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.”