Updated July 29, 2005 03:00 PM
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The wannabe chefs on FOX’s Hell’s Kitchen have been boiled down from 12 to 2 by hotheaded perfectionist Gordon Ramsay. On the show’s two-hour finale Aug. 1, the hopefuls will see who can best handle the heat when they’re asked by Ramsay to design their own restaurant – from soup to nuts. Meet the cream of the crop, and vote on whom you think will be crowned the ultimate top chef, with the grand prize being his own restaurant.

RALPH PAGANO, 36

Hometown:

New York City
Relationship status: Will marry Buffy, his girlfriend of three years, in January
Where he honed his skills: Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park, N.Y.
Signature dish: Seared spicy tuna with sesame noodles
Favorite dining experience: Outdoor patio of Smith & Wollensky in Miami Beach
If Ramsay were a food, he’d be: “A prickly pear.”
What he’s up to now: He recently opened Fat Ralph’s deli in New York’s Hamptons.
Why he takes the cake: He has 15 years of restaurant experience – and a stockpot full of confidence. “As far as being able to dice it up and bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan, there was no equal,” he says. “That’s not bragging, that’s just fact.”

MICHAEL WRAY, 28

Hometown:

Fort Collins, Colo.
Relationship status: Married for four years to Lola
Where he honed his skills: Le Cordon Bleu, London
Signature dish: “Any sort of seafood.”
Favorite dining experience: The 15-course tasting menu at the Greenhouse in London
If Ramsay were a food, he’d be: Blowfish sushi. “If you prepare it wrong, you’re gonna die – but if you get it right, it’s amazing.”
What he’s up to now: Working as a menu consultant to restaurants in L.A. and starting a company that makes custom chefs’ knives.
Why he takes the cake: He had a plan from the start. “To make (Ramsay) think I thought I knew everything would be a bad deal,” he says. “My strategy was to lay low and to see what he expects, and try and deliver that.”