Top Chef – Recap & Review – Finale Part II

photo: bravo

photo: bravo

Top Chef
Finale Part II

Original Air Date: Feb 27, 2013

Ryan O – Staff Writer

This is it! Brooke vs. Kristen! In front of a live audience!

It’s the finale that everyone hoped for and wanted. Who will come through the pressure cooker of the finale?

Finale Challenge

Brooke vs. Kristen. They have three hours for five courses. They each have three sous chefs. Brooke has CJ, Kumiko, and Stefan. Kristen has Sheldon, Josh, and Lizzie. Wow, did Kristen get to pick her three chefs and then Brooke got to pick because, seriously, there’s a huge difference there.

Whichever chef gets three winning dishes first, wins.

All in front of a live studio audience. (So, as Kristen said later, it’s a lot like Iron Chef.)

They have to use scallops in their second course and red snapper for the fourth.

Judges are Gail, Emeril, Hugh, Padma, and Tom. The nine past winners are in attendance, too.

CJ is burning Brooke’s pig’s ears.

Here’s what they made.

Kristen: Chicken liver mousse with frisee, mustard, prune, hazelnuts, and pumpernickel

Emeril loves how she treated the chicken liver. It’s simple and classic. Gail calls is absolutely perfectly with a velvety texture. Tom calls it well-seasoned and balanced.

Brooke: Crispy pig ear and chicory salad, six-minute egg, apricot jam, and candied kumquats

Tom liked the egg with the puree and thought the dish worked nicely. Emeril loved the dish except that his pig ear was overcooked. Padma’s ear was crunchy and delicious and not burned.

Judges votes:

Hugh: Kristen, a beautiful and clean plate
Gail: Kristen, loved the velvety mousse and crunchy hazelnuts together
Emeril: Kristen

Kristen wins round 1.

Round 2: Scallops

Brooke: Seared scallop with salt cod puree, speck, black currant and mustard seed vinaigrette

(After Brooke introduces her dish, she and Kristen look over at the table of previous winners. The two of them comment how they’re picking apart the pair’s dishes. Kristen rolls her eyes. I enjoy both of them so much. They take cooking seriously but understand the situation is a bit weird and contrived.)

Tom enjoyed the combination and the scallop was perfectly cooked. Hugh thought the flavors were great and well-balanced. Emeril loves the salt cod-scallop combination.

Kristen: Citrus and lavender cured scallop with bitter orange, Meyer lemon, and apple

Tom says it’s flavorful and delicious. Padma says there’s nowhere to hide with this dish and she did the scallops proud. Emeril loved the simplicity.

Judges votes:

Gail: Brooke, the combination of flavors was perfect.
Emeril: Brooke
Tom: Kristen
Padma: Kristen
Hugh: Brooke

It’s tied up, one dish a piece.

Third dish

Brooke: Vadouvan (an Indian blend of spices) fried chicken with sumac yogurt-tahini and pckled kohlrabi fattoush (a toasted bread salad made from pieces of pita)

Hugh says he was not expecting chicken wings. Brooke explains she felt like she had to redeem herself after her showing at the fried chicken challenge. Emeril says it’s delicious. Tom gets why she’s doing it even if he isn’t sure why she’s doing it but the vadouvan is really nice with the chicken wing but he isn’t sure how the chicken wing works with the salad.

Kristen: Celery root puree with bone marrow, mushrooms, bitter greens, and radishes

Emeril loves the earthy tones and says it’s delicious. Tom wonders why she stewed the mushrooms instead of roasting them. Kristen says she wanted the bone marrow to star and while the mushrooms played a supporting role. Padma just wished the dish was hot. Gail thought the bone marrow cut through the velvetiness of the rest of the dish.

Judges votes:

Emeril: Kristen
Tom: Kristen, more developed flavor and a more interesting dish
Padma: Kristen

Kristen wins the round. She’s up 2 to 1.

Brooke tells us that the fried chicken was a crucial mistake.

Fourth dish: Red Snapper

Brooke; Braised pork cheek and red snapper with collard green slaw and sorrel puree

Hugh says the snapper is perfectly cooked and loved the collards. Tom liked the combination of pork cheek and snapper and the sorrel brought a nice brightness. Emeril loved the addition of the sorrel and how that perked up the whole dish. Gail loves the play between the pork cheek and snapper.

Kristen: Red snapper with leeks, little gem lettuce, tarragon, uni (Japanese sea urchin), and shellfish nage (a flavored liquid used for poaching)

Tom says the snapped is beautifully cooked and there’s a great depth of flavor. Gail says the texture was spot-on and the uni was beautiful. Gail adds that because Kristen left the leeks long and stringy, it made it difficult to cut. Hugh thought the uni pairing was nice and loved the braised leek.

Judges vote:

Gail: Kristen, flavors were certainly more harmonious
Emeril: Kristen, loved the combination and the fish was cooked perfectly
Tom: Kristen

Kristen wins!

It’s a shame Kristen and Brooke were in the same season. Brooke seems like she could’ve easily beat Hosea or Kevin, for example.

I need to add that while I enjoyed the Iron Chef-style kitchen set-up, I didn’t think the manner of judging felt right. It was too binary. Judging based on who won what dish doesn’t allow for someone to make up a small deficit with one tremendous dish. For example, if Chef A eeked out victories by three votes to two margins in three dishes but two Chef B created spectacular dishes where Chef A was thoroughly trounced, Chef A would still have won, even if Chef B had given diners the superior meal.

I’m not saying that’s what happened here. Although, what did happen is that structure robbed us of suspense because the fourth dish was tasted with just a few minutes left in the hour. They didn’t have time to show dessert. I’d be surprised if the show used this judging structure again.

What did you find to be tasty in this episode? Did you think anything was overdone? Give us your Two Cents below!

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6 Responses to Top Chef – Recap & Review – Finale Part II

  1. I did not care for the format of the finale. I felt like I was watching an off-brand version of Iron Chef. That said, Kristen and Brooke both performed well. They were well-matched; at first I had thought that Kristen was going to monkey-stomp Brooke, but was pleased to see that it was a more even match than I expected.

    I think it was a glaring omission to leave out how the competitors picked their assistants. Kristen got all the people that were in the competition up until the end while Brooke had two of the better performers from Last Chance Kitchen and Stephan. At least she didn’t have Josie…


  2. ilovefootball2525 says:

    I HATED the final challenge format. It felt too staged. Very happy though that Kristen won. She shouldn’t have been eliminated in the first place….I could tell that Padma really, really didn’t like her.

  3. Anu says:

    I liked the format of the finale, with the exception of the immediate judging, I agree with you there. If they were going for a IronChef feel then the judging should be Iron Chef style based on the whole meal. I loved both of the final two contestants. They both seemed to be great chefs but also came across as lovely people who carried themselves so well though it all, that you were rooting for both of them. Haven’t felt as invested in the final two since the Voltagio brothers were on. I am happy Kristen won, but also sad for Brooke. You are right she’s have kicked Josea’s ass (that was a surprise to me anyway). Can’t for the life of me remember who Kevin is.

    And thanks for writing these Ryan, love coming here to read the recap and bitch and complain about the episode. :p

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