Top Chef Finale Detonates in Our Mouth

Photo: Virginia Sherwood/Bravo

So, yeah, the Top Chef finale was kind of a somber one, though it did start off with Michael V. actually flashing the pearly whites for once (when he joked about Jen detoxing, and being bummed it wasnt his brother who went home). After that, all those cheftestants who never stood a chance came back like a flock of gulls threatening to get caught in the finalists engines. Kevin got stuck with Preeti and got all mad when she couldnt even chop vegetables. Wait a minute Michael and Bryan are all smiles, and Kevin is pissed off? Somethings very wrong here.

Originally, the challenge was to cook a three-course meal: The first course was a straight ripoff of Chopped (which, okay, is a ripoff of Top Chef) a dish made with items from a mystery box (one ugly-ass rockfish, Dungeness crab, kabocha squash, anise hyssop, Meyer lemon, and matsutake mushrooms). The second course could be whatever. And the third course was dessert. But then, everyones moms showed up, just to reinforce the sibling rivalry thing, and also to show us where Kevin got his hair. It turns out Michael and Bryan get their intense laser-beam eyes from their mom, who really likes fixing shirtsleeves. Anyway, the first course now had to be a dish inspired by childhood, and dedicated to mom.

The final set of guests was, of course, the judges, who include some big heavies in the restaurant world specifically Drew Nieporent, Stephen Starr, Donatella Arpaia, and Sam Nazarian. First course, everyone thought Bryans lamb tuna casserole (a sardine over German-butterball potato with panko breadcrumbs toasted in duck fat) wasnt seasoned enough, though Toby (being a Brit) thought it was just fine. Michaels starter was inspired by the fact that as a kid, he hated everything (you dont say?) but most of all broccoli, which he fried so that it tasted like popcorn. His flashed spot prawn was overcooked and overpowered by the broccoli, but Arpaia liked it. Everyone liked Kevins first dish best fried chicken skin (his moms favorite) with flavorful tomatoes and liquid squash.

Next course, Nazarian stole a line from Toby and said Bryans rockfish brined in Meyer lemon and cooked sous-vide in olive oil was like a blind date you dont want to go on. Though the fish was nicely cooked, the judges agreed it was a bland, safe, one-note dish. Michael poached his rockfish in butter and glazed it with dashi, and poached his crab in tomato-kombu sauce in an attempt to make the judges go (you guessed it) wow, and indeed they thought the crab salad was a nice balance of sweet and sour. Toby said the pickled tomato was like a flavor bomb that detonated in your mouth. Kevin cooked his rockfish in duck fat his roasted-crab broth was nice and rich, but his roasted matsutake mushroom was too tough.

Third course, Bryan showed the judges he was capable of seasoning with a perfectly cooked venison saddle served over pure of sunchoke. Everyone thought it was pungent and flavorful, but Toby didnt think it was as memorable as Michaels fennel-scented squab breast with pistachio cassoulet. Other judges liked the various textures in Michaels dish, but Arpaia thought it was a gimmick. Gail didnt like the texture of the cassoulet, and didnt taste enough of the mushrooms (prepared three ways). Finally, Kevin got everyones hopes up when he said pork is my thing, thats my jam, but his slow-roasted pork belly basted with apple vinegar and honey didnt impress Toby, who really, er, hammed it up when talking about the undercooked meat at the Judges Table: Youre a self-professed pork lover, you have a pig tattooed on your body. I thought this was going to be an absolute knockout. And it wasnt. Oink.

Bryan took the dessert round by busting out the liquid nitrogen for a sheeps-milk-and-white-chocolate dulce de leche cheesecake with a heavenly fig sorbet. Kevin was failed by another go-to ingredient (Im gonna get a *$*%ing award from the bacon council, he told Ash) when his chocolate-bacon mousse and peanut-bacon brittle failed to impress. Stephen Starr was all I dont want pork in my dessert, and then actually rolled his eyes when Gail defended the dish. The real botch job seemed to be Michaels chocolate coolant with caramel center (Eli filled the molds too high, and Michael overcooked the cake so that it was dry), but the judges loved the fact that he paired it with textures of pumpkin (butternut-squash brle, butternut ice cream, and candied pumpkin seeds).

After some spiel about why they should be Top Chef that was meant to prime the tear ducts (that is, until Michael cracked another joke about not wanting his brother to win), Kevin was sent home, and the winner was Michael! The evil one! Okay, fine, so they kind of softened him up in this last episode (Theres the emotion youre waiting for, he said to Padma), and we suppose we can live with this, but still, you cant exactly be stoked that the cocky brother gets $125,000, and all Ginger Santa gets is an award from the bacon council, and possibly licensing rights to the inevitable Pork is My Jam T-shirt. Oh well, so it goes. See ya next season!

Related: Was Last Night's Top Chef Loser Hampered by the Breakup Blues?