The Food and Wine Hedonist

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Top Chef NOLA Recap – Defending Nicholas Elmi

Another season of Top Chef is over and there’s nothing like capturing the heat of the moment than writing a post a full two weeks after the season finale.  In case you missed it, the finale came down to Nina Compton and Nicholas Elmi cooking up a 4-course meal in separate restaurants.  Even though Nina’s been a strong force throughout the season, Nicholas ended up on top with the title of Top Chef.  And boy were people pissed.

I thought it was the right decision, but it sounds like I’m in good company with Elmi’s mom.  So I promised Rachel that I’d do a post defending the decision.  It was easier than I thought.


Gripe 1: Nicholas was a complete douche that was an utterly unprofessional asshole to other competitors.  He got really bent out of shape with Carlos over a few episodes and screamed at the waitstaff during the finale, which was heard in the dining hall.

My take:  And your point is….?  The culinary world is full of complete jerks. If the food is exquisite, I don’t think I’d have a problem if Benito Mussolini was the chef de cuisine –

I made this using pic originally on

I made this using pic originally on


Also, for every kind and gentle Jacques Pepin and Julia Child, there are dozens of people who are miserable excuses for bosses. The late great Charlie Trotter was an absolute perfectionist who expected the same from his employees and worked them to the bone.  His protégés often despised him, but have gone on to greatness.  We diners all won out because of Charlie’s assholiness.


Gripe 2: He should’ve been booted weeks ago, but was directly responsible for fan-favorite Stephanie Cmar’s elimination.  He had won immunity and then proceeded to make an inedible dish as part of a team competition.  By all accounts he should’ve been booted.  He didn’t take the option of stepping down and got a person responsible for a better dish eliminated.

My take:  And your point is….?  I said it before, it’s a competition.  And you’d hope that it mirrors real life.  Everyone enters the competition to win, not to prove they fit unrealistic expectations.


Gripe 3:  I actually read a comment that went something like this – there was a lot of time between the last New Orleans show and when they were in Maui for the finales.  It’s unfair that he had all that time to practice.

My take: Ummmm, so did Nina, Shirley, and Louis.


Gripe 4: Nina clearly won.

My Take: I still stand by my analysis of the finale.  He didn’t salt his crudo enough and Emeril’s (1 of 8 diners) duck was overcooked.  On the other hand, Nina’s swordfish was a complete trainwreck and her dessert was uninspired.  It was good, but not $125K Top Chef good.


Gripe 5:  It’s fixed.  Tom seems to have more pull and has the final say.  He wanted Nicholas to win, so he did.

My Take: Prove it.  Also, maybe Nina could’ve done a better job catering to Tom’s palate?


Gripe 6: Janine Booth got kicked off wayyyy too soon.

My Take: Ok, that was my gripe.  And it had nothing to do with her cooking ability.



Gripe 7: Nicholas picked that douche Jason and the unimpressive Brian for his team.

My Take:  Not sure why that’s an argument for Nina winning.  Anyway, teamwork trumps ability.


Gripe 8:  And this is the one I’ve seen the most – Nina was consistently superior  all season long.

My Take:  I looked back at my posts and he didn’t win a Quickfire until the end and he was in the bottom in a a lot of the Elimination Challenges.  However, Nicholas also had his share of Elimination Challenge wins.  Those were the challenges that counted and he and Nina were about even in number of wins there.

Besides, it’s what happens at the big showdown that really matters.  Just ask the 2007 New England Patriots.  They went undefeated through the regular season and were odds-on favorites to steamroll the New York Giants in the Super Bowl.   The Giants barely made the playoffs but pulled off the upset.

But you never hear ANYONE say that the Patriots deserved to be the NFL champions that year.  Ok, maybe the Pats fans…

pats fans


Overall, I thought it was a decent season.   They were fairly good with one of my big pet peeves about the show – when contestants have to cater for 2000 rubes at some festival. Cooking in those large quantities sacrifices quality of the dishes as they have to use cheaper ingredients and don’t have as much time.  This season we had two headscratchers – a VEGETARIAN party for Lea Michele and catering a fricking college cafeteria.  C’mon!  You have two chefs with Michelin Stars and others on the verge of one, and you have them do those?

But the chefs were pretty talented.  In addition to those two ringers, I thought they had a decent mix of types of chef specialities – Asian, French, Mexican, Italian.   Although Top Chef Texas a couple years ago was pretty unpopular, I did like how they included more styles of chefs – rustic, farm-to-table, molecular gastronomy, classical.   So hopefully they’ll bring in that kind of intrigue with casting next year.

Each year I do these recaps, I seriously question whether I would do it again the following year.  It gets pretty time consuming to put them together and they need to go out quickly after the episode. The deciding factor usually has to do with hits on the site.  I’m still getting a lot of hits for people Googling whether Kristen Kish (last year’s winner) is gay.  I don’t have answers for them outside of “mind your own business.”  But I will always appreciate hits on the blog.  Remember what I said in the recap for the first episode –

Just goes to show that it doesn’t have to be about money for me to be a complete ho.


Thanks again for joining me for another season of Top Chef.  Did I change your mind about Nicholas?




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.

11 comments on “Top Chef NOLA Recap – Defending Nicholas Elmi

  1. elizabeth
    February 20, 2014

    While I think you’re technically correct on all of these things (the best kind of correct), I still feel Nicholas is the least-satisfying winner since S5’s Hosea, especially after last season’s narrative of Kristen Kish literally coming from behind and taking it all, and Paul Qui quietly kicking ass all season on Top Chef Texas the season before. I don’t mind an arrogant or even an asshole chef taking the crown (because, as you said, those character traits are rampant in the chef world), I’m not going to root for a petulant, whiny jerk.

    Thanks for all of these recaps over the season!

    • thefoodandwinehedonist
      February 20, 2014

      Thx!! I’ve heard so much about Hosea and it’s too bad I didn’t come into the show until later. I agree that it was not satisfying and I think it has to do with editing. They made him seem downright incompetent all year – I think they were trying to create some surprise. Instead it made people hate him all year.

      Paul completely dominated Texas. He was the best I’ve seen on the show. Wonder if they felt it was anti-climactic?

  2. a2sicilian
    February 20, 2014

    Hawaiian chef Sam Choy was known for the saying, “Never Trust a Skinny Chef.” My saying would be, “Never Trust a Chef Who Doesn’t Know How To Season Properly.” Except that last one doesn’t fit on a t-shirt.

    • thefoodandwinehedonist
      February 20, 2014

      I think that was overblown and due to editing. I’m SURE that was only one of many comments – good and bad. Say there was a dish that had a lot of complexity, different elements, was balanced, was executed well, and had beautiful presentation – but could’ve used a dash of salt. the salt thing becomes less important.

    • thefoodandwinehedonist
      February 20, 2014

      And admit it, you’re going to put that Mussolini pic on a tshirt aren’t you

  3. Laura
    February 20, 2014

    I agree with all your points, but I feel like, at the end of the day, the ONLY reason people are upset he won is that he came across as a total douche canoe the entire season. And, honestly, who knows how much of that is down to his own inherent awfulness and how much is down to editing shenanigans?

    • thefoodandwinehedonist
      February 20, 2014

      Agreed that his antics were a driver for the hate. I’m sure there were a lot of unpleasant moments with the others and that they did a lot editing to craft a story. But a lot of his crap had to have been real. You can’t make up that twitchiness

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  6. AtelierKwanJohnSilver
    August 25, 2015

    People need to stop defending Nick. There really is no case for him and these attempts to defend him are pretty poor. The “its a competition” excuse is pathetic, but what’s even worse is how people are stating “it doesn’t matter because Nick had good food”. Clearly these people haven’t watched Nick’s season of Top Chef. Nick was panned many times for under seasoning, and Nick himself admitted he was consistently making the mistake. Case and point, there really is no justification for him.

    Regarding the Stephanie thing, I am not going to blame Nick for not resigning (even though I like Stephanie). I blame more of the show for having immunity up for grabs so late. However, Nick was going on about how he (as opposed to Carlos) “cooked with integrity”. So again, I can’t really blame Nick for the immunity, but it makes him a complete hypocrite. What he did was “fair” in terms of rules, but it pretty much proves he has absolutely no integrity.

  7. Harley Vanderslaff
    February 25, 2016

    He was a tool. Not having the ability to lead with maturity and vision speaks volumes. He is in the Hosea camp. Haven’t heard of either of them since. And Mussolini was a murderous moron. Your arguments for supporting his win are weak. Corn silk….really!?!? How 80’s. He was a self important cook, no better than any line cook in a decent restaurant.

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This entry was posted on February 20, 2014 by in Television and tagged , , , , , , , .
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