The episode opened with a lively Padma announcing that this season ender would be held in front of a live studio audience, consisting of the 9 former Top Chef winners, the current season’s chefs, friends, family, the mailman, a homeless guy, former President Jimmy Carter, and Tupac. All right, maybe Tupac couldn’t be there, but you get it. It was a zoo in there. To make it even more high-stakes, the finalists were asked to cook dishes in a timed 5-round, Iron Chef-a-like kitchen. The previews looked exciting, but it became clear that the copycat combination of Chopped and Iron Chef just didn’t fit the TC brand, nor did it really do the finalists justice, in my opinion. For a while, things seemed to occur in “flashback.” Padma introduced the show, and the ladies were already cooking. Cut screen to “three hours earlier”. What? This is such filler. Just show me the cooking!
Chef Kristen and Chef Brooke Williamson entered the “stadium,” for lack of a better word, in awe, clearly just discovering that this was how it was all going to go down. They had previously chosen their sous chefs, with Kristen electing top 4 runners up Josh, Sheldon, and Lizzie and Brooke opting for Kuniko, Big Ceej CJ, and Stephen. Kristen seemed to work seamlessly with her team. At various points, Brooke’s team appeared to get distracted (Stephen flirting with a member of the audience, CJ burning the pig’s ears), which may not have helped her in the long run. The first course rolled out like this:
- Kristen: chicken liver mousse, frisee, mustard, pumpernickel, and hazelnuts.
- Brooke: crispy pig ear and chicory salad with a 6 minute egg, apricot jam, and candied kumquats.
It was at this moment my husband and I realized the disjointed presentation of the show, with a complete stop for serving, tasting, and on the spot judging after each round. (See the sample below for a glimpse behind the scenes!) The finalist to win 3 rounds first would win the title. Of course, we immediately assumed it would come down to a 5th round, because this is finely edited reality television. Yawn. Kristen won the first round with her velvety, perfectly executed chicken liver.
Poor Brooke felt the heat and picked up the pace in the second round. Both chefs were to use sea scallop in their dish.
- Kristen: citrus and lavender marinated raw scallop with bitter orange and lemon.
- Brooke: seared sea scallop with salt cod puree, black currant and mustard seed vinaigrette.
Brooke picked up the win. I’m pretty sure Hugh Acheson has a chef-crush on her, if not more. These are two very talented people, and I really wouldn’t have been upset if it had gone the other way. No egos. Just talent and hard work. Love it. Anyways… the show beats on. Brooke takes a huge risk by making, well, chicken wings. To you, that means Buffalo wings. It wasn’t received well by everyone, despite the fact that they were probably pretty damn tasty. Third round:
- Kristen: celery root puree with bone marrow and mushrooms.
- Brooke: vadouvan chicken wings. I have no idea what that means and am not going to look it up.
Kristen took the win. There it is, your back and forth. Called it. Until… the fourth round. Both chefs were required to use red snapper.
- Kristen: red snapper with leeks, little gem lettuce, tarragon, uni, and shellfish nage.
- Brooke: red snapper with braised pork cheek, collard green slaw, sorrel puree and pine nut cream.
The judges made some vague comments that made it sound like things go could either way. Then, a commercial. We fast-DVRed and saw that shocker, there were only 6 minutes left in our recording! Ending ruined! There was no 5th round after all, and my girl-crush Kristen was crowned Top Chef. That she was, but the disappointment from a spoiled ending and a weirdly organized finale left me hanging a bit.
SOME FOLLOW UP THOUGHTS:
- Yes, I cried when Kristen talked about her family, her origins, and her planned trip to Korea. Very sweet.
- You know how I feel about the winner, but there is a piece of me that felt Brooke might have at least felt shafted. She was in the competition the whole time, with the most challenges won, and lost in the end to someone who just returned to the main event. Granted, I think Kristen’s head-to-head job was harder, but still. I’d be kind of bitter if I were Brooke!
- We can all agree, (and so did Tom Colicchio himself), that the Iron Chef style format was unnecessary, and less enjoyable to watch. That will probably be the first and last time for that one.
- Tom Colicchio
@tomcolicchio I hear you out there you didn’t like the format well neither did I and I doubt we will do that again.
- I hear that Sheldon won for fan favorite. He’s so stinkin’ likable, how could it go any other way? (I do wonder if the producers saw his adorable tiny little family and thought, let’s help them out?)
- My fan favorite is still Ceej or Stephen. Old habits die hard.
- An interesting look behind the scenes: Top Chef Seattle Finale (Fox News)