This was it, people. Another season of Top Chef, come and gone. Not for nothing, but the two guys on top of my week one power rankings ended up in the finals. If that doesn’t make me the foremost Top Chef handicapper on the Internet, I don’t know what does.
This finale really came down to J-Rock’s mega chill mastery of technical innovation vs. Big Sleazy’s laid back Latin flair for lusciousness. Technique vs. flavor, as Padma said during final deliberations. Given the same ingredient, Jeremy would no doubt turn it into a crumble and serve it over a crudo, while Amar would fry it in duck fat, and drizzle with seven-hour bone marrow jus.
This year’s additional twist was that each chef had their mentor as a sous chef — Jeremy had Jean-Georges Vongerichten from Jean George, while Amar had Charlie Palmer, with whom he apparently had a falling out and hadn’t spoken to in two years. I wanted some more details on this fight, because it’s hard to imagine Big Daquiri ever raising his voice, unless it was to give a toast. Their backstory added a nice little tension, where you never knew if the beef had been squashed (FOOD METAPHOR) or if their subtle animosity would explode into full-blown sabotage. It also meant that the bringin’-back-the-eliminated-contestants subplot got short shrift. I have mixed feelings about that. On the one hand, that’s kind of stale, but on the other, it would’ve been fun to shout “SHUT THE F*CK UP, PHILLIP” at the TV just one more time.
Additionally, chefs I wouldn’t have minded getting to know more this season include: Wesley, aka Chef Tomsula, whose awesomely beaten-down slovenliness was only slightly less fun to write about than Cornbread and Peppah. “Chef Tomsula, did you leave your dip cup in the fondue?” Renee, whose peppy brand of self-aggrandizing pompousness might have made her a match for Phillip, had she stayed longer. And Frances, whose glib, broken English one-liners were as fun as Isaac’s, while she lasted. Cue the In Memoriam montage.
Anyway, no need for a power rankings this week, because there were only two people. The challenge was to make a four-course meal for a full dining room at Tom Colicchio’s restaurant, so let’s just take this dish by dish.
Foie Gras Two Ways with Chili, Passion Fruit, and Marshmallows.
Judges’ Reviews: “Fantastic.” “Passion fruit and foie gras is just a beautiful combination.”
Seared Tuna Tataki, Habanero Coconut Dressing, Compressed Pineapple and Toasted Peanuts.
Judges’ Reviews: “There’s a lot of brightness to this dish.” “It’s really spicy.”
Viewer verdict: The minute Jeremy started talking about wanting to “showcase a lot of techniques in every dish” I thought he had this lost. I didn’t get to taste it, but “foie gras with passion fruit and marshmallows” has to be one of the all-time disgusting-sounding flavor combinations on this show, like something a disgruntled General Mills employee would do to some Lucky Charms. Meanwhile, Amar did almost exactly what I suggested last week — shame Jeremy out of making a crudo by busting his balls for never cooking anything, only to make a crudo himself because the judges can’t resist them. Amar takes this round, in my mind.
Sea Urchin Risotto with Butter-Poached Lobster, Finger Limes, Jicama, and Shellfish Froth
Judges’ Reviews: “Wow, this is delicious.” “I think it’s just an amazing dish.” “Everything is perfect.” “I wanted more jicama.” “It was the best risotto on this show in many years.”
Slow-cooked Branzini, Herbal Lime Vinaigrette, Squash and Tomatoes
Judges Reviews’: “Jeremy is shining here.” “A lot of these little details, they’re all lost in there.”
Viewer verdict: Did anyone else scream “NOOO!” when Amar said he was making risotto?… Just me, then? And he topped it with “froth” (aka foam)? I thought he was done for until Jeremy tried to out “bad idea” him by taking the branzino skin, rolling it, freezing it, and crumbling it on top. MOLECULAR CRAP VS. RISOTTO, A BAD IDEA BATTLE FOR THE AGES. It was like all my what-not-to-do suggestions rolled into one challenge. Amazingly, they both pulled it off. The judges seemed to like the risotto better, but speaking only for myself, I’ve actually never had uni, and for as much as these chefs dork out on “rich seafood broth,” all I can think about when I hear that is the smell of a day-old fish market. Seafood isn’t necessarily something I want stewing in its own juices for hours. It sounds more like something I’m going to have to fight with a seagull over than something I want to eat. Call this one a draw.
Duck with Roasted Maitake Mushrooms, Smoked Chili, Buttermilk and Lemon.
Judges’ Reviews: “I loved how the smoked chili, but the duck, I wish it was cooked more.” “The fault is really the inconsistency.”
Harissa-Rubbed Rack of Lamb with Braised Lamb Pastilla, Date Ginger Purée and Yogurt Emulsion.
Judges’ Reviews: “I love how Amar has the two textures of lamb.” “I think the lamb is slightly under. But the lamb jus is delicious.”
Viewer Verdict: True story, I actually said “Mmm” out loud to my TV while I was watching this alone when I saw Amar’s pastilla, so that’s how my life’s going. If you’re combining meat and pastry dough, I’m in, every time. Especially if it’s lamb. Jeremy’s duck, meanwhile, seemed to have too many little dots of sh*t. Does anyone really enjoy eating their sauce in dot form? Keep your dots, pal, unless they’re Dippin’ Dots, in which case pass me a tiny spoon. Both chefs got dinged for undercooked meat in this, but what would you rather have, too rare meat or too rare poultry? Amar takes this one in a walk, in my mind.
By the way, this is what a super positive chill-bro looks like when he’s under stress:
I would watch a show that was all chill-bros in crisis.
Coconut Financier, Mango Sorbet, Passion Fruit Curd, Tropical Fruit Salad, and Brulée Meringue
Judges’ Reviews: “I’m a fan of all the tropical fruit elements.” “Financier is a little tough.” “He started in his roots and he went back to them, which is very powerful.” (That last quote was Gail Simmons, who is easily the best judge.)
Ricotta and Mozzarella Cheese Cylinder with Spiced Fig Jam, Pumpernickel Toast, and Honey Sphere.
Judges’ Reviews: “I feel like Jeremy’s technique led this dish and not the flavors.” “Jeremy’s dish is very intellectual.” “The honey ball doesn’t taste like honey.”
Viewer verdict: I don’t know what the hell a “financier” is, but apparently Amar’s financier, while being tasty enough, was simply not financier-y enough. Come on, Amar, that’s rule one! Never give food show judges the opportunity to get hung up on nomenclature! They will spend six hours arguing about whether your sauce was truly a gastrique, regardless of whether any non-French culinary academy trained viewer gives a single f*ck! If it’s too dense for a financier, call it something else. A sticky coconut log! A tropical yeast turd! A coconut baby’s arm made of bread! Take a lesson from Jeremy, he called his cheese thing a “cylinder” for Christ’s sake.
Actually, Amar’s dish sounds like he just stuck every French food word he knew into one dish — sorbet, brulée, meringue… “Yes, I’ve made for you today a sautéed buerre blanc flambée souflée with a torchón of voulez vous coucher avec moi, please to enjoy, voila.”
Meanwhile, Jeremy’s dish includes something called a “honey sphere.” Right, because that’s always been my problem with honey, the texture. I mean, why can’t it hold geometrical shapes? What kind of horsesh*t is that? Get it together, honey. Seriously though, putting in that much work to change the basic texture of honey is almost as useless as trying to change the texture of avocado. It’s already perfect, leave it alone. You want to change the texture of something, go with okra, or squash. If we’re being honest, I still don’t understand what the hell is going on with squash. Is it a fruit? A vegetable? Is it supposed to be mushy? I don’t dislike it, it just confuses me.
Anyway, the judges seemed to hate Jeremy’s cheese course, with Emeril calling it “intellectual” in a way that made that word sound much more insulting than it usually does. But Amar’s had the words “fruit salad” in the title, which is just as bad. Call it a wash.
I honestly thought Amar had this one. Going dish by dish, it seems like he took it. But then Padma crowned Jeremy the winner. Jeremy, winner of the very first quickfire, ended up winning it all. Which, by the way, is also true of seasons 12, 9, 4, 2, and 1. So, you know, don’t sleep on that stat next time you’re laying down heavy Top Chef vets in Vegas, bro. If you go by past performance, Jeremy was clearly better, but based strictly on the final challenge, it looked like Amar took it. In the end, I think the X-factor was Amar saying “I stand by the dish” during the judges deliberation.
NEVER STAND BY YOUR DISH. NEVER.
Congratulations to Jeremy, aka Frat Dad, aka Spicy J-Rock 305, the most righteous, chill winner in Top Chef history. I hope he celebrates with some mellow tunes and a few tasty waves.
Vince Mancini is a writer, comedian, and podcaster. A graduate of Columbia’s non-fiction MFA program, his work has appeared on FilmDrunk, the UPROXX network, the Portland Mercury, the East Bay Express, and all over his mom’s refrigerator. Fan FilmDrunk on Facebook, find the latest movie reviews here.