The third season of this questionable television experiment reached its thrilling conclusion fizzled to an end last night, with little of the excitement found in, say, a normal Top Chef finale, but that was to be expected. To the show’s credit, the winning chef was something of a surprise, but nothing controversial happened, nothing that will be discussed at the water cooler today. Will this show survive to see a fourth season? We’ll be mulling over that thought for the rest of summer, but as long as Lexus is handing out money, it probably will. For now, on to the recap!
Three chefs left: Floyd, Traci, and Mary Sue. Traci’s the most technically accomplished and probably should win, Mary Sue is the warm and fuzzy crowd favorite who’s won a surprising number of challenges, and Floyd is the underdog because he hasn’t won anything. The three of them walk into the kitchen to find Curtis, Ruth, James, and Gael; Mary Sue is “perplexed” by this. There’s no Quickfire, so they learn about their final challenge, which is almost exactly the same as last season’s finale: cook three dishes that capture their first food memory, why they became chefs, and one of the critics’ favorite food memories, respectively.
Totally by chance, the chefs randomly draw the names of the critic whose skills they are best suited for! Floyd will make beef rendang for James, Mary Sue will make lemon soufflé for Ruth, and Traci will make a French duck dish for Gael. The critics reminisce about their food memories, and we’re treated to a picture of 19-year-old James with a full head of hair looking cuter than he does now, which makes it sadder that he turned into an older version of that guy from Revenge of the Nerds.
For the final challenge, the chefs can go to Whole Foods and any other specialty stores they’d like. They also get an assistant from their restaurants. What, are they trying to make this easy for them? Because they’re in L.A., the drama revolves around traffic and GPS devices as the chefs zoom around town. The women make it back to the kitchen in a reasonable amount of time and start prepping, but Floyd is in the car for hours and doesn’t have enough time to braise his meat. On top of that, some slacker at Whole Foods ruined his fish fillets, which maybe makes this the first time they’ve shown their supermarket sponsor in a negative light. Awkward businessy phone calls today?
The next morning, the chefs are in a car being driven to a mysterious location against their will. They arrive at a house to learn that, instead of having time to work on a really important meal that will result in a good chunk of money going to a charity they care about, they’re going to have some hang time with Curtis. On top of that, he’s put on an apron to serve up a hamachi appetizer, artichoke soup, and mimosas. Is this his house? Probably not.
Back in the kitchen, everything goes really, really smoothly. Mary Sue accidentally overbeats some egg whites, but she deals with it just fine. Meanwhile, Tom Colicchio and season two vets like Jonathan Waxman, Susan Feniger, and Susur Lee (miss you!) gather in the dining room. Also, that guy from Grub Street shows up, but he’ll be shown either eating or nodding for the rest of the episode, so we don’t have to awkwardly quote him on anything.
First course: Mary Sue’s Asian steak tartare, Traci’s deconstructed shrimp creole, and Floyd’s upma polenta. The tartare is okay, the creole lacks heat, and the upma is simple but stunning. Advantage Floyd!
Second course: Mary Sue’s duo of shrimp, Traci’s quail salad with sweetbreads, and Floyd’s rice-flaked snapper in fennel-tomato broth. The shrimp is heavy and too sixties, the quail salad is exquisite, and the rice crust on the fish is too hard. (Gael complains about the fish being overcooked and Waxman says, “That’s you, Gael, you like it raw.” Ew, have they rolled in the hay a few times?) Advantage Traci!
Third course: Mary Sue’s lemon soufflé with rhubarb compote and lemon ice cream, Traci’s duo of duck, and Floyd’s rendang with oxtail and short rib. Everyone loves the soufflé, the duck does not inspire Gael, and the rendang is good enough to make James “feel the love in this dish.” Close call, but advantage Mary Sue!
Everyone who isn’t a critic leaves, which makes it seem silly that they brought them all in just to eat. It’s time for the final critiques. Traci’s creole lacked heat and authenticity and her duck was not perfectly cooked, but her quail salad was good enough. It sounds like she’s out of the running for the title of Top Chef Master. Mary Sue’s shrimp duo of seafood salpicon and stuffed rigatoni was awkward, but she made a “dream of a tartare” according to Ruth, and everyone raved about her soufflé. Floyd is praised for his upma, the broth in his fish course, and his rendang.
In final deliberations, the critics are weighing the merits of Mary Sue and Floyd. Mary Sue “pushed the envelope and gave us food that was exciting and completely delicious,” which sounds like the assessment of a winner. Floyd, on the other hand, “made very, very memorable food,” which sounds like something you say to a runner-up. We think it should be Floyd, but they’ll likely give it to Mary Sue to annoy us.
And yet! Floyd wins! “I’m shocked,” he remarks. We are, too. He basically won nothing this season. They pop open some bubbly and everyone hugs. They give Floyd a navy chef’s jacket bearing the show’s logo, probably so he can stop wearing his jacket from now-shuttered Tabla. We’re puzzled how Traci dropped the ball tonight, but who cares? Rocco’s Dinner Party is starting and Kelly Choi is on! Just kidding, you couldn’t pay us to watch that.