Top Chef Week 14: The End!June 12, 2008
And it’s over. There were tears of joy, tears of sorrow, tears of bitterness. And finally, a winner.
But first, the cooking and the parade of celebrity chefs come to get their grub on. Perhaps unfairly, three of them actually had to work for their suppers. Yes, as our finalists stood before the requisite folding tables heaped with food, they were confronted with three big name chefs who would become their sous: Le Bernadin’s (dreamy) Eric Ripert, Blue Hill’s Dan Barber and the Spotted Pig’s April Bloomfield.
The final three could choose their sous chefs and the corresponding ingredients that came with them — but it seemed a little more like a popularity contest: the arguably biggest name chef (Ripert) went first to Stephanie, followed by Dan Barber to Richard and April Bloomfield to Lisa. Now, armed with ingredients and high-wattage talent, the three finalists had to craft a four-course “meal of a lifetime” to see who would be the next Top Chef.
Perhaps most surprising? Lisa and April actually hit it off. Indeed, working harmoniously (for once), Lisa crafted a menu that drew on her Asian training. The first course (from what we remember) was spicy shrimp, the second was a coconut soup and dumpling, the third course was beef wagyu and her requisite dessert was some sort of black rice concoction that intrigued the judges.
Stephanie (awesomely) took Eric Ripert to task on his fish filleting skills, while also coming up with a menu that featured her interest in simple, but varied, flavors. Her first course was a soup with a “perfectly cooked” snapper, her second course was a quail breast over lobster ravioli and her third course was an unorthodox combination of lamb with mushrooms, blackberries, tampanade and braised pistachios. Her final course was a ho-hum ricotta pound cake with bananas.
Richard, looking pretty panicked the whole time, didn’t get much screen time with his sous chef and seemed to keep his menu in flux until late in the game. In the end, he produced a menu that was, apparently, “overthought” and under-executed. (But he did wow Ripert with his liquid nitrogen antics.) His first course was a simple scallop with fruit, his second course was a play on “which came first” featuring a chicken egg, fois gras and guinea hen, his third course was a not-too-crispy pork belly with pickled radishes and his dessert course was a cheeky bacon ice cream with banana scallop.
Cut to shots of food-world glitterati stuffing their faces.
(Aside to the reader: Are you finding this recap lacking snap? Us too. We’re struggling to find anything sort of funny about this episode. Couldn’t somebody have choked on a clam shell or something? We’re dying here.)
Perhaps the only drama of the night came when the judges continually praised Lisa’s meal. Shock. Horror. Could the much reviled Lisa actually win this thing? Indeed, throughout the judging, Stephanie and Richard looked like they might vomit from nerves… while Lisa, who usually looks like she wants to take an axe to the judges, actually looked kind of friendly. Then favorite Richard sputters out an “I choked” when asked how he thinks he did. What is happening, Top Chef?
At last, the judges relieved the tension wrought during the last ten minutes of the show… Yes, a woman is Top Chef — but it is not, in fact, Lisa. Stephanie, you go girl. The all new Top Chef, now featuring girl power. Congrats!
And now Q&A with Husband and Wife:
Q: What celebrity chef would you choose to be your sous-chef?
Husband: Gordon Ramsey might throw a knife at me. Thomas Keller would require me to sit in the corner and practice until I got it perfect. And Emeril Legasse most likely would douse everything I made in his essence or parsley. So, I want someone like Charlie Trotter. He’s frighteningly intense, and he used to be a former gymnast so he can work the tight corners in the kitchen. But he looks like a little guy, so I might be able to take him down when he wasn’t looking if he got too out of hand. Otherwise, I might need Eric Ripert or Daniel Boulud. At least, they look like they might have a good time working.
W: I suppose it would have to be Eric Ripert (only because my husband doesn’t yet qualify as a celebrity, of course). Not only is he, ahem, pretty good looking — which you should be if you possibly can — but he can cook. Which is important … since I pretty much can’t. Plus, he has “le sexy” French accent, which might take some of the sting out of it when he tells me “You le suck at le cooking.”
Q: Was requiring dessert fair?
H: No. I know they’ve done more to emphasize the dessert skills this season. But none of these folks are pastry people. The desserts they made were not impressive desserts. If you go to fine dining and see refined desserts, they are little pieces of edible art these days. All three of them made variations on warm, comforting dishes. While there might be some Top Chef types who could hold their own with dessert, it shouldn’t be a required skill. On its best days, it would be like lining up three sports cars next to a nice looking sedan.
W: Yes. If I were a judge, I’d want to eat dessert — and those contestants have to do what I say! Plus, if you’ve watched the show and have any sort of game plan, you’d know that making dessert is likely to be required. Hello? Practice, practice, practice. I’ll even eat your failures.
Q: The Zagat guide is known for its three criteria and 30-point scale. So in honor of Tim Zagat’s presence at the final dinner, what would you give this season of Top Chef?
H: 19 for story. There were times I was a bit bored this year. While I appreciate them appearing to be more serious about the food, it would have been nice to have at least one attempted assault with shaving sheers to make the blog entries funnier. 20 for contestant demeanor. We’ve come to accept that odd people want to work in kitchens and odder people want to be on Top Chef. Unfortunately, Lisa of the bad attitude was the worst we got. And compared to Flavor of Love, these people seem almost normal. Finally, 29 for product placement. They were so close to a perfect score. If they had just mentioned Toyota one more time… perhaps one stuck in a Glad garbage bag stuck in the bottom of the harbor in San Juan.
W: What this show needs a Christian from Project Runway. That kid had talent and personality. Plus, he had hair that would shame these Top Chef contestants’ meek little faux hawks. So I have to give Top Chef a 15 for personality and hair. Pretty mediocre, Top Chef. If I was rating food — a la Zagat — I’d have to give Top Chef a 20: It all looks really yummy, but so far I have yet to taste anything but the glass on my TV set. And finally, I have to give Top Chef a 30 out of 30 for girl power. It’s about time a chick won. Go Stephanie!!
What is your score for this year’s Top Chef? And did you also think Stephanie might throw up during judges table?