Finale, Part 2 (Otherwise known as the actual Finale)
Finally the field of chefs has been cut down to only three: Stefan, Hosea and Carla. Other than Stefan, probably not an outcome I would have predicted at the beginning of the season. Not that I have anything against Hosea, but he's always seemed kind of middle-of-the-pack to me. And although Carla has been awesome the last several episodes, she started off so weak that there was really no way to see this coming. Yay, Team Carla!
Predictably, the challenge for the final round is rather simple -- cook the best three course meal of your life. I love it. They will be cooking their meals at Commander's Palace, and the dishes will be served head-to-head. They will be free to use any of the ingredients found at Commander's Palace, so I think we can all rest assured that they will be top quality.
And then, of course, twist #1. Because the chefs will have a limited amount of time to prepare their dishes, they will need some assistance. This comes in the form of three ghosts of Top Chef's finale past - Casey (Dallas' own) from Season 3, Marcel from Season 2 and Richard (LOVE HIM) from Season 4. All three came this close to winning their seasons, but all three blew it (especially Richard) in their finale. The chefs draw knives to see who will be paired with who, and Hosea draws first pick. He goes with Richard (I would have too), Stefan takes Marcel with his second pick (now there's an interesting pair), and Carla is left with Casey - although she claims she would have picked her anyway.
I am going to skip ahead here a bit, because I couldn't find a picture to go with twist #2, and I want to include it in the recaps of the chefs' dishes. After getting 2 hours of prep in after the challenge is announced, the chefs return to the kitchen the next morning to find Tom standing there with a big ol' dead alligator. He tells them that they will have to create a fourth dish - an appetizer to be served before dinner. There are three possible proteins - alligator, crab and red fish. Tom produces a king's cake (love it!), and whoever pulls the baby gets to pick who gets what protein. Hosea gets lucky again, and he picks the red fish for himself, the crab for Carla, and of course sticks Stefan with the alligator. Way to poke the bear, Hosea.
Carla decides to base her menu around French comfort food, which sounds like a good plan and right up her alley. She mentions doing her version of a bouillabaisse, and doing a meat-and-potatoes course. Here's where things start to go downhill fast. Casey suggests that Carla sous-vide the steak, since it's so easy. Carla has never tried this technique (Danger!), but agrees to give it a shot. Seriously. On the finale. She decides to try a technique she's NEVER done before. I kiss Carla's chances of winning goodbye at this point.
And from there it only got worse. For her third course, she had decided to do a cheese tart with a marmalade and some other yummy bites. Casey, once again (or at least it appeared on the show) talked her out of her game plan and into doing something outside her comfort zone. Carla takes her suggestion to do a blue cheese souffle (yum), but botches it by putting it in an oven that is too hot. The souffles are curdled and inedible, so she is left with no real third course. Needless to say, the is out of the competition.
Casey, by the way, did not appreciate how she was portrayed in the finale. Check this out...
Hosea calls himself a "flavor junkie" and wants to base his meal around strong flavors. Hmmmm. Isn't that what all food is based around? Flavor? But anyway, his menu does sound pretty darn tasty. For his first course, he's doing a trio of sashimi, which being a fish specialist you would think he would knock out of the park. His second course sounded like the best dish of the evening to me - scallops with foie gras and pain perdu and apple compote. Yes, please.
He decides not to do a dessert course (which Tom totally okay-ed when he announced the challenge) and instead does a venison loin for his third course. I commence drooling again.
So, this is pretty much Stefan's to lose, right? Wrong. Once again this week, Stefan acts only mildly interested in the challenge, and much more interested in being a jerk. I have enjoyed him all season, but this was the first episode for me where his joking and ribbing with the other contestants crossed the line from amusing to douche-y.
But back to the food. For this first course, he commits a major food sin, and chooses to freeze the fish he's using for his halibut and salmon carpaccio. He says this will allow him to slice it thinner, but this seems like a mistake to me too. The whole point of gorgeous, fresh fish is that it hasn't been frozen, right?
His second course sounds much better, and much more classically Stefan: squab with braised red cabbage and schupfnudlen (hand-made noodles that look kind of like spaetzel to me).
For his third course, Stefan does decide to do a dessert, putting together a whole plate full of little bites of ice cream, a banana pop, and some other random stuff. Compared with some of the other desserts he's done on the show, this one just looks kind of busy and fussy, not like something I'm dying to try. We'll see what the judges think.
When it comes down to judging, we get twist #3 - Fabio will be one of the judges! Yay! He is joined by Rocco DiSpirito, Branford Marsalis (who is ADORABLE at the judge's table), a bunch of other random New Orleans chefs, and the usual suspects - Toby, Padma, Gail and Tom.
The appetizer course pretty much seems to be a wash, as they love all of them. Hosea did a corn cake with red fish, Carla did a blue crab soup that sounded kind of Asian-inspired (Casey's influence again?), and Stefan did an alligator soup.
Then it started to get interesting. For the first course, everyone LOVED Carla's bouillabaisse. They said it was totally a "Carla" dish and that they could taste the love. Hosea's dish is deemed beautiful (it was gorgeous on the plate) but under-seasoned and just kind of uninteresting taste-wise. Everyone agrees that Stefan shouldn't have frozen the fish, which left it kind of watery, but that the dish itself was well-executed.
During the second course, Carla started to get smacked down. The sous-vide steak was deemed tough (ouch) and the plate itself overly fussy. Hosea's scallop dish was very good, although Rocco is "tired of foie gras". Gag. Both Gail and Marsalis totally call him on this pretentious posturing, though, which is adorable and hilarious. Everyone LOVES Stefan's dish, which was the best of the round, although Hosea's is a close second.
Poor Carla, by the time the third course rolls around, she is already out of the competition. Poor thing doesn't even have a real dish to put out, and everyone is very disappointed. Stefan's dessert course isn't met with much enthusiasm, with Gail calling the plate something straight out of 1992. Ouch. Some of the judges do give him credit for even offering a dessert, though. Hosea's venison, on the other hand, is a big hit with everyone.
When they get to panel, things get emotional pretty quickly for poor Carla. My heart was just breaking for her when she explained tearfully that she didn't cook "her food" and that's where she got tripped up. Even robot Stefan seemed sad for her and tried to offer her some comfort, which was a nice gesture. But it was clear to everyone - including Carla - that she was out of the running.
What became more clear as judging continued, however, was that everyone pretty much agreed that Hosea had made the best meal of the night. However, Stefan's second course was deemed to be the best overall dish of the night. Would that, paired with his great track record over the course of the season be enough to net him the title of Top Chef?
No. Hosea is named Top Chef, finally beating his season-long nemesis, Stefan. Although I totally think Stefan (and probably Carla) is a better chef than Hosea, it seemed to me that Hosea earned it. That being said, I still felt disappointed at the outcome.
Overall, I think this was kind of a weak season of Top Chef. There just didn't seem to be as much talent in the field as in the past, and I think that really hurt the overall entertainment-factor this season. That fact, paired with the disastrous Hosea/Leah show-mance, put this as my least favorite season of Top Chef ever. However, I still enjoyed it, and I will be there to watch again next season!