The Food and Wine Hedonist

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Top Chef NOLA Season Finale Part 2: Finale

Finale Part 1


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.


The Challenge

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?


The Food

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…



Random Thoughts

– 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?

TC NOLA Janine final*

– 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.

TC NOLA Marimoto*

– 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 –

Gumbo z’Herbes

Scotch egg with potato-leek puree

Olive oil-poached tomatoes 

The Sicilian’s Pho

Biscuits and Gravy


– Thanks again for following me through another season of the show!




About thefoodandwinehedonist

I don't know everything about the world of food and wine, but I'm not going to let a small detail like that stop me from blogging about it.

13 comments on “Top Chef NOLA Season Finale Part 2: Finale

  1. a2sicilian
    February 6, 2014

    After last night I’m not buying the creative editing theory, at least not for this last episode. I don’t think anyone agreed with Tom on which was the best meal, but I have noticed that his opinion seems to always rein. He’s clearly the alpha dog in the judging group.

    And I can’t get over Nick’s seasoning problem. An in-tuned palate is as critical to good cooking as an ability to read and self-edit is to good writing. Finally, wasn’t that scallop noodle dish Tom loved so much really his Ken Doll friend’s recipe?

    (Note: My opinions on this having nothing to do with the fact that, personally, I do think he is a tool. “I didn’t want to go on a second date with my my wife because I knew I’d want to marry her and I liked being single.” . Have you checked the #topchef hashtag comments on Twitter? Ouch. And you’ll see you are about in the .0001 percentile rooting for Nicholas. But I know you don’t mind that!)

    • thefoodandwinehedonist
      February 6, 2014

      But her swordfish was universally hated and her dessert was meh. Even though some of Emerils duck – not all of it – was tough, he did agree it was packed with flavor. Other commend on nicks seemed minor.

      Both menus sounded good, but I think Nina’s would’ve only been good in Maui with those ingredients. She did make good use of them. His was something you can have anywhere. Wonder if that played factor.

  2. a2sicilian
    February 6, 2014

    Let’s not forget she did two extra small dishes everyone loved. I didn’t get the whole dessert criticism. Not being a huge sweets fan, that’s my kind of dessert–just a little sweet thing to end the evening.

    • thefoodandwinehedonist
      February 6, 2014

      I don’t think she was graded on those two specifically but they did add to the overall experience.

      A lot of people luv dessert and she said she needs to finish with a bang to leave a lasting impression. Especially with a whole menu full of big flavors, it seems like it petered out with the understated dessert

  3. Pingback: Top Chef NOLA Season Finale Part 1: Maui Wowie | The Food and Wine Hedonist

  4. a2sicilian
    February 6, 2014

    My opinion stands, but even I don’t think he deserves quite the bad rap he’s getting:

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  6. rachelocal
    February 7, 2014

    UGH. I don’t even know where to start. I predicted Nina as the winner from the very beginning and as you know, wanted her and Shirley in the finale.

    Nick’s food aside, I couldn’t stand his attitude – whiny is never a good look. On top of that, I didn’t know if his food was THAT amazing. So I agree with you – editing played a part in this.

    I’m still on Team Nina. She was calm and focused the whole time. I just wish that restaurant had a damn ice cream maker.

    • thefoodandwinehedonist
      February 7, 2014

      I think I’m the only person outside his mom that thought he deserved it. Think I’m going to do another post on this…

      • rachelocal
        February 7, 2014

        I think you should too, but you I doubt you’ll convince me he should have won!

        • thefoodandwinehedonist
          February 7, 2014

          Sounds like a challenge. ( w French pronunciation of sha-LONDGE)

        • rachelocal
          February 7, 2014

          Consider the glove thrown.

  7. PinotNinja
    February 8, 2014

    While the Nina & Shirley show is one of the greatest missed opportunities on television ever, I also started to come around to Nick on this episode. Don’t get me wrong, that dude needs a xanax and a regular yoga practice, but between his explanation that he is trying really hard to make up for his less-than-successful past on the show and his post-show interviews, I kind of get why he was such a hot mess of emotion. Most of the other chefs have supportive bosses and a job to go home to, but Nick didn’t. He had quit his job to come on Top Chef and had a family at home whose financial security he had risked to do this — that’s some weighty stuff to have on your shoulders and a lot of pressure to handle when you aren’t sleeping, are away from your entire support system, and are constantly being judged.

    That said, given a choice to eat in Nina’s restaurant or Nick’s restaurant, I would choose Nina. Both her food choices and her overall demeanor suit me way better. I can’t imagine having a bad experience in her hands.

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This entry was posted on February 6, 2014 by in Cooking, Television and tagged , , , , , , .
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