Top Chef Finale Recap: A Scallop By Any Other Name


If you’re reading this, then you already know. Even if you were among the half-million folks in and around Philadelphia without power, news of our hometown hero bringing home the hardware was all but unavoidable last night. While Nick was up in New York with runner-up Nina waiting for shotskis, his TV buddy Jason Cichonski hosted a viewing party down here at recently opened Gaslight in Old City. And the rest of us watched it all play out on Twitter with the TV on in the background.

It was a hell of a season–probably the best we’ve seen since they brought back the All-Stars (and Spike). Not only was it nice to have a couple locals in the mix, but Bravo bagged much of the gimmickry and let the cheftestants’ cooking provide the drama instead. I’m happy that Bravo has let the show mature instead of trying to reinvent it. And I’m even happier that we now have two Top Chefs in town.

So let’s see how this last episode played out.

The final challenge was simple. Each cheftestant had to create a four-course menu worthy of $125,000 FURNISHED BY HEALTHY CHOICE. To help them out, they picked three eliminated cheftestants. Nick went first and took Cichonski because they’re bros (obvi), Louis because he’s technical, and Huskey because he’s the guy with the weed. Nina took Shirley, Stephanie, and Travis. I think they called themselves the Gossip Girls in a previous episode. The leftover cheftestants are sent back to a dark room in the basement of the hotel.

Then Bravo brings in the families. Nina learns that she’s a national hero in St. Lucia, and we learn that Nick was the smahhhhhhhhtest kid growing up, but he wasn’t the best student. After a few more hugs and kisses, it’s time to get down to business. Nina’s island-inspired menu is an homage to her dad with a dash of Italian. After a season of calling herself the gnocchi queen, it’s a surprise that she doesn’t put that on her menu, but I suppose it’s a bit heavy for Hawaii. She also decides to offer two additional dishes to overcompensate for the four she’s already making. Nick’s menu is Modern French with a touch of Asian, and his last course is a revision of the dish he was asked to go home for. Ballsy.

Both chefs lead with a crudo (Nina’s unofficial first course was a breadfruit with whipped foie gras butter), and Nick’s delicate hand in seasoning his hamachi and tuna with green apple wasabi, celery and Maui-Meyer lemon puts Nina ahead with her tuna and escolar tartare with tomato water and jalapeno. Nick is clearly nervous and takes it out on his servers. It’s a hard thing to watch.

Next up is Nina’s roasted goat sugo with orchiette, cherry tomato confit and goat cheese versus Nick’s sweet shrimp bisque, scallop and daikon noodles with Thai basil. Hugh Acheson thought the goat was sublime, but Tom Colicchio considered Nick’s scallop noodles to be the best dish all year. This is actually a Cichonski specialty, and if you’re curious, you can get them served with pancetta and sage at Ela in Philly (Jason, that’s two plugs in one post. You owe me). It’s seemingly back to even.

On to course three, which is land-versus-sea. Nina makes swordfish and Nick makes duck. Emeril complains that his duck was undercooked, but the rest of the judges loved the flavors and the execution. Nina’s swordfish, on the other hand, was neither cohesive nor exciting. Which puts Nick ahead. We think.

Nick continues to scream at his servers while Nina throws out an intermezzo of dragonfruit and frozen papaya, then we move onto her zeppole, pitted against Nick’s white chocolate panna cotta. Nina had to switch dessert gears due to lack of an ice cream maker (which is already making the Twitterverse scream conspiracy), and this final dish may have been what tipped the scales finally in Nick’s favor. His redemption dish was well received, and the only complaint was that the panna cotta could have used more jiggle.

Well, really, whose couldn’t?


At judges table, Tom gushes over Nick’s scallop noodle dish one more time. Padmahontas rolls her eyes because she hates Nick (or her suede choker is too tight). Tom continues to laud our hometown hero, saying he’s peaking at the right time. The rest of the table agrees, but it’s hard to dismiss Nina’s performance all season. Not that Nick was a slouch, but it really was the gnocchi queen’s competition to lose. After a marathon deliberation, Padmahontas fails to convince the rest of the judges of this fact, and Nick is crowned this season’s winner. Then Twitter erupts. Then Joe Cicala and Hahri Shin set a car on fire. It was a magical night.

The irony of it all? He won it with a scallop.


So until next year (or until the next time Philly is represented in some silly cooking competition), this is Fidel Gastro signing off. Thanks for reading, Foobooz folks. And as a parting gift, I leave you with this song…

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