For the first time ever, the finale of “Top Chef” will take place in front of a live audience. Suddenly, “Top Chef” looks a lot like “Iron Chef.” Not that that’s a bad thing. I’m just happy that we have two women in the finals, which is so encouraging, and yes, well-deserved. I’m both Team Kristen and Team Brooke, though. I wish they could both win.
For the finale they have three hours and a team of sous chefs. The must prepare five dishes, and the first chef to serve up three winning dishes will take the title of Top Chef. I’m not sure I needed this ticking clock.
Brooke has Los Angeles chefs for her team, which is made up of C.J., Stefan and Kuniko. Kristen has Lizzie, Sheldon and Josh. Both of these teams are pretty solid, if you ask me. I’m a little surprised Brooke picked Stefan, as he had such a connection to Kristen, but given that she beat him on “Last Chance Kitchen,” maybe he’s not so connected anymore.
Hey, do you crave Green Mountain coffee? Gee, I wouldn’t know where you’d get that idea!
The audience is made up of 300 people, including Hugh Acheson, Emeril Lagasse, Gail Simmons, Tom Colicchio — and all nine previous “Top Chef” winners. Okay, that’s kind of cool.
As Gail Simmons tells previous winner (and, before tonight, the ONLY female to ever win this show) Stephanie Izard, either way one more girl will be taking the crown. She asks if Izard is ready to share her tiara, and Stephanie smiles. “It’s about time,” she says, and she is so, so right. Yes, it is time for another woman to win this. It’s been time for a long time. And I really want to know if the male domination of the crown has been about a lack of female talent (hard to know unless you’re tasting the food) or a subconscious desire for the predominantly male judges to maintain the status quo.
The first dish is almost up. Even Tom notices C.J. is burning the pig ears. Um, Brooke?
Okay, sidebar: How much would it suck to be in this audience and not get to eat ANYTHING? Actually, it would be kind of like watching from home, just more frustrating because you could smell stuff.
Kristen – Chicken liver mousse with frisee, mustard, prune, hazelnuts & pumpernickel
Emeril loves the mousse and thinks it’s simple and classic. Tom thinks the mousse was well-seasoned and the dish is balanced. Gail thinks it was absolutely perfect, except it was hard to find it under the salad.
Brooke – Crispy pig ear & chicory salad, six-minute egg, apricot jam & candied kumquats
Tom liked the egg and the puree together. Emeril felt the crackling was overcooked. Padma thinks her pig ear was delicious and crunchy and not overcooked. Hugh loved her salad dressing.
The winner of round one is… Hugh picks Kristen. Gail picks Kristen. Emeril picks Kristen. The winner is Kristen.
We take a look at Brooke through the season. I keep forgetting she’s such a scaredy cat, because she is tough as nails in the kitchen — at least, until the food is dished up.
Brooke’s mom and dad talk about how Brooke watched “The Galloping Gourmet” as a kid instead of cartoons.
Oh, Brooke. She’s never actually done the dish she’s making for the second dish before, but hey, it’s what she has to do. According to her. Sigh. Kristen wants to keep things simple and clean.
Brooke – Seared scallop with salt cod puree, speck, black currant & mustard seed vinaigrette
Tom really enjoyed the combination and thinks the scallop is perfectly cooked. Hugh things the flavors are great. Emeril loves salt cod, so this works for him.
Kristen – Citrus & lavender cured scallop with bitter orange, meyer lemon & apple
Tom thinks it’s really flavorful and delicious. Padma thinks she did the scallops proud. Emeril loves that she didn’t overcomplicate it.
The winner of round two is… Gail gives it to Brooke. Emeril names Brooke. One more vote and she wins. Tom gives it to… Kristen! Padma also gives it to Kristen. Hugh is the tie-breaker. Hugh votes for Brooke. She wins the second round.
It’s tied! Eeeek! This is going to be close!
Brooke wants to redeem herself with chicken wings in the third course. Man, Brooke is KILLING me. “I want to redeem myself” is almost a guarantee of screwing things up, or at least it has been for other chefs. I do hope she bucks that trend. I want each chef to leave knowing they did their best — and I don’t think either Kristen or Brooke would want to win any round because the other one screwed up.
Now, we are reminded of Kristen’s journey to the finale. Remember when she came in with her best friend and felt the need to address the lesbian rumor? I’d forgotten about that, really. What I did not forget is how Josie threw her under the bus and how Kristen fell on her sword. If she wins, I hope Bravo follows her on her trip to Korea, too.
Kristen’s family talks about how amazing she is. Her best friend Stephanie looks insanely jealous, which is understandable, really. Maybe next year, Stephanie.
Oh, look. There’s Josie in the audience, being obnoxious.
Brooke – Vadouvan fried chicken with sumac yogurt-tahini & pickled kohlrabi fattoush
Hugh was not expecting chicken wings. Emeril thinks it’s delicious. Tom is not sure about the salad at all. Dammit, Brooke! Never redeem! Never! And if you’ve forgotten, vadouvan is an Indian/French spice mix.
Kristen – Celery root puree with bone marrow, mushrooms, bitter greens & radishes
Emeril loves all the earthy tones of the dish. Tom can’t understand why she stewed the mushrooms. Padma is disappointed that it wasn’t hot. Gail thought it was great.
Who wins round three? Emeril votes for Kristen. Tom gives it to Kristen. Padma votes for Kristen. Kristen wins.
If Brooke doesn’t nail the fourth dish, it’s over. C.J. assures Brooke they’re going to kill this course, but I’m not sure I trust the guy who burned stuff.
Before we get to the fourth dish, we look at the winners. In short, lots of winers have been in magazines. The nine winners have opened 17 new restaurants. Padma thinks they’re great, except the guy who won the first season, at whom she laughs. Not meanly, but kind of.
Brooke – Braised pork cheek & red snapper with collard green slaw & sorrel puree
Hugh thinks the fish is perfectly cooked. Tom thinks it’s well put together. Emeril loves the sorrel and Gail likes the pomegranate.
Kristen – Red snapper with leeks, little gem lettuce, tarragon, uni and shellfish nage
Tom thinks it has great depth of flavor. Gail thought the uni was beautiful, but she thought the leeks were difficult to cut. Hugh thought it was balanced and didn’t mind the leek. Tom asks Kristen how she feels knowing she’s just one vote away from the win. Oh, and he asks Brooke how she feels about having won more challenges than anyone this season. He does not ask her if she wants to win “Top Chef,” which I think is not going to happen.
This is supposed to be very tense, but given that there’s less than ten minutes left in the show, it’s pretty obvious Kristen wins.
Still, there’s big, loud music and Padma tries to build the tension, probably just for the people in the audience.
Gail gives her vote to Kristen. Emeril names Kristen. If Tom votes for Kristen, she’s named Top Chef. And Tom says… Kristen. There is hugging and there is crying and everyone is happy.
As Kristen tells us, being the second female Top Chef is great, but she just wanted to win, regardless. Brooke is heartbroken, but she’s proud of herself. She should be. The final chefs this season were pretty damn phenomenal. Really, everyone after Josie.
What did you think of the finale? Did you like the live format? And did this renew your faith in “Last Chance Kitchen”?