Top Chef Finale Recap: Like The Ramones At CBGB, But With Cooking
Yes, Colicchio compared Hipster Urkel and Mei to Johnny, Joey, Deedee, and Tommy at end of last night’s Top Chef Finale–the culinary culmination of quite possibly the most lopsided (and dull) season we’ve subjected ourselves to in the name of food. He was awestruck at the raw talent of the final two, but I beg to differ at both the comparison and the compliment. All due respect to the leather-clad Lower East Siders, but raw talent is something none of them really had–or at least that’s what you’ll find in the folklore. And with regard to the cheftestants, their skills are the result of pure work ethic, both of them most likely closing in on Gladwell’s 10,000 hours. No matter, I really wanted to turn them (and George and Melissa) into the Ramones (and I’m sure Colicchio really wanted to make that comparison). So sue us.
The finale format is your standard “cook the best four-course meal of your life” for a bunch of kitchen rockstars, including Traci Des Jardins, Gavin Kaysen, and one of my favorite people ever, Sean Brock. This season’s losers are paraded back in front of the camera for the final two to pick their sous chefs one last time. Gregory picks George and Doug (duh), and Mei picks Skrillex (duh) and that utterly forgettable girl from Chicago (huh?). It’s girls against boys for the final stretch, a very focused effort on both teams’ parts.
Mei’s opening salvo is an octopus with fish sauce vinaigrette. It looks good on the plate, but the dual treatment of braising and frying the tentacled beast dries it out. Next up is a congee made with carnitas, an updated throwback (does that make sense?) to her winning dish in Episode 1. The judges love the update. Course three is a duck with both Mexican and Asian flavors that was confusing and poorly executed. Her last course, a strawberry lime curd with toasted yogurt, milk crumble, and yogurt-lime ice, is a finish akin to Kevin Sbraga’s winning Singapore Sling from seasons past. Blais calls it “a perfect example of modern food,” and Gail says it was one of the most memorable desserts she’s ever eaten.
A hard act to follow? Sure. But Hipster Urkel has the momentum from last week. The only question is, can he use it to carry him past Mei?
He also leads with an octopus–his version being grilled and served with passion fruit, prickly pear, and cashew milk. It was executed better than Mei’s, but not presented better. Still, it was enough for him to win round one of the four-course battle. His next dish was full of flavor, but unfortunately it was also full of shrimp shells. Score’s tied through two. Urkel’s third, a beautifully presented striped bass, was the weakest dish of the night. The judges agreed that it was way too sweet, leaving Greg with one last chance for redemption, which is exactly what he did with his final dish, a red mole with short ribs and agave sweet potato. As great as it was, however, his two middle dishes failed him, and at the final judges table, the deliberation was swift and unanimous in favor of Mei. Then the whole thing ended anticlimactically as it does every season with tears and champagne and a bunch of cheftestant spectators that secretly hate the winner but are forced to hang out with them on camera.
So let’s hope Bravo’s smart enough to get some goddamn Philly chefs in the mix again next year, huh? Until then, buen provecho.