The Pepper Monkey Goes to COPIA

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NAPA—Top Chef, the reality cooking show on Bravo, came to Napa last week for its penultimate episode, and here's what we've learned:

-Lamb is nice, but not thrice. Contestants were given $250 to spend at St. Helena's Sunshine foods for ingredients for their dishes, which were cooked in the kitchens of COPIA for an all-star panel of Napa chefs. Three of the four made lamb dishes. By the time the third (and ultimately losing) contestant Lee Anne Wong served up lamb, yet again, the panel was lamb-enting having to face another round.

-Never tell a French chef that you don’t like using butter or cream. D'oh! Contestant Howard Dieterle made the massive faux pas in Chef Philippe Jeanty's presence when he served up a plate of lamb, spinach and sunchokes, telling the crowd that he really preferred the creaminess of the chokes to using butter and cream. Jeanty cried foul, saying, "I'm French. I'm all about butter and cream." Ouch.

-Hold the black pepper, or you might just get flattened by Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen chef, Cindy Pawlcyn. Underdog contestant Dave Martin was given the moniker Pepper Monkey for his overzealous use of the spice in his truffled macaroni and cheese. Double ouch.

-Nice girls finish…last. The last woman standing at the end of the evening is perhaps the nastiest chef known to man, or woman kind. Hard as nails contestant Tiffani Faison says she isn't on the show to make friends. Good thing, cause she isn't.

-When serving a rare wine like, say, Shafer Vineyards Hillside select it's probably a good idea to make sure you dish pairs well. Especially when the company's chairman, John Shafter is sitting at the table. Several of the dishes had trouble with their flavors not bringing out the richness of the wine. Rookie maneuver.

-The "front of the house" dining area of Julia's Kitchen at COPIA may be a great place to eat, but the "back of the house" (restaurant lingo for the kitchens) are incredible to behold.

-Cooking for a room full of chefs is a wickedly difficult task. Contestant Howard got nailed for gritty mushrooms, while the "gummy" texture of Tiffani's gnocchi being discussed was, well, cringe-worthy. Featured Napa valley chefs included: Phillippe Jeanty of Bistro Jeanty; Keith Luce of Press; Greg Cole of Celadon; James Devitt of Budo; Cindy Pawlcyn of Mustards Grill; Victor J. Scargle of Julia's Kitchen at COPIA; Doug Keane of Cyrus; Todd Humphries of Martini House; and John Ash of John Ash and Co. (who we never saw).

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