The Food and Wine Hedonist

leave your inhibitions at the door

Top Chef Boston Season Finale: Mano a Mano

It’s the season finale for Top Chef Boston and I gotta say this was a good season of the show.   With exception of one or two episodes, the shows were well paced and kept me engaged.    I appreciated that the producers avoided ridiculous twists like bringing back old competitors and manufacturing a story arc like last year’s Nicholas “Satan” Elmi edit.

Of course it helps that the contestants themselves provided enough interest to avoid editing chicanery.   Mei’s struggle to gain acceptance from her parents and Gregory’s post-rehab redemption had us rooting for as people as much as chefs.  And I’m about 138% sure that Aaron was as much of a douchebag in real life as he came across on the show.

Although, if you went through rehab I thought any alcohol was a no-no:

Gregory drink


In Episode 12, they highlighted one of my ongoing questions of the show –Does well-executed trump creative and disjointed?  In that episode, Gregory played it safe and executed well.  George got the boot because he tried too much, which hampered performance.

In the finale, they brought up another question I’ve had for a long time – Is it better to do what you know and do it perfectly? Or do you try to stretch yourself and try to impress the judges?   In Top Chef Seattle, Sheldon made the top 3 and tried to impress the judges with techniques he learned in the time between the main competition and the finals.  If he had just focused on his strengths, he probably could’ve made the finals.

This time around, it’s Gregory.   His specialty is Asian-influenced dishes and ingredients and he used it to cream the competition.     Although he puttered around a little in the middle of the season, when he was at his best he was unstoppable.   For the finale, almost on a whim, he chose to highlight the local ingredients in Mexico that he fell in love with.   It’s risky because he didn’t have much experience with some of the ingredients.  On the other hand, a good chef is a good chef.   Plus there’s the added bonus of having really fresh, high quality ingredients.

They started the challenge in the only way that’s worthy of a Top Chef Season Finale.   In way that talks to their struggles and triumphs throughout the year.   In a way that highlights their crowning achievements in the culinary arts.

They took a ridiculously unnecessary balloon ride across town.


No way in hell would you get me up in one of those things.


Final Challenge

Upon landing, Gregory and Mei were greated by Tom and Padma. Their challenge – Create the Best Four Course Meal of their Lives.  I’ve always loved these open-ended challenges because it give them free-range on what they can make and with what ingredients.  The best meals in the history of the show come from challenges like this.

They were allowed to choose two sous chefs.   Gregory, not surprisingly, chose George again and Dougie.   Mei, even less surprisingly, chose Melissa.   But out of nowhere she chose Rebecca, who was gone very early in the season.   The reasoning was that Rebecca’s also a pastry chef and she was planning on serving a dessert course.


– Octopus with fish sauce vinaigrette, avocado-coconut puree and herbs

– Congee with carnitas, scallion puree, hot sauce, peanuts, & egg yolk

– Duck with braised lettuce, kimchi jicama, & huitlacoche

– Strawberry lime curd with toasted yogurt, milk crumble, & yogurt-lime ice


– Grilled octopus with prickly pear, xoconostle, passion fruit & cashew milk

– Shrimp broth with green chorizo, pickled nopales, & crispy shrimp heads

– Striped bass with roasted carrots, radish, pineapple & tomatillo

– Red mole with short ribs & agave sweet potato


Judges Table

At the table was Tom, Padma, Hugh, Gail, and Richard.

Gregory’s octopus was superior and Mei’s congee handily won the second course.  The third course had some problems for both.  Mei’s dish was interesting but was watery.   Gregory forgot to add sugar and vinegar to his sauce.   He ended up adding it later and it made the dish overly sweet.  Both of the final courses were the best.   Gregory’s mole sauce and beef were described as perfection by everyone and Tom proclaimed Mei’s dessert as the best he’s ever had.

The Winner of Top Chef Boston: Mei



Random Thoughts

– I was rooting for Gregory, but not upset at all that Mei won.   She was a solid competitor the whole season and made some terrific dishes.

– It sounded like it came down to, as is often the case, who messed up worse.  And it was pretty clear Gregory’s lows were lower.   Not taking away anything from Mei at all, but I wonder if there’d be a much different outcome if Gregory hadn’t spaced out on the fish dish.

– Any time your dessert is described as “best in my life,” you’re probably going to win.   And it also helps that it was head judge Tom Colicchio saying it.

– It’s interesting that modern food techniques took a backseat this whole season. In fact, outside of the second competitor booted, they were completely non-existent.  Until now. Mei’s dessert used healthy doses of modern technique and may have pushed her over the top.   Hopefully we’ll see more in the future.

– In previous episodes they made a lot mention about there only being two women who have won the title. Mei’s being only the third was NOT brought up at all and I’m happy for that.   I really understand that it’s a rarity and it really should be celebrated.

– But…I have this perhaps romanticized view of the restaurant kitchen as a no nonsense team of equals. I’ve always thought that all those things that differentiate people outside the kitchen – sexual orientation, color, economic background, or even training – all took a backseat to whether you know what you’re doing and can do t consistently.    Every time Mei brought it up it sounded strange coming from her. I bought the whole parental disapproval thing because I experienced it myself.  But from the very first episode she was always a no bullshit tough-talker with salty language. So for her to pull the female victim card was surprising.

– I like the change they made this year of giving (or at least showing us) the negative feedback.  Same with having ALL the competitors there at the Judges Table.   It didn’t always take away from the surprises and I think it only helped the other contestants to see what to do and what NOT to do.

– The concept of the Sudden Death Quickfire was interesting. As a viewer, I don’t think it added any tension. They were done earlier in the season and it’s hard to give a rat’s ass about the earlier contestants when they aren’t onscreen that much. But any opportunity to see more food challenges is a good thing.


I hope you enjoyed these recaps.  If you came just for these, come back to this blog every once in a while!



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.

9 comments on “Top Chef Boston Season Finale: Mano a Mano

  1. a2sicilian
    February 12, 2015

    Gregory’s fish dish not not sound good. Nor did his soup. I think it was a landslide.

  2. a2sicilian
    February 12, 2015

    And I’m very curious about the mind-blowing dessert because it didn’t look like much. Like something I would find if I scoured the fridge for a snack and all I could find was some yogurt, strawberries, and a few other things.

    • thefoodandwinehedonist
      February 12, 2015

      I didnt think presentation was all that beautiful. There some intersting techniques like the toasted yogurt and milk crumbles. But agreed, curoous to try.

  3. A Famished Foodie
    February 13, 2015

    Yeah, if Aaron had lasted any longer, he would have been the ‘new’ Satan. I thought it was going to be Gregory, but Mei was really talented as well.

    • thefoodandwinehedonist
      February 13, 2015

      As soon as he started talking about doing something new to show his ability to do other things, I knew he was doomed.

      And if Aaron lasted any longer, they would’ve lost a lot of viewers.

  4. Next Stop TBD
    February 13, 2015

    I thought it was interesting that I think Mei was using like Dannon yogurt cups or something….isn’t yogurt pretty easy to make from scratch?

    • thefoodandwinehedonist
      February 13, 2015

      Don’t know, never made it. I’m pretty sure it was Chobani. Equally sure that I did not see one tub of Greek yogurt in the grocery stores I went to in Mexico. I’m guessing it was a sponsor.

  5. Salty Sweet Life
    February 16, 2015

    This was such a great season! Once Aaron was eliminated, it got so much better. I love the seasons where the chefs help each other and genuinely want each other to succeed. I was rooting for Gregory as well, but was happy for Mei. I hope Gregory stays put at Departures long enough for me to get back to Portland and experience it! Your recaps have been awesome!

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