Scarpetta's Nina Compton Advances to Top Chef Finals

The last few moments of last night's Top Chef was tense, to say the least. Two cheftestants stood holding hands before the judges' table. One would end his or her journey; the other would advance to the Top Chef finale and one step closer to winning the title and $125,000 cash.

Nina Compton and Shirley Chung, who vowed they would make the finals together, were about to be separated. Then, host Padma Lakshmi spoke the words every Top Chef contestant loathes to hear: "Shirley, please pack your knives and go."

After countless challenges that involved crawfish, gators, and cooking in the swampy (and buggy) Louisiana backcountry and the city of New Orleans, Top Chef season 11 is near the end.

Miami's own Nina Compton, chef de cuisine at Scarpetta, and Nick Elmi, who is opening a French-American restaurant in Philadelphia, are the two chefs who will cook one last time for judges Tom Colicchio, Emeril Lagasse, Lakshmi, and Gail Simmons.

See also: Nina Compton, Top Toque

More important than the prize purse is the potential impact on a chef's career that a Top Chef title can have.

Previous winners (and even finalists) like Fabio Viviani, Bryan Voltaggio, and Jeff McInnis, have gone on to have their own television shows, open restaurants, and become consultants for major brands. It's not that a Top Chef appearance can win someone a James Beard award, but the show can fast-track the career of a talented culinary professional and open many doors financially.

Who takes it all? Our money's on Compton, who has cooked beautifully in nearly every single challenge thrown at her. We'll have to wait until next week to find out.

In the meantime, if you want to help chef Compton win the fan favorite title (which comes with $10,000), visit bravotv.com/topchef and vote for our gal. You can vote up to 40 times a week, so vote early and vote often!

Here's a clip from next week's finals, which includes a bikini-clad Padma Lakshmi coming out of the Hawaiian surf like a water goddess:

Follow Laine Doss on Twitter @LaineDoss and Facebook.

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