We’re down to the final two — Paul and Sarah. I’m sure they’re both obscenely talented, but I’m rooting for Paul, simply because he isn’t a bitchy mean girl. Not the best formula, but hey, until they create taste-o-vision, it’s not like you have a lot to go on with “Top Chef.”
Even though we only have two chefs left, we jump right to the challenge, which makes me think there are twists ahead. Padma announces that Paul and Sarah will both need to make a four course tasting menu in the restaurant of their dreams (either Black + Blue or Coast in Vancouver).
But wait! There’s actually going to be a Quickfire Challenge! A group of chefs — not all of them recently eliminated — will be competing to be one of the sous chefs in the final challenge. Three of them are bozos who got kicked to the curb before the first challenge. Tyler Stone! Aaack, he’s back? If you’ve already forgotten him he’s the egomaniacal jerk who thought he was a master butcher and was kicked out by Tom. Anyway, Tyler, Ashley and Colin are from the Alamo elimination. But the other twist? Really great pros — Barbara Lynch of No. 9 Park in Boston and Marco Canora of Hearth Restaurant in Manhattan — are also in the running. Although honestly, getting a master in your corner can be either good or bad. Yes, they’ll have great ideas, but it may be hard to stick to your own ideas if you’re not feeling supremely confident.
Anyway, Paul and Sarah will be taste testing each dish — then blindly picking their team members on what they liked best. Bet neither of them expected this twist, which is great.
Paul picks first. He likes the butter soup — and gets Barbara Lynch. Score, maybe? Sarah goes for halibut and green mussels and lands Nyesha. Another good catch. Paul’s second choice is the buckwheat noodles, which were made by Ty-lor. Sarah’s next choice are sea scallops. And who made them? TYLER. I actually feel sorry for Sarah right now. Paul’s next choice is lamb with blueberry mustard, which belongs to Chris C. Sarah is itching to get her pal Heather on her team, and manages to do it by choosing the chicken with black pepper. Yay, the two meanest of the mean girls are reunited. Finally, Paul chooses Dungeness crab and gets Keith! So good to see him back! Last but not least, Sarah nabs pasta Carbonara, which belongs to Grayson.Good to see her back, too.
Weirdly, neither Paul nor Sarah picked Marco’s salmon. Ouch. But he will be back to judge, so that won’t be awkward at all.
As soon as the final chefs start talking to their teams, two potential problems emerged. Barbara has suggestions for Paul, which may be fine, but it could be the first hint of bossiness. On Sarah’s team, there’s no doubt — Tyler is bossy. Worse, he’s clueless AND bossy. Great. Sarah’s method of dealing with this little twerp Tyler is to give him easy, precise things to do. You know, stuff he can’t screw up. Hopefully.
Paul reveals that he flunked out of college, so it would mean a lot to his family if he won “Top Chef,” just to reassure them that he’s doing what he’s meant to do. Again, no taste-o-vision, but if you listen to the judges, it’s pretty clear Paul is doing what he’s meant to do, no problem.
After both teams pick up all their ingredients, it’s time to prep. Sarah is at Black + Blue, while Paul is at Coast. While everything mostly appears to be going smoothly, Tyler continues to be a pain in Sarah’s ass. He wants to sous vide something, and when Sarah refuses, he refuses to shut up about it. Yup, Tyler’s ego? Still intact.
Once the food is prepped, it’s time for Paul and Sarah to meet with Emeril and Tom to pick some Terlato wines. Plug, plug! Paul goes with a chardonnay befitting his mostly fish-based menu, while Sarah goes for a cabernet sauvignon befitting a heavier menu.
After that’s over with, Sarah calls Jamie, her fiance. He’s so helpful and nice and encouraging. Well, someone in that relationship has to be, I suppose.
The next day, our teams have three hours to cook for 100 people. Sarah notices that Tyler is in dress pants and dress shoes and wonders if he realizes he’s going to be cooking. I wonder if Tyler is actually a good addition to her team, as Sarah seems to relish any opportunity to have someone to pick on, and in this case she’s TOTALLY justified. Really, this is doing wonders for her likability quotient, though I will say she’s a lot nicer to this noodlehead than she was to Bev.
Barbara thinks Paul has passion, drive and wisdom, and she’s very honored to be working with him, so having that master chef is a huge plus for him instead of a problem.
That doesn’t mean Paul doesn’t have problems to face, though. The crab sat overnight and now smells funky. Oh, come ON! Who left it out? Anyway, Paul just by chance happened to buy shrimp as a back-up, should something go wrong. Kudos to Paul for thinking ahead.
Finally, it’s time for judging and eating! Gail Simmons, Mark McEwen of “Top Chef Canada,” Cat Cora and Tom Colicchio will be eating at Paul’s restaurant first. Gail notices that Paul’s menu has no meat — just two egg dishes and two fish dishes.
Paul: first course: Chawnmushi, spot prawns and edemame
Gail loves the delicious saltiness. Everyone seems to be pleased with the consistency of the dish and the use of the spot prawns. Good save, Paul!
Our second team of judges will include Emeril Lagasse, Hugh Acheson, Bill Terlato of Terlato Wines, and David Meyers of Comme Ca. They will be eating Sarah’s food first.
Sarah: first course: Tagliatelli negri, spot prawns and coconut
Emeril thinks it’s delicioous. Bill thinks it’s perfectly pulled together. It does look pretty fabulous, and it’s noticed that she’s working with coconut, which seems odd but apparently works fabulously.
Sarah: second course: rye crusted steelhead trout with fennel sauce and beets
Emeril loves it, but Bill thinks the beets are too raw. Emeril does admit they could have been pickled, but it seems the fish is perfectly cooked.
Back at Paul’s restaurant, he’s called urgently to table 30. It seems like an “oh crap” moment, but really, it’s just his family wanting to congratulate him. He hugs his girlfriend Deena and his mom and dad. Paul cries. Dad cries. It’s all very emotional, and Paul needs to get back to work, people.
Paul: second course: grilled sea bass with clam dashi
Marco thinks it’s beautiful. Tom says it’s hard to fault it. Again, perfectly cooked fish and the dashi is a big hit with our judges.
Paul: third course: congee with scrambled eggs, uni, kale and smoked albacore
Hmm, this isn’t a home run, it seems. Tom thought it wasn’t as peppy as some of the other dishes. Cat didn’t see where it fit in the menu.
Sarah: third course: braised veal cheeks and crispy veal sweetbreads
Hugh thought the polenta was like breakfast food, and he wanted to add some cranberries and eat it that way. Ew, that is not a win. Still, Padma thought the veal cheeks were luscious. Seems like Sarah should have just served the meat without the gloop underneath it.
Sarah: fourth course: hazelnut cake with peppermint ice cream and white chocolate ganache.
Hugh thinks it’s brilliant. All of the judges seem over the moon about Sarah’s dessert, and Hugh intends to rip it off. That’s what I’d call finishing strong. Emeril thinks Sarah’s meal was spot on, and Bill thought there were strokes of genius.
Sarah and Paul tweak their dishes. Sarah puts her polenta stuff in the blender to smooth it out, while Paul hits the liquid nitrogen to make his ice cream work.
Paul: fourth course: coconut ice cream, kumquats and puffed rice
Cat Cora says it’s no joke. Mark thinks it’s beautiful. Tom thinks Paul knocked it out of the park. Gail thinks it’s spicy and juicy and a lot of other mildly sexual things.
The whole “this table needs to see you now” scenario plays out for Sarah. She’s so happy to see her mom, Jamie, Jamie’s mom and her best friend Rob. Oddly enough, she’s not that happy. I mean, she practically peed herself when she saw Takashi Yagahashi.
The judges switch restaurants and we get a very harried montage of what they think of their next meal. Marco thinks the coconut in Sarah’s first course is great. Tom thinks it’s a very successful dish.
But in the restaurant, a problem comes to light. Jamie tells Sarah her fish had bones in it. She hustles back to the kitchen to make sure the judges’ fish is thoroughly deboned. At Paul’s restaurant, he doesn’t get off so easily. Keith screwed up his first course and overcooked it. But Paul doesn’t have any more eggs. He managed to buy back-up shrimp but not back-up eggs? Aack! Bill thought it wasn’t great. Emeril thinks the bun is overcooked. Oh, no. After the first judges loved this dish, it’s a complete bomb with the second judges.
What follows was pretty hard to follow, but Tom pans one of Sarah’s dishes for being underseasoned. Marco thought Sarah’s veal was great. Cat would pay for it in a restaurant. Cat loves Sarah’s dessert. Gail likes the bitterness.
Finally, it’s time for Paul and Sarah to stand before the judges and sweat. Tom thinks it’s the best finale food in nine seasons. Sarah is so proud to have had a single mother and that’s why she should win. Um, okay. So, let’s review Sarah first. Gail thinks Sarah’s first dish was brilliant and out of the blue in a good way, but Emeril thought the beet was too raw. Hugh also thought it was meh. Tom thought her sweetbreads were dry. Emeril says the polenta didn’t work. Padma hates white chocolate but still thought it was the best dessert she’d ever had on “Top Chef.”
Moving on to Paul. Gail loved Paul’s first dish. Hugh said, of course, that his was overcooked, because it was. Still, Hugh loved the fish and thought he nailed it. Emeril thought the broth was brilliant. Padma thought his congee showed great confidence. Gail didn’t understand its significance in the menu, but Hugh got it. Hugh thought the puffed rice was crunchier than he probably wanted.
The chefs are told to get the hell out for a moment so they judges can do what they do. It seems the first course goes to Sarah, the second to Paul, the third to Paul, and the fourth to Sarah. So, a tie. Gail thinks Sarah took more risks, which is a shock given that Gail hasn’t exactly loved anything Sarah has done until this meal. Tom thinks Paul sweated the details better, which is also a surprise, as he’s been such an ardent defender of Sarah that I started thinking she had naked pictures of him hidden away somewhere.
Sarah is grinning like a damn idiot in the promo for “Watch What Happens Live.” Great.
As they wait, Sarah and Paul toast one another with rum in red cups like college kids. Still, it’s nice to see them getting along so well. If Bev had made it to the finals with Sarah, I doubt Sarah would have been suggesting a friendly toast, honestly.
After about a MILLION commercials, it’s time for the moment of truth. Tom tells Sarah and Paul they should be proud. Paul… is Top Chef! What? Really? Yes! I’m surprised, really, as it seemed to be going toward Sarah. But that was probably just a plot by the producers to make us sweat. Paul hugs everyone, including Sarah, though she cries. She thinks she deserved to be Top Chef! Of course she did. I hope Paul goes out and buys himself something nice. Maybe he’ll splurge on some new “good luck” socks, as clearly, they seem to work.
What did you think of the finale? Were you surprised Tyler got picked to be a sous-chef? What did you think of the menus?