Top Chef

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 wasn’t 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 finalist’s engines. Kevin got stuck with Preeti and got all mad when she couldn’t even chop vegetables. Wait a minute — Michael and Bryan are all smiles, and Kevin is pissed off? Something’s 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, everyone’s 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 Bryan’s lamb tuna casserole (a sardine over German-butterball potato with panko breadcrumbs toasted in duck fat) wasn’t seasoned enough, though Toby (being a Brit) thought it was just fine. Michael’s starter was inspired by the fact that as a kid, he “hated everything” (you don’t 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 Kevin’s first dish best — fried chicken skin (his mom’s favorite) with flavorful tomatoes and liquid squash.

Next course, Nazarian stole a line from Toby and said Bryan’s rockfish brined in Meyer lemon and cooked sous-vide in olive oil was “like a blind date you don’t 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 purée of sunchoke. Everyone thought it was pungent and flavorful, but Toby didn’t think it was as memorable as Michael’s fennel-scented squab breast with pistachio cassoulet. Other judges liked the various textures in Michael’s dish, but Arpaia thought it was a gimmick. Gail didn’t like the texture of the cassoulet, and didn’t taste enough of the mushrooms (prepared three ways). Finally, Kevin got everyone’s hopes up when he said “pork is my thing, that’s my jam,” but his slow-roasted pork belly basted with apple vinegar and honey didn’t impress Toby, who really, er, hammed it up when talking about the undercooked meat at the Judge’s Table: “You’re 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 wasn’t.” Oink.

Bryan took the dessert round by busting out the liquid nitrogen for a sheep’s-milk-and-white-chocolate “dulce de leche” cheesecake with a “heavenly” fig sorbet. Kevin was failed by another go-to ingredient (“I’m 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 don’t want pork in my dessert,” and then actually rolled his eyes when Gail defended the dish. The real botch job seemed to be Michael’s 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 brûlée, 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 (“There’s the emotion you’re waiting for,” he said to Padma), and we suppose we can live with this, but still, you can’t 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?

Finale - Pt. 2