Monday, December 14, 2009

Top Chef Las Vegas – The Winner Is Revealed In The Best Top Chef Episode EVER!

Part Two – Dinner Is Served

1st Course

Bryan - “Tuna Noodle Casserole”

Sardine, German Butterball Potato, Panko Bread Crumbs, Fennel Cucumber Linguini

Michael - “Broccoli Reinvented”

Cream Of Dehydrated Broccoli, Spot Prawn, Fried Broccoli

Kevin - “Chicken & Fixings”

Fried Chicken Skin, Tomatoes, Liquid Squash Casserole

2nd Course

Bryan - Mystery Box

Sous Vide Rockfish, Diced Matsutake, Meyer Lemon Jam

Michael - Mystery Box

Butter Poached Rockfish, Tomato-Kombu Sauce, Sweet & Sour Salad

Kevin - Mystery Box

Rockfish In Duck Fat, Roasted Matsutake, Roasted Crab Broth

3rd Course

Michael – Chef’s Choice

Fennel-Scented Squab Pistachio Cassoulet, Textures Of Mushrooms

Kevin – Chef’s Choice

Slow Cooked Pork Belly, Roasted Broccoli & Brussels Sprouts, Caramelized Ham Jus

Bryan - Chef’s Choice

Venison Saddle, Brussels Sprouts, Sunchokes, Maple-Glazed Carrots

4th Course

Michael – Dessert

Chocolate Caramel Coulant, Butternut Squash Ice Cream

Kevin – Dessert

Roasted Banana, Chocolate Bacon Mousse, Peanut Bacon Brittle

Bryan - Dessert

Sheep’s Milk & White Chocolate “Dulce De Leche” Cheesecake, Dry Caramel, Fig Sorbet, Poached Pear

The three chefs go into the dining room and are surprised to see their two moms sitting there. The moms been invited to taste and comment on the first courses. Padma makes sure to tell them not to take any of the judges’ comments personally.

Bryan tells us his mom has never tasted a sardine before and he might have changed his dish if he had known he was serving her.

Bryan and Michael’s mother tells Tom that she lives in Vegas and knows where to find him. Hardy har har. She may not be laughing, if her boys mess up.

The other judges are a rich panoply of restaurateurs, who are obviously there to make the chefs think they may have a new mentor in their lives. The judges are Tom, Gail and Toby. Others at the table are Cyrus chef, Douglas Keane, Bill Terlato, Donatella Arpaia, Stephen Starr, Drew Nieporent and Sam Nazarian.

Kevin’s mom tastes his and says, “Oh! Delicious, son.” Everyone around the table giggles. Bryan introduces his dish and then his brother goes.

Michael tells the table that because he was such a picky eater, his mother promised him a trophy at the end of the month that said Champion Eater. He earned it. Too cute. Who IS this Michael this week and where was he all season?

The judges discuss the dishes IN FRONT of the moms. AWKWARD! Tom says he keeps going back to Kevin’s squash, because he keeps finding different flavors in it. Kevin’s mom says she’s never had one of his dishes that she didn’t like. Toby loves the combination of sardines and breadcrumbs in Bryan’s dish, because it reminds him of a dish HIS father used to cook for him.

Various folks say Bryan’s dish wasn’t seasoned enough, that it needed more acid. His mom looks alarmed and says that she didn’t think she would like the sardine and that it would be fishy, but that she really enjoyed it.

Michael’s prawn also gets criticized. Mom has daggers in her eyes. Ah, but Drew Nieporent DID like it and says undercooking a prawn a bit is not a problem. Donatella LOVED his story and his broccoli. Mom loved the broccoli element. She says Michael really didn’t like ANYTHING when he was a kid.

Padma asks the brothers’ mom which dish she preferred. She pleads the fifth and the moms are excused to give their sons a hug…just what they need, when they’re in a time crunch in the kitchen.

1st course, I would have to say goes to Kevin.

2nd courses are served. Donatella says that Kevin’s broth is the star, but THEN she bites into the mushroom. But Drew says, “Fantastic”. Tom: “He didn’t nail the Matsutake”. Bill Terlato: “It looked like I needed a hatchet to cut it.” (The mushroom?)

About Bryan’s curry dish: Douglas says he would have liked a bit more seasoning, but he’s “starting to see that he’s not an aggressive seasoner”. Sam says “It’s like a blind date you just don’t want to go on…The plating is bland.” Now, now. Stephen disagrees. He thinks the fish is the best cooked of the three and he loves the curry flavor. Gail says Bryan’s dish was the safest and it didn’t inspire her in any way.

Michael’s 2nd course: Tom thinks the Meyer lemon and the squash combo is amazing. He also loves his crispy Matsutake. Douglas: “The balance of the sweet and sour was great. “ He loved the “pop” in his mouth. It was HIS favorite dish of the course.

2nd course goes to Michael. Would you agree?

Bryan’s 3rd course: Donatella: “There’s talent here.” Drew: “The meat is cooked perfectly.” Toby: “Nice, rich pungent flavor.” Tom admired the “tremendous amount of work” in using each vegetable 2 different ways.

Michael’s 3rd course: Drew: “Excellent.” Sam liked the “different complexities of all the different textures”. Gail didn’t like the mushroom purée molded into the shape of a mushroom. Donatella: “It’s a gimmick and we don’t need gimmicks…not at this level.” Uh-oh.

Kevin’s 3rd course. Stephen didn’t think his pork belly was cooked long enough. Sam: ”I loved the richness of the sauce.” Douglas: “I thought he did a great job of balancing the fat with the acid.”

I would say Bryan took the 3rd course. That’s one course apiece.

Oh, problem in the kitchen! Eli filled the little cake molds of Michael’s too high and they are going to look messy AND Michael overcooked them. Well, that may just give Bryan back the crown. Michael is not happy.

Kevin’s Dessert: Stephen Starr doesn’t like pork in his dessert. Okie Dokie, that does it. I think Kevin is out.

But which brother will it be? I gotta say Bryan. He hasn’t completely wowed them so far, but, c’mon, his dominance in the kitchen over everyone but his brother has been clear from the start. And he may not jump off cliffs like his brother, but he doesn’t make too many mistakes either.

Tom doesn’t think Kevin’s roasted banana was enough for a dish like this. He would have liked to have seen bananas done several different ways. It’s definitely Bryan. Let’s hear what they think about his brilliant dessert.

Oh, they go to Michael’s first. Stephen loves the pumpkin seeds - “the little buggers”. Douglas: “The cake was little dry to me.” Score for Bryan. He’s definitely winning. Padma says the cake didn’t have enough of the creaminess inside. Tom says he “knows this dessert very well” and that “it needs to be served immediately after it comes out of the oven” because the caramel is absorbed back into the cake and becomes dry.

Bryan’s dessert: Let’s hear its praises. Stephen: “The cheesecake was pleasant. It was a nice end to the meal.” That’s IT?!!

Oh good, Douglas gets it: “It was obviously really finessed. It was beautiful to look at.” Gail: “The fig sorbet to me was heavenly.” NOW we’re talking. (Go Bryan, Go Bryan!!!) She continues, “To ME, this was a pastry chef’s dish. It showed a lot of skill.”

The chefs come out into the dining room and are applauded by the diners. Bryan and Kevin feel pretty good about their food. Michael is worried because his worse dish was the last thing they ate.

At Judges’ Table, Toby didn’t think Bryan’s mystery box had enough contrast. He says his hallmark seems to be restraint. Bryan looks at him kind of sideways and says, “I don’t call that a fault.” Toby says everything is well executed, but nothing feels particularly bold.

Hold on, Nelly! Are we being set up for a win by Michael?

Gail restores Bryan’s equilibrium a bit by saying that she was really happy with his venison. He says THAT is the story of this style – a blend of modern and traditional cooking. Tom says it was his most successful dish.

On to Kevin, they liked his first dish. Toby says his pork belly was NOT a knock-out as he expected it would have been. Tom says if he had a roasted piece of pork along with the belly, it would have been a more complete dish.

I AM JUST LOVING THIS. I LOVE talking about food as if it’s the most important thing in the world and that lives will change as a result of different handling of a garnish or a more perfect roasting of a piece of meat. It’s so fantastically entertaining.

Kevin is not buying anything that Tom says.

On to Michael: Toby says he nailed the Matsutake with its crisp texture. He loved his pickled tomato and said it was like “a flavor bomb that detonated in your mouth”. He liked the “boldness” of that choice.

Oy, here we go again with the mantra that Michael is bold, Bryan is boring. How could Fig Sorbet with DRIED caramel (for goodness sake) be boring? I don’t even KNOW what dried caramel is!

Michael says he “wanted to do that today”. He “wanted the food to surprise” the judges. Tom says what he liked about the Michael’s mystery box dish was that it kept revealing different layers of flavor.

OMG! Tom completely got what Michael intended.

Michael said he wanted to reveal something more with each additional bite of the dish. And that is exactly what Tom just said.

I really appreciated Michael’s intention and I’m blown away by Tom. He’s not just a pretty face. His remark to Michael shows us why he is the master of culinary nuance. I think he (Tom) may be my new hero.

Michael admits that he “cooked the crap” out of his dessert. They all agreed that the cake was dry, but that the idea was phenomenal.

Are they really going to give Michael a pass for his dessert mistake? I really can’t tell where they’re going here. I still think Bryan deserves to win, although I think they may want someone with more sparkle (especially after picking a do-nothing last time).

Padma asks each one why they should be Top Chef:

Bryan says he thinks his cooking expressed his cuisine and that that’s what means the most to him. He hopes that’s enough to win.

Michael says, with great seriousness, “I just don’t want Bryan to be Top Chef.” They LOVE that answer.

He continues, “Food..It’s me. It’s how I express myself. My emotion is in it. I didn’t get good grades in high school. I cooked after school. I’ve never gotten a paycheck for anything else. This is all I’ve ever done my whole life. It’s all I know how to do and all I’ll ever do.”

Heck, why didn’t you just put it that way 13 weeks ago and I would have rooted for you all along?!!

Gail looks teary. Tom nods in complete recognition of what he’s saying.

Poor Kevin has to follow that. Kevin is definitely not winning. I think the tide has turned to Michael.

But Kevin’s statement is good too. “I love food. I love that it has this ability to comfort people and bring people together.” He hopes that he cooks food that is “soulful and speaks to the person” that he is.

In the judges’ discussion without the chefs, they go back and forth with each course. It seems clear that Kevin only triumphed in the very first course. The other two seem so close. I think it might be back to Bryan, BUT are they trying to fool us?

They dismiss Kevin first, telling him he’s NOT Top Chef. That’s kind of mean. WHY can’t he be in the room when they announce the winner?

It’s going to be Bryan….No, Michael…No Bryan. I don’t know…BRYAN, that’s my final answer.

And the winner is…Michael! Okay, that is a surprise, isn’t it? Kind of? Michael tells us that both of them making it to the end was a really proud moment for each of them.

Mom comes in and hugs her boy, Michael, and then Bryan. Michael cries and says, “There’s the emotion you’ve been waiting for, Padma.” Hmmm, could it be true what folks are saying? Read the comments to this post.

Bryan says he’s glad it was Michael who beat him. Michael says he didn’t know he could feel every emotion at the same time and that being on Top Chef definitely got him in touch with who he is “as a person and as a cook”.

Well? What do you think? Is this just another case of bad behavior being rewarded or did Michael deserve to win?

I can’t help comparing the brothers to two kindergarteners, sitting at a table, coloring.

Bryan listens to instructions, doesn’t pull the little girls’ pigtails and does a gorgeous job, coloring inside the lines.

Michael, on the other hand, hasn’t had his wildly creative streak socialized out of him (maybe one explanation of why he is so darned socially inept). He may be incapable of standing still on the line to the lunchroom, but he can take his crayons and produce something wholly original, even if he does color outside the lines.

In fact for him, the lines are probably just suggestions, not road marks. That may be why the judges apparently gave him a pass for his overcooked little cakes.

That may not be entirely fair to Bryan. He did imagine a beautiful plate or two of food, but it wasn’t just about who could produce the most beautiful turned vegetables or demonstrate the most technical skill.

I really believe that great cooking happens first in the mind or in one’s imagination. It doesn’t just happen at the stove.

Creating that perfect mouthful may start as a tiny thought about a particular ingredient or maybe a technique the chef wants to use. The path to the final product on the plate is often a cerebral one, just as much as it is a matter of chopping and sautéing.

Michael is amazingly impressive as a culinary thinker. He imagines incredible things and then finds a way to accomplish them. Bryan is a master technician and both of them, all three of them, actually, live and breathe cooking. But at the end of the day, it was Michael whose soul was imprinted on each and every element of his dishes, even though Kevin claimed that as his strength.

The fact that Tom was so in tune with what Michael was doing was a little scary, actually. I think that Tom proved that, out of all of them, HE really is the Top Chef.

9 comments:

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

As per usual, I was asleep 10 minutes into the show and woke up during the last 10 minutes. It was hard for me to judge who would win. However, I still shouted WHAT??? when Michael won. I wanted Kevin or Bryan to win. Kevin because I have always called it for him (even though that beard really skeeves me out) and Bryan because I can't stop lusting after him. Michael would be cute, but I can't get past all of those tattoos on his arms. Yick. Bryan's voice may be monotone, but it's also sexy and deep. I'd happily comfort him on his loss...

Who am I to say who should win cookingwise? It's not as if I could accomplish half the things I see on this show.

Sue said...

Hi Rachel,

You have to watch a rerun and tell me what you think then.

I completely agree about the beard and tattoo!

DebCarol said...

Incredible review Sue. Just one question . . . a long time ago when you posted a link to an article that supposedly gave away the winner (I didn't peek), was it correct??

Sue said...

Deb,
It was BRYAN they referred to as The Top Chef winner. I think I figured out after a while that the finale hadn't been filmed yet when that ninny wrote her article. BUT I didn't know that at the time.

And frankly, I think you could have watched the entire finale up to almost the very end and STILL thought it was going to be Bryan.

Amy said...

We thought Bryan was going to win as well. I think they edited it that way, because after reading Tom's blog, I saw that they loved Michael's squab and thought it beat Bryan's venison. And I did *not* get that impression when watching the show. Otherwise, you would've known that Michael won.

Sue said...

Amy,
Thank you for reminding me about Tom's blog. I just read it and he does basically say the show was edited to mislead us, which is not actually an incredible surprise. I also agree with him saying that all 3 or 4 final chefs probably did not really need Top Chef to become stars.

Emily said...

Welcome back! Bravo on the recap. Excellent reviews on every episode of the season. I know how much work is to type all of that up.

This was the best season ever, I really believe. I thought Michael was going to win once the dinner was over. He seems so passionate about food. I was pulling for him, even though I don't like his attitude. I love his creativity and that he doesn't play it safe.

I like Rachel's comments about Bryan. Lolz.

Bea said...

Great post. Thanks

Tracy said...

Hi Sue! I've been away from blogging and blogs but popped in. I was hoping that Bryan or Kevin would win but Michael seemed to have deserved it. I do think that this was the strongest season yet.