Top Chef Finale Recap: A Tale In Two Parts

So this is it. The big finale. The big reveal. And in order to do justice to this momentous occasion, we here at Foobooz HQ decided to do this recap as a game of sorts–a prognostication contest, a jeu de TV wherein Fidel Gastro (who has been recapping these shows since the start of the season and growing progressively weirder, crazier and more terrified of Eric Ripert as the weeks went on) would, on the eve of the broadcast, give a “pre-cap” of the episode. Basically an educated guess at how things would finally shake out during each stage of the well-rehearsed dance that is a Top Chef finale. Then I, your humble editor, would take Fidel’s work and compare it to how things actually happened during the broadcast.

Sounds simple? Well that’s where you’re wrong…

Fidel, on the Top Chef finale’s opening scene, writing from an airplane at cruising altitude:

We open with Paul and Sarah hugging and talking about how great Lindsay was. Paul exhales after holding his breath for the past 5 episodes, while Sarah, ever the jackass, jumps around and talks about how this last challenge is going to be hardest thing she has ever done, even harder than the time she had to run a mile for gym class. She’s a real master of the obvious. Paul inhales again and will hold his breath until they announce him as the winner at the end of the episode. Sarah farts. Paul’s the favorite by like 8 Quickfires and a few eliminations, but I’m not counting Sarah out just yet. Although she’s not much better than Heather the Hutt when it comes to manners, her kitchen kung fu has been consistent throughout the season. There’s a few more quips about Lindsay and how great it is to be in the final, then Bravo cuts to the confessionals, where Sarah says, ‘Yeah, we’re friends and all, but since this is a competition, I will rip the still-beating heart out of Paul’s chest and serve it with fresh pasta. It’s going to be real yummy,’ and where Paul says, ‘Yeah, we’re friends and all, but since this is a competition, I will cut my way through layers of fat to rip the still-beating heart out of Sarah’s chest and serve it with a dashi broth. Then I’ll get back into the weed business, but this time, I won’t let any dogs shit on my floor.’

Jason, on how it actually happened, writing from the bar nearest his house:

Paul and Sarah do not hug it out. Not yet. We are apparently supposed to believe that no time at all has passed since the 86’ing of Linday last week because the show opens on both surviving cheftestants, still standing meekly before the tasting panel in the Hall Of Judgement, just waiting for Padma to tell them how she is going to fuck them up this week.

It is frankly miraculous that no one has tried to kill her yet. Isn’t there that scene in every gladiator movie where the scrappy band of put-upon heroes rise up and try to slay the cruel game maker who has made their lives a living hell? And can you honestly tell me that these two poor sonsofbitches haven’t been screwed with like Padma’s own private monkey butlers (Dig in the dirt! Chase that lobster! Ride a bike! Pretend to care about Pee-Wee Herman!)? But I digress…

Fidel, on the final challenge:

Padma floats into the kitchen wearing a dress made of medieval armor. Tom follows in his usual disheveled getup of a short-sleeved button down and expensive cheap-looking jeans. “Welcome to your final challenge,” Padma drones. “You are one step closer to getting your ass taxed for winning a bunch of money provided by a frozen food company who is hoping that a Top Chef sponsorship will increase sales.” Tom chimes in. “Here in Canada, people eat horsemeat. Weirdos like Andrew Zimmern really get down for this, but since we’re American and ponies are as adorable as puppies, it’s not a familiar protein to us. For your final challenge, we’d like to see a nose-to-tail meal using horsemeat. Also, you have to kill your own horse.”

Seriously, how fucked up would that be? I’m guessing that what Tom actually says is, “Prepare the 3-course meal of a lifetime, and you both get Bev as your sous chef.” Like I’ve said, she’s a cockroach.

Jason, back in reality:

Padma does not wear armor. Someone in wardrobe managed to pour Tom into a suit at some point. Dramatic music swells and the chefs are told that, in order to survive become Top Chef, they now must do nothing less than cook the greatest meal of their lives.

For 100 people.

In some strange restaurant.

Under a time limit.

No, they don’t have to kill and cook their own horses (though I agree, that would’ve been awesome). And they are not each automatically assigned Bev as a sous chef (though I would’ve guessed at some similar kind of fuckery had mine and Fidel’s roles been switched). But they are going to have some help…

Fidel, on the producers’ big twist:

All the chefpetitors from every past season of Top Chef are bussed in and made to sit longlingly on the sidelines while Sarah and Paul dole out more reunion hugs and graciously accept the congratulations of their bitterly jealous former rivals. The camera cuts away to show Tom and Padma beaming benevolently over this love-fest, then there are more hugs and more tears. They should change the name of the show to Top Hugs.

Jason, on the producers’ big twist:

Bravo packs the room with the halt, the lame and the bitter–mostly eliminated competitors from the final 16, spiced up with a few faces memorable only because of the way they flamed out so early (remember Tyler Stone? Or that weird vegan guy?). They also bring in two master chefs–Barbara Lynch and Marco Canora–and tell everyone in the room that they have 45 minutes to cook a single dish that will get them picked and placed on someone’s finale team.

Is it weird seeing two experienced, award-winning professional chefs scrambling to cook alongside all these thumb-suckers and bed-wetters? No. It’s just sad. And something about the looks on their faces whenever the camera pans across them leads me to believe that the full extent of their potential humiliation was not explained to them before they signed on.

As a matter of fact, something tells me that maybe Tom Colicchio was just waiting in an alley somewhere, hammer in one hand, burlap sack in the other. While walking home from their respective restaurants, both master chefs found themselves stopped by Tom who simply held out both tools and said, “We can do this the easy way, or we can do this the hard way…” Watching this segment, I was pretty sure that Barbara Lynch was trying to blink out a two-word Morse code message: “Help me.” Marco just looked bewildered, as though maybe he’d chosen the hammer.

Anyway, the cooks cooked, each to their own ability. Paul and Sarah tasted the offered plates, then started blindly picking, playground-dodgeball style, having only the dishes to go by, but no idea who’d cooked them. Paul ends up with Ty-Lor, Keith, Chris Crary and Barbara Lynch–a strong team, and pretty much exactly who he wanted. Sarah overthinks, seems to believe that certain chefs are sending her secret messages through their plates, and ends up with Nyesha, Grayson, Heather (who almost wets herself with excitement over getting the chance to be on TV one last time) and…Tyler.

A word about Tyler. This was the guy who got himself eliminated before the season even really got started. Tom showed him the door in the middle of a challenge when it became obvious that he’d never done any butchery, seen a piece of meat or held anything sharper than a crayon. And it should be said that “showing him the door” was the kindest thing that Tom could’ve done, because what he really wanted to do was kick him in the nuts.

This, though, was not Tom’s fault. Tyler is just one of those vapid idiots who are so absolutely convinced of their own awesomeness that they inspire nut-kicking thoughts in complete strangers. I would bet ten dollars that Tyler wasn’t even able to make it off the set on that first day without a grip or a cameraman taking a swipe at him, and I think Tom showed remarkable restraint in not just burying one very expensive shoe in Tyler in front of all of America. Even just thinking back on his smarmy smile and little rabbit face, his insistence that America wasn’t ready for the kind of quality and energy he was going to bring to Top Chef, I want to hit him. He’s just that kind of person.

Once the choosing is done, it’s time to plan a menu. Tyler annoys everyone on his team by insisting that they all cook with lasers (or some shit), but otherwise, nothing exciting happens. Once the menus are complete, it’s time to shop (and plug Whole Foods one last time). The shopping is dull, too, but for one moment where Paul dithers about whether or not to buy some spot prawns that were not part of his original menu plan and his own private master chef, Barbara Lynch, tells him to just stick to the plan.

Paul ignores her and buys the prawns anyway. This does not seem like a big deal at the time unless you’ve ever watched TV, seen a movie or read a book before in your life. Do you think those prawns are going to become important at some point? YES, THEY’RE GOING TO BE IMPORTANT. EVERYTHING IN THE WORLD WILL HINGE UPON THOSE PRAWNS AND THE SUBTLE UNDERTONE OF PAUL STANDING UP FOR HIMSELF IN THE FACE OF A VASTLY MORE EXPERIENCED CHEF.


Fidel, on the menus:

In this last challenge, Paul and Sarah get a day for planning and a day for cooking, which is plenty of time for both braising and second guessing. I’m predicting both, along with what the final two chefs will make. If I’m dead on, my editor Jason says I get all the beer I can drink, up to two drinks:

1st: Sashimi of Sarah’s still-beating heart w/jalapeno, yuzu, daikon “confetti” in a dashi broth
2nd: Seared Sarah’s still-beating heart, pork belly, exotic mushrooms, dashi
3rd: Ed Lee’s cake that Heather stole twice earlier in the season, with dashi icing


1st: Seared scallop, fresh pasta
2nd: Braised Paul’s still-beating heart, sausage, pork chops, sweetbreads, veal filets, BBQ ribs, half a cow’s head, parsnip puree
3rd: Fruit salad


Jason, on the menus:

The cheftestants get a day for cooking, then another day for cooking (and service). Total prep time, nine hours–which sounds like a lot but is totally not a lot.

In order to keep him out of her hair, Sarah makes Tyler cut celery that will not make it into any of her dishes. Then she makes him mix ice cream (which would be better done in a mixer). Then she has him paint the dining room and go find her a left-handed cake beater. I almost felt a little bad for the guy, then remembered how much I wanted to punch him and decided that I was okay with his emasculation.

On the other side, Paul and his team work like a well-oiled machine. It helps that Paul is essentially cooking another riff on the same menu he’s been working from since day 1. It also helps that, apparently, he does all the cooking himself.

The first day passes. On the second day, Paul discovers that the crab he’d planned to use in his first course has gone smelly. Disaster! Oh, but wait… Didn’t I… Wasn’t there… Don’t I have some kind of back-up protein somewhere…

Ta-da! Spot prawns to the rescue. Here’s how the two menus actually came together:

Sarah’s Italian-German Menu

1st: Squid ink tagliatelle with spot prawns and coconut

2nd: Rye-crusted steelhead trout with fennel sauce, pickled beets and gras pista

3rd: Braised veal cheeks with veal sweetbreads

Dessert: Hazelnut cake with roasted white chocolate ganache

Paul’s “Japanese menu with Asian influences”:

1st: Chawanmushi with edamame and spot prawns

2nd: Grilled sea bass with clam dashi, pickled radishes and mushrooms

3rd: Congee with scrambled egg, uni, kale and albacore

Dessert: Coconut ice cream with puffed rice, mangosteen, Thai chile foam and jasmine gelee

Fidel doesn’t get his unlimited (two) beers, but he came kinda close which means I have half a bottle of off-brand “Irish” whiskey here with his name on it. I’m going to make him fight an intern for it. Look for the video in the coming days.

Fidel, on the service:

Beverly does her best to ruin both cheftestants chances and somehow win by default, but it’s no use. Paul regains his confidence after winning last week’s challenge, and he’s firing on all cylinders. Padma loves the sashimi because it’s not too much food; Tom loves the combination of human heart and pork belly; and Gail thinks the cake is moist and flavorful, comparing it to a pre-packaged muffin from 7-Eleven. Sarah doesn’t fare so well, but it wasn’t a total disappointment. Her scallop was perfectly cooked (shocker).

Jason, on the service:

Beverly isn’t in the kitchen, but she is shown (briefly) in the dining room–likely because the producers want us to know that she wasn’t actually killed and eaten by Sarah off-camera.

Paul does have his confidence back, and even when his chawanmushi gets overcooked during the second seating, he just rolls with it, knowing that things are both our of his hands and completely in the bag.

And let me stop right here and say something. Yes, this has been a terrifically dull season. Yes, most of the contestants were jerks or bullies or brain-dead or worse. Yes, some of the challenges were ridiculous. But (and both Padma and Tom will back me up on this), I think that the cooking was some of the best I’ve seen. Paul and Sarah? For all the nasty (and hilarious!) things we’ve said about them over the past way-too-many-weeks, those two can really cook. They were bringing veteran chefs to their knees with some of the stuff they were doing in the last couple episodes, and I would pay good money to eat anything that either of the two of them prepared.

That said, there can still be only one Top Chef, and after some quibbling over the most minor of details (over-puffed puffed rice? Really?), a choice is made.

Fidel, on the announcement:

In this season’s last stew room, Sarah is down in the dumps about her meal, so Paul pretends like she’s going to win, saying things like, “I really thought your seared scallop was perfectly cooked,” and, “I was going to make a fruit salad until you said that you were going to.” He’s such a gentleman, but I’d be the same way if I knew I had hundreds of thousands of dollars in prize money coming to me. At Judges’ Table, they’re both congratulated, but since Paul’s the clear winner, they don’t waste much time with Sarah, who tries to blame Beverly for her missteps. Then, as anticlimactic as ever, the balloons descend from the ceiling as they announce Paul’s victory, then they both drop dead because their hearts have been ripped out of their chests.

Jason, on the announcement:

Yeah, Fidel has been calling since very early on. And so has everyone else with at least one eye and  brain stem. Paul wins. Sarah is bitter about it. Fade to black.