leave your inhibitions at the door
Well, here we are with another Top Chef Season Finale. TC Texas (2 years ago) was the first time I ever saw the show and I had no idea what was happening. TC Seattle didn’t really do it for me – the overall quality of the food was so-so, the finale was a major fail, and they had that ridiculous twist of bringing back three people from previous seasons. Overall this was a pretty good season – they limited the Top Caterer challenges, had some terrific guests, and a lot of the food looked great.
This is the first season where I really felt like I actually knew what was going on – or at least I thought I did. As I mentioned in last week’s recap, they pulled a fast one on us. I’m sure if we watched the competitions as they happened, we’d get really bored really easily. I mean, watching a group of people chop up carrots and waiting for something to braise WITHOUT talking us through it would be a sleeper. So they have these people called “editors” who assemble those few bits and pieces of footage that are remotely interesting. And, it being reality TV, they’ve determined that viewers really love conflicts between people. If everyone got along all the time with no arguments and working together, then it would be the same as watching this guy slinging pots and pans –
This year, I think those editors took their game to a new level. Sure you had this quasi-conflict going on between Nicholas and Carlos. I thought it was pretty lame, but it was really just a distraction for the greatest bit of editing tomfoolery – making Nicholas seem like a complete loser. Week after week we saw him make what appeared to be huge mistakes but still manage to eek by. But while his dishes were rarely perfect, they did show a willingness to swing for the fences and give something unique, intricate, and with a lot of technique.
As I said last week, this brings up an interesting debate. The winner of this contest gets $125K and all kinds of accolades. Nina can cook the hell out of pasta and spicy Caribbean food, but is that worth $125 Grand? But what if Nicholas focused hard and really connected on his ultra-fancy ideas? I’d say he wins hands-down.
Let’s see what happens.
They went back to the finale format used in Texas – each takes over a restaurant for a night and prepares a 4-course meal to see who wins. As in years past, they get to choose their sous chefs from former contestants. Since Nick won the last challenge, he got to pick all three of his first.
– Team Nicholas – Jason, Louis, Brian. Louis is definitely the ringer in this group, but Nick’s going with the team angle. He worked well with Brian before and, even though he got booted in the second episode, Jason is a personal friend who he’s worked with in the past. Jason made a big mistake that got him eliminated, but it’s possible he’s a killer cook. Good moves.
– Team Nina – Shirley, Stephanie, Travis. Shirley and Stephanie are probably good technique-wise, but Travis was only so-so. She and Travis were besties in NOLA, but does that mean they work well together?
Canouan (Team Nina)
Breadfruit with whipped foie gras butter
Tuna & escolar tartar with tomato water granita & jalapeno
Roasted goat sugo with orecchiette, cherry tomato confit & goat cheese
Swordfish with squash puree, braised kale, & smoked onion jus
Compressed dragon fruit & frozen papaya skewer
Chocolate zeppole (doughnut) with macadamia nuts & passion fruit anglaise
Kris (Team Nicholas)
Hamachi & tuna with green apple wasabi, celery, & Maui-Meyer lemon
Sweet shrimp bisque, scallop & daikon noodles, shaved abalone, with thai basil
Kombu-cured duck breast with kabocha squash, hijiki, & ginger
Caramelized white chocolate panna cotta with almond cocoa crumble & tropical fruit
The judges were Tom, Emeril, Hugh, Gail, and Padma. It was truly great to see the deliberations as it really did seem that the two competitors were thisclose. There were some really strong opinions on both sides for all entrees and no clear winner. Or at least that’s what the editing made us believe.
And this year’s Top Chef is…
– I’m not surprised. Nicholas had a couple missteps with lack of salt in his crudo, and Emeril’s duck being tough. BUT… Nina’s swordfish was a trainwreck and her dessert was your garden-variety parking lot fender bender – not bad, but not how you wanted to end your day.
– One of the ongoing storylines in Top Chef lore is that dessert is always a risky proposition as it’s been the downfall to many past competitors. Sounds like it was a difference-maker here. Nina wanted to make a gelato, but the restaurant didn’t have an ice cream maker, so her dessert was a Plan B.
– I really was impressed by both chefs. As they were prepping, it sounded like Nina’s menu would be heavy on the Italian, but she really mixed the island cuisines in well. As usual, Nicholas’ dishes had a lot of different elements that came together beautifully and sounded marvelous.
– All season long I was supremely annoyed by Nicholas. Just last week I said I hoped Nina would win as I couldn’t stand the guy. I don’t know what it was, but some time during this episode I found myself cheering for him. He was still a twitchy mess, but there was something endearing about his relentless drive. Plus his humility and heartfelt conversation at dinner the night before struck a chord.
– I know I should be satisfied with their showing Padma in a bikini. But couldn’t they sneak in a few glimpses of Janine on the beach?
– Takashi was there! Just saw that his Slurping Turtle is FINALLY opening in a couple months here in Ann Arbor.
– Masaharu Morimoto was also there. He doesn’t have a restaurant opening here, but I’d give my left testicle for him to do so. Sure he’s an Iron Chef, but you know what makes him completely awesome? The guy rocks the robe wherever he goes.
– At the beginning of the season, I said I’d try to make one of the dishes either directly from the episode or inspired by one of them. That lemonade cleanse cheesed that idea, but I did post the following. Click ‘em for the recipes –
– Thanks again for following me through another season of the show!