Thursday, February 26, 2009

Top Chef Finale, Part 2, the real deal, the end

The most disappointing episode of the season. Or: How Carla and Stefan bunged it up big time so Hosea could walk away with a title he doesn't deserve.

Uh-oh. Think I have an opinion? Think I'm disappointed? You'd be right. Not only did it not turn out the way I was hoping (and I had some flex there... I'd even have been OK with Carla at this point), but it was essentially a very boring and dry hour of television. There wasn't a single compelling thing about it. The food didn't even look that interesting.

Now you're just dying to read the rest of this, aren't you? Trust me, I'm actually making myself write it...

So they're given the directive: Cook the best three-course meal of your life. Sounds like a dream scenario, no? It's amazing what people will do with that sentence...

Along come Richard (season 4), Marcel (season 2) and Casey (season 4) to help out Hosea, Stefan and Carla, respectively. That alone turns out to be Carla's undoing... (see, I can build more drama than Bravo).

They cook at Commander's Palace, reknowned New Orlean's restaurant. They have the usual prep time the day before, cook time the day of. They each plan a menu, and none of the menus look or sound exceptional in any way.

They do have a table of 12 distinguished judges to cook for:

Susan Spicer of Bayona Restaurant in New Orleans

John Besh of August Restaurant in New Orleans

Hubert Keller, of many restaurants in many places

Rocco Despirito, food personality! (I made that up. I can't think of any other way to describe his brand of food/media/hype. Not that that's a bad thing.)

Tory McPHail, the executive chef of Commander's Palace.

Branford Marsalis, jazz musician phenomenon

Ti Martin, one of the owners of Commander's Palace.

Toby Young (Again? Back? Really? Yes, unfortunately. Though he was pretty inconsequential at the final judges' table.)

Fabio Vivani, recently departed from the contest. I thought this a real testament to their opinion of his food that he was invited along. I really grew to enjoy Fabio throughout this contest. I would have loved for him to be there in place of Hosea.

And of course: Gail, Tom and Padma, the holy trinity of Top Chef judging.

The one twist of the night is that three unique proteins are brought in to make a passed appetizer. Hosea wins the little contest to see who chooses the protein and assigns the others; he chooses the redfish and assigns crab to Carla and alligator to Stefan (wanting to stick it to Stefan, of course). As it turns out, they all rock this assignment, so going into the sit-down portion of the meal it's pretty much anyone's game.

Three fairly unmemorable courses later and they're back at the judges' table. Meanwhile, Carla bombed one course when her blue cheese souffle wouldn't rise, and no one was impressed with her sous vide course either--it didn't seem like her style and everyone pretty much figured (correctly) that Casey played a big hand in that style of cooking. They really felt Carla should have stuck to what she does best, her way, her style.

Stefan took some hits for doing dessert, and for doing it, as Gail Simmons said, "Very 1982." Ouch. As well, he did a fish carpaccio that he'd frozen the salmon and halibut for and when it thawed on the plate it was watery. No good. The fact that he made really great squab for his main protein was lost on them at that point. The other two courses did him in.

It really was Hosea's to lose at that point. He did all his courses well, and his venision was really good, no big mistakes, and all three courses progressed nicely in depth and heft. So there he goes: Top Chef Season 5.

Color me completely beige about the whole thing.

See you next season! Well, probably before, but you know what I mean... I will miss this weekly writing deadline! Maybe I'll have to find another food show to follow...


  1. well - I understand you're disappointment - hard to really tell with all the editing. nevertheless other season's have ended with someone winning that I didn't necessarily agree with. the thing I liked about this season was the variety and quality of venues. And the surprises - the number of times Ariane won early in the season. I really liked Rhadika early in the season too.. but alas the boy who really really wanted it - got it.
    also disappointed that they brought Toby over to bring his "routine" to the judges table and then muzzled him. where's the fun in that?
    alas - we can only wait for the next season to see what folly we can comment on.
    Have loved your blogs every week. well done!
    Love M

  2. I am already feeling Top Chef withdrawl, tis true. Am pondering what to replace it with... thanks for your encouragement in writing about it each week, it's fun to get different perspectives on what "goes down" with the different challenges.

    It it true that at times Stefan seemed very apathetic about competing, and so probably got what he deserved. It must be such a mindbending experience to go through the competition--each year the finale seems to catch at least one of them off guard with a dismal failure or something untried (who makes something for the first time when making the "meal of your life?"). Normally sane people seem to crack! I'm sure I would as well...


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