Let me just say before I get into my two big issues with this finale…I think a very talented chef won. In fact, you can easily make the argument that she was the best chef this season. I think it was a solid season, with two very deserving finalists. This was a very satisfying championship. I also like the fact that Top Chef is willing to take chances and mess with things from time to time.
Now, my problems are with the way they messed with things in the Finale, and with LCK. First, I thought the Finale concept of a live battle before an audience was interesting in concept. However, the problem was in execution. The episode began so abruptly I felt as if my DVR messed up (as it did during the “Parks and Recreation” wedding episode. Still mad) and we were picking things up midway in the action. Basically, Kish and Brooke were doing battle in what was, let’s be honest, a total rip off of Iron Chef. We see them about to serve their first dish before the show pulls a JJ Abrams and gives us a “Three Hours Earlier” title card. It was a little confusing.
The competition structure was a head-to-head battle for five courses – whomever wins three wins the title of Top Chef. Instantly, I wrote down the flaw in the logic of this plan. Either it would be a 3-2 score, or we would know who was about to win because we would run out of episode time for additional courses. It completely undercut the drama of the final reveal of the winner. Since it went only four rounds, when the show went to its video package of the previous winners it was official. There would be not enough time for commercials, a fifth course, judging and a wrap-up.
And really – Top Chef is too good of a show to have to borrow the concept of Iron Chef for its coronation. There is nothing wrong with their formula – I kind of missed the whole buildup, planning, sous chef selection, etc. The bottom line – this just didn’t feel like an episode of Top Chef, and that’s not fair to Kish or Brooke for their Finale.
The other thing is LCK. When you incorporate something like LCK, or Redemption Island (or the Outcast Tribe), or anything involving a contestant who has been voted out/eliminated already, you run this risk. What if that person wins? Is it fair? To me, while LCK adds some fun drama to the competition, something just doesn’t feel right about it. I can’t really put my finger on it – but it just feels weird. In this case, Kish’s return to the competition wasn’t so bad because she was controversially eliminated. But let’s say Josie managed to get back in – how would you, the viewer, feel if she had a couple of good challenges in a row and beat Sheldon and Brooke to win it all? It wouldn’t feel right.
Now, let’s get at it right now. Kish won. She cooked the hell out of this challenge. And I am very happy for her. But I feel horribly for Brooke. The interesting thing to me – and I have been a Kish fan from the early episodes – was that during the plating of the third dish I noticed something. I found myself rooting for Brooke. Actively. I guess I just really feel that if you haven’t gotten eliminated, you deserve the win more. And that is the inherent flaw in this system that manifested itself in this Finale.
Kish’s victory was fairly dominant and I wonder if the judges were clouded at all by Kish’s underdog story. I also do not much care for the open ballot nature of the judging – I think it would be more honest, and actually more dramatic, for them to reveal the decisions in a figure skating judging kind of way. That way the peer pressure element is taken away too – if the vote is 2-0 for one chef, human nature dictates the likelihood of a sweep rather than a comeback.
But, Kish is Top Chef and joins Steph as the ladies at the Winners Table. I am very happy for her, and she is just as talented as anyone. She dominated this season early before the disaster of Restaurant Wars. Then she won several do or die challenges before coming back in and taking out, one by one, the two chefs who survived all of the other challenges. To become the queen, she had to beat the queen, and Brooke was the queen once Kish left.
Kish said while the challenge was going on that cooking for 300 people is daunting as she is used to cooking for just 10 at a time. Guess what, Kristen? Your world just got a whole lot bigger.
Kitchen Stadium – Kish has Sheldon, Josh and Lizzie on her side (no nicknames for the vanquished chefs this week), while Brooke’s sous chefs are CJ, Stefan and Kuniko. Yet another loss for the returning chefs. Kish easily picked the better team – as the only time we see anything regarding the staff is when CJ overcooks the pig ears for the first dish, and Stefan flirts with women in the audience. Kish’s plan for her staff was to gather a team with no egos. It worked perfectly.
The chefs are cooking for the 300 people in the stadium – anywhere from 3-5 dishes each. All nine past winners are sitting together. The judges are Tom, Padma, Monobrow, Gail and Emeril. No Puck.
Round 1 – The big thing – CJ burns the pig ears because Brooke wasn’t managing closely enough.
Kish – Chicken Liver Mousse with Frisee, Mustard, Prune, Hazelnuts and Pumpernickel – Emeril loved the mousse, it was simple and classic. Tom thinks it was well-seasoned and had a nice balance. Gail felt it was perfect, with a velvety, airy texture.
Brooke – Crispy Pig Ear and Chicory Salad, Six-Minute Egg, Apricot Jam and Candied Kumquats – Tom said it had great flavor and liked the egg. Emeril felt the cracklings were overcooked, while Padma disagreed. Monobrow complemented her way with salad dressing.
Kish up 1-0.
Round 2 – It is a scallop battle. It is Top Scallop. Before the dish we get Brooke’s review montage – her audition with Hugh, her many phobias, the Animal guys, her amazing pairings, her bad fried chicken and her boy’s little red lizard.
Brooke – Seared Scallop with Salt Cod Puree, Speck, Black Currant and Mustard Seed Vinaigrette, with Juniper and Romanesco – Tom enjoyed the combo and said the scallop was cooked perfectly. Gail wondered about the early finish of the dish, and Brooke explained her hard sear. I’d make a crude joke about a hard sear, but her little boy is in the room. Hugh liked the earthy synergy. He must not know how much I hate the word “earthy.” Emeril is a salt cod lover. That sounds like one for an Intervention-like show about weird fetishes.
Kish – Citrus and Lavender Cured Scallop with Bitter Orange, Meyer Lemon and Apple – Tom found to be exactly what he expected. Padma thinks she did the dish proud. Emeril loved the simplicity. Gail and Emeril went with Brooke. Tom and Padma for Kish. Monobrow broke the tie with a Brooke vote.
We are tied 1-1.
Round 3 – This is where Brooke lost the championship. As much as I like a good chicken wing, and I do, it was a bad idea. How much do I love wings? In college, one night for a rush event for my fraternity, we went to the Ground Round for Wing Night. The lot of us combined to consume about 600 wings that night – with me packing in about 80 of them. I like me a good wing.
However, when you are trying to win Top Chef, perhaps a chicken wing is not enough. And perhaps, making Padma lick her fingers – despite how awesome I find that to be, and how many times I paused and rewound that – is not a good plan. Her dish was just too pedestrian to win. We also got Kish’s video package in this round – her not-lesbian buddy Stephanie, boob sweat, her photographic memory, the Josie problems, LCK, and how she wants to go to Korea to check out her background. We meet her very Caucasian family – and they are all awesome. Especially dad – “Kristen, you’re MY Top Chef.” Awww.
Brooke – Vadouvan Fried Chicken with Sumac Yogurt-Tahini and Pickled Kohlrabi Fattoush – The judges take a moment in surprise and Brooke notices it. “I forgot the Wet Naps.” Yep. Monobrow was not expecting wings. She explains it is an attempt at redemption for her fried chicken failure. Unspoken – the question of why? She is in the Finals – she’s redeemed. And even so, why a messy fried chicken dish? Emeril thought it was delicious, regardless. Tom got why she did it, but wasn’t really sure why she did it. That summed it up perfectly.
Kish – Celery Root Puree with Bone Marrow, Mushrooms, Bitter Greens and Radishes – Emeril loved the earthy tones. Grrr. Again with earthy. Tom wondered why the shrooms weren’t stewed. Padma wishes hers was hot. Gail liked the variety of the puree/fungus combo. She wins Round 3 easily.
Kish leads 2-1. Match Point.
Round 4 – This is a snapper battle. We go into a Winners montage now of what they are up to – instantly clinching the title for Kish at the 44 minute mark. Harold and Steph are doing very well with their restaurants. Qui-Gon won the Beard Award. The rest get a quick montage. I’ve eaten at Blais’ burger joint and it is awesome. One of them needs to open something closer to me.
Brooke – Braised Pork Cheek and Red Snapper with Collard Green Slaw and Sorrel Puree – Monobrow thought it was perfectly cooked and is hoping the collard green is becoming the new kale. Tom liked her combo – and the nice crunch. Emeril praised the sorrel addition. Gail loved the play between the two meats, and the bit of tartness.
Kish – Red Snapper with Leeks, Little Gem Lettuce, Tarragon, Uni and shellfish Nage – Tom found great depth in the stock. Gail found the texture spot on, even if the leeks were hard to cut. Monobrow disagreed about the leeks – he talks some knife skill smack to Gail.
We head to commercial with only a few minutes left – so unless we are getting a bizarre cliffhanger, we all know who is going to win. Kish wins going away. She thanks Tom for that whole Last Chance Kitchen thing.
• What jinxed Brooke? She used “big, bold flavors.” She must not realize how much I dislike that term. Why must they all use the terms I dislike?!?
• Kish can cook chicken liver in her sleep. That makes me think we have a new show concept – Sleepwalking Chefs. Come on, Bravo, you are making L.A. Shrinks, you must have holes in your programming.
• I love how Padma had to point out basic math – “Kristen, you lead 2-0, one more vote and you win the round.” Thanks for pointing out that three is the majority of five. Either she thinks we are morons, or the producers told her to make it obvious, in which case, they producers think we are morons.
• Glad Mr. Brooke, Linguine, was there with little Hudson, who managed to fall asleep during the challenge. Awww.
• Mommy Brooke told of how her little girl would watch The Galloping Gourmet instead of cartoons. My boy watches Chopped and Sugar Dome instead of cartoons sometimes. Note to webmaster – I will not recap my boy’s season on Top Chef in 15-20 seasons from now.
• Loved how Voltaggio was ready to cook. Another show that must happen down the road – Top Chef: Winners. Make it so.
• Great moment – Kish asking Brooke to save her one scallop.
• Loved Padma calling Ilan fat. Not just because she’s amazing and he’s not. Well, actually, that’s about it.
• Blais is the only one who knows how both Kish and Brooke felt – having blown it his first time around and won the second. Kish is now the only winner to have ever heard the phrase – “Please pack your knives and go.”
• Extra – a montage of advice from Winners. Hung – Relax. Hosea – do what you do well. Ilan – Nothing. Voltaggio – Nothing. Blais – I seem to have written down “no fable,” and that is confusing me. Steph – don’t suck. Ilan again – something about hip hop. Kevin – Rock it. Hosea – ignore advice. Um, wait. Paul – giggles. Back live, Ilan busts a lamp and Harold suggests keeping your adrenaline in check. And that’s our honor roll, folks.
Next week – Nothing. Although I assume Just Desserts is coming soon.