Welcome to the Finale of Season 10. Or at least the first part of it. Next week, we crown our 10th Top Chef champion (not including Masters/Desserts), and I am pleased to announce right here and right now that it will be a big effin’ deal.
You see, and I am about to spoil the chef eliminated this week, so cover your sensitive ears and turn away to fall down a Buzzfeed black hole and get back to me in an hour…you see…Steph needs to move over. She has counterpart. Finally.
That’s right. As we crown our 16th Top Chef – including the four Masters and two Desserts winners – we now will have our second woman earning the crown. Papa Smurf took the fall this time around – perhaps because he swapped out the red hat for a blue one – and left two women standing for next week’s final task. The food cooked this week was – well – it was kind of uninspiring. It was like bad Chinese food – you ate it up, but forgot all about it shortly thereafter and were hungry for some better food. I blame the layoff from the Alaska episodes for the rustiness shown by Brooke and Papa Smurf – and in fact, we get to witness the distractions of life at home and work that inevitably took center stage for each of them once they returned to Maui and LA. Top Chef ain’t life, and someone has to do the paperwork, cook the food and take the kids to school.
Meanwhile, LCK was resolved. After a lengthy montage showing what occurred during the web series, we are informed that the final challenge we witnessed last week online (Kish vs. Lizzie vs. OTV) had just occurred in the kitchen behind our judges. The result of that challenge was about to walk through that door and become the third Finalist is revealed to be…Kish. Brooke and Papa Smurf are far from surprised. Good for Kish – she made a horrible mistake during Restaurant Wars and has knocked it out of the park on LCK since then. She beat CJ, Josie, Stefan, Lizzie, OTV and Lizzie again to come back. And she has shaken off the rust a bit by having what amounts to a Quickfire just a few moments before rejoining. Considering the Elimination Challenge starts right here and now, that is huge.
Think about it. Brooke and Papa Smurf entered the room, were hit with the Kish news and boom went into a challenge. Kish showed up, cooked for her life for 30 minutes and boom. Challenge. After three and a half hours she had done two challenges and was facing the judges. Talk about a whirlwind. And all three had very different approaches to the sudden challenge. Papa Smurf decided to be super bold and depart from his Asian focus and show off some skills he developed during the break. That’s right – not during his many years of training, but during the last few weeks. Kish decides to not get too deep in her head and to go for simplicity. That’s all well and good, but simplicity and safe are close friends and are often confused for one another. Meanwhile, Brooke has decided to go into the challenge scatterbrained. Seriously, Brooke, what happened? Did the myriad of paperwork you had to file cloud your mind? She was so off her game, she was failing to get her food out of the kitchen on time.
As it turned out, Brooke was able to shake off the doldrums just enough to make some solid dishes, including a stellar dessert. Kish was simple and safe, but did just enough. Papa Smurf stumbled with his new look menu and had no real room to stumble at this late stage. And so he takes his red hat and his ukulele and heads into a very impressive third place. He also joins Edward as chefs who got leapfrogged in the pecking order by the LCK winner.
And that leaves Brooke and Kish to battle it out for the win – and if you think about it, this is the only way this season should have ended. While the gimmick for the season was the three returning chefs, and the introduction of Save a Chef, neither really made an impact. The three chefs were overall rather disappointing. Stefan dominated his season, and was very slipshod with his performance. Josie probably should not have been invited back – she did ok, but really skated by thanks to the mistakes of others. CJ went out very early, but redeemed himself somewhat on LCK. The Save a Chef winner – Lizzie – failed to make it back in the game.
Brooke and Kish consistently put out great food. Kish dominated the early challenges, and Brooke did the dominating in the later part of the season. And here they are at the end. To be honest, I have no idea who I want to win. I like them both, I think they are both very talented and Top Chef worthy, and, well, both are pretty easy on the eyes. I know, I wouldn’t say that about male chefs, but to my defense, I am a male. So…why would I? It matters nothing to who will or should win, but I can’t lie, it matters in my rooting interests sometimes. And to my defense, I was rooting for OTV too, and the Old Timey Villain look doesn’t really float my boat.
I am just very pleased to see that the men’s 14-1 advantage over the women as Top Chef winners didn’t get larger. Both of these women will be worthy of the title, and to be perfectly honest, I think they are about 50-50. I think the winner will fall about midway among the 10 Top Chef winners (throwing out Masters/Desserts for obvious reasons here) – I see it from top to bottom, Blais, Voltaggio, Harold, Hung, Qui-Gon, Steph, Kish/Brooke, Sbarro, Hosea, Ilan. Of course, I can change my mind on that tomorrow.
Quickfire – None.
Elimination Challenge – Prepare an appetizer, an entrée and a dessert. Oh, and serve them in Tom’s restaurant, craft, to his dinner crowd. And another thing, Tom is expediting the meals. Yikes!
Papa Smurf starts off with spot prawns. Brooke chooses, rejects and chooses once more the short ribs. She also notices Papa Smurf’s selection of quail and points out the risky trip outside the box by the Hawaiian. Brooke selects sweetbreads as another ingredient but is unsure what to do with them. Kish has elected to make a dessert called, “chocolate thing chocolate.”
Brooke is in the weeds and is burning pistachios. However, she is making a nice looking brown butter cake. As for Papa Smurf…he has never made a dessert. I hope he was trying to be funny. Meanwhile, Tom is shouting the fear of God into them as they work the kitchen. Man, Tom is a scary boss. Judging the challenge – Tom (from the kitchen), Monobrow, Emeril, Padma, John Besh and Martin Yan.
Papa Smurf – Sashimi Spot Prawns, Court Bouillon, Radish and Asian Herbs – Emeril loves the radish part, and thinks the prawns were cooked perfectly. Yan thinks it was a very difficult dish to make.
Kish – Chestnut Veloute, Duck Rillette and Brussels Sprouts – Yan found some kick, and Mono thinks it was good, but had too much bitterness. Besh thinks it could have used some acidity.
Brooke – Crispy Veal Sweetbread Salad with Kumquat, Beets and Mustard – Padma loved the intensity of the salad. Yan found surprises in the dish. Mono wanted the sweetbreads cleaned better and not cut so thin.
Back in the kitchen, Brooke has messed up and needs to re-plate a dish. Yikes. Kish is about to pee her pants, and Brooke shoots Tom a look that would kill a lesser man.
Kish – Seared Ahi Tuna with Veal Mustard Jus and Meyer Lemon Puree – Yan loves it and thinks it had a perfect sear. Besh thinks it was borderline salty – and blames the kitchen expediter. Snerk.
Brooke – Braised Short Ribs, Parmesan Sauce, Nettle Puree and Squash Dumplings – Yan said the ribs were perfectly cooked; Mono loved the sauces and Emeril faved the nettle.
Papa Smurf – Roasted Quail, Pine Nut Puree, Garam Masala and Tangerine – Yan said it was brave and difficult. Mono said the pine nuts were an ode to hummus, but this is not Sheldon. Emeril thinks he was brainwashed and wants to know where Sheldon went.
Brooke – Brown Butter Cake, Whipped Goat Cheese and Blackberry Sauce – Besh can only say “Holy smokes.” Yan loved the textures and balance, and makes a Yin and Yang reference. He really did.
Kish – Curry Chocolate with Cashews – Besh can only say…interesting, interesting. This dish is U-G-L-Y, it ain’t got no alibi. Padma likes the combo of flavors, but Yan is just confused by it. Mono calls it basic.
Papa Smurf – White Chocolate Mousse with Apple and Fennel – Padma loves the flavor and the combining of apple and fennel. However, the others feel the raw fennel is just overpowering.
Judges Table – Regarding Papa Smurf, Emeril and Mono praise the prawns. Tom actually digs the quail a bit, but not so much on the pine nuts. They all ding him for the bad the fennel choice – not peeled, raw and just too much. Regarding Kish, Tom found the soup nice and velvety, but Mono called it one-note. The tuna was perfectly cooked, but Tom thought it was too bitter. Nobody really liked the chocolate that much, including Kish. Regarding Brooke, Tom found the sweetbreads to be nice and crispy and Brooke admitted to trying to do too much with them. Emeril praised the ribs and Padma felt the sauces were better than everything else. Tom said the cake was perfect, but it was not restaurant caliber.
It was pretty that Brooke was essentially the winner and that Papa Smurf was on the bottom. I wondered for a moment if they would let all three cook next week, but it was not to be. Sheldon, Papa Smurf, met his end one challenge short. Padma was visibly saddened to see him go.
• You know, next to my own, it is hard to find cuter families than Papa Smurf’s and Brooke’s. I mean really. It was a bit out of control. Pillow tossing. Silly dancing. Smurfette. A robot wearing a hat. Little Hudson – what came first, the kid’s name or the restaurant? Pig ears. Um, wait a minute.
• No disrespect meant, but Mr. Brooke sure married up. Is it me, or does the lucky man look a lot like Linguine from “Ratatouille”?
• Hey, Roy the Boy is back!
• Best line – Papa Smurf to Brooke upon leaving the kitchen: “There are chicken breasts back there for your fried chicken.” HA!
• Second best line…same source, addressing Kish’s cuisine choice: “You don’t cook Asian, you Asian person.”
• That’s twice Papa Smurf was waiting for the ingredients to speak to him and they failed. My advice – stop talking to the food telepathically.
• Excuse me for one second. Hey, Bravo! Did you really greenlight a show called “Married to Medicine”? Have you just embraced the “30 Rock” and “SNL” parodies of your network?
• Kish is “sweating in places I didn’t know I could sweat.” I am embarrassed with myself that I found that kind of hot. I know, double the therapy sessions, stat.
• Extra – Tom is a drill sergeant.
Next week – The final challenge is done in front of a live audience, in what appears to be the Iron Chef Kitchen Stadium. Even though it was not – because that’s another network. Defeated chefs return to help out, and it appears past winners are in the audience.