easily remembered as the two fat obnoxious guys) finish in the top two, and Lia’s whiteness betrays her in a lackluster polenta, which sends her home.

6. “Freezer Burn” A Quickfire Smelling (and Tasting) Bee tests the contestants’ food-recognition skills: Can they recognize a kidney bean by sight, a bowl of fish paste by taste? Apparently, Casey can. For the Elimination Challenge, chefs pair up to create frozen dinners and try to sell them to customers at a local supermarket. The contestants are each given a bag of Bertolli frozen pasta to understand the science behind freezing your food, but only two of the four teams are smart enough to freeze their components in separate bags (otherwise, your pasta turns into a soggy disaster — see Joey and Hung’s dish.) C.J. and Tre win the challenge — and trips to Italy — and Joey gets sent home; “I’m not gonna cry,” he says, moments before bursting into tears.

7. “Guilty Pleasures” Product placement takes a turn for the delicious with a Coldstone-inspired Quickfire Challenge. Dale wins, and the judges give the contestants a night off to go to a party — very suspicious. The girls get all dolled up in halter tops and heels, but when the chefs arrive at the party, it turns out they’re only there to cook (except for Dale — he gets to sit out with the judges.) Brian works the party manning a raw bar up front, but Sara N. never gets past the fact she has to cook in a tank top, and winds up eliminated.

8. “Restaurant Wars” A Red Robin Quickfire Challenge alienates half the remaining contestants when guest judge chef Boulud informs them that their burgers are actually “sandwiches.” The chefs embark on the infamous “Restaurant Wars” Elimination Challenge, where they split into teams of two and open their own restaurants. C.J., who won the Quickfire, gets to pick his teammates, and he chooses Casey, Brian, and Tre — which leaves the motley foursome of Howie, Sara M., Hung, and Dale. Faced with failure from both teams — a grossly perspiring Brian, chunky risotto from Howie, and an uninspired tartar by Hung — the judges decide not to eliminate anyone and give the contestants another episode to get it right.

9. “Second Helping” C.J.’s hand-selected dream team pales in comparison to the group of lovable underdogs, lead by head chef Sara M. The latter wins a relay-style Quickfire Challenge, rewarding them with the help of season one’s nincompoop-ish sommelier Stephen. Sara M. team steps up the game and wins the challenge, while Tre gets sent home for crafting a garlic-infused disaster.

10. “Chef Overboard” A cutesy Quickfire Challenge demands that the seven remaining chefs use ingredients from specific grocery aisles. Brian wins with a surprisingly delicious Spam-filled creation. For the Elimination Challenge, the chefs cater a yacht party, where Casey’s contributions are a hit, but Howie’s cigar-inspired hors d’oeuvres send him home.

11. “Snacks on a Plane” Padma, the lovely host, awakens the contestants and makes them cook her breakfast in their pajamas for the Quickfire Challenge. Hung wins with steak and eggs, along with a blended smoothie that looks about half alcohol — he knows how Padma likes her sauce. The Elimination Challenge asks the chefs to cook first-class airline food to be cooked and served aboard a Continental Airlines craft. Casey wins for the second time in a row, while C.J.’s broccolini looks, as guest judge Anthony Bourdain declares, like it came out of a trash can. That being said, C.J. goes home.

12. “Manhattan Transfer” The chefs make it to New York City, where they encounter a Quickfire Challenge at Le Cirque restaurant, hosted by guest chef Sirio Maccioni. The chefs have to recreate Maccioni’s famous halibut dish; Hung pulls it off with finesse, while Sara M. serves the judges a still-raw creation. For the Elimination Challenge, contestants have to use three classic ingredients: Chicken, potatoes, and onions. And it’s pretty much the Quickfire all over again: Hung wins with a well-crafted butter-poached chicken, while Sara M. gets sent home for serving her poultry undercooked.

With the finale on its way, only four contestants remain in the competition. To see what happens, check out Top Chef Wednesday night at 10 p.m. on Bravo (channel 15 on campus, 175 on digital cable.)