I'm not sure if that play on words really works but I do love reading tv reviews that use puns and the like so I'm throwing it out there.
Okay, so the "Top Chef" finale was last night and I was beyond excited. I was looking forward to it all week long with bated breath and I found myself emotional during the last few minutes of the show.
It started out with the chefs being shown a cornucopia of gorgeous fresh meats and produce amid the mountains in Aspen. Casey, Hung, and Dale bit into the goods and reflected on how best to combine the existing spread before them with their specific ingredients which they were allowed to bring for the finale. From the beginning, Casey seemed to be having issues with the elevation and the air which ultimately may have affected her performance in the finale. The three chefs discussed their planned 3 course menu and it became apparent that giant prawns were the big winner since all three chefs wanted to use it for their second dish. Dale decided to switch to lobster which perhaps also led to his undoing in the end.
Per usual, the chefs drew knives to pick their sous chefs. Typically, previous "Top Chef" cast offs have the distinction of serving as sous chefs - usually the chefs who were most recently eliminated and thus most skilled. This time, however, there was a twist which I just loved. Celeb sous chefs! Rocco DiSpirito (an uber famous talented chef now more known for his tantrums on his short lived series "The Restaurant" and shilling for Bertolli frozen dinners and buying bikes for supermodels in NY Magazine), Michelle Bernstein (famous for umm being a lady chef and uh maybe she won a James Beard award? I have no idea) , and Todd English (owns more restaurants than he probably can name) came to assist the final three. They were instructed to simply be the kitchen bitches for the finalists and not provide any type of commentary or assistance which might influence the outcome of the competition.
Hung drew Rocco's knife, Casey drew Michelle, and Dale got Todd and it seemed like in terms of flavors and taste, the matchings could not have been more perfect than if it had been pre-determined by Bravo. Hung and Rocco shared some sweet, tender moments of mutual fawning. It was nice to see someone actually be nice to Rocco. Most of the chefs bashed him, called him a tool and a sell out, and Tony Bourdain loves to give it to Rocco in his blog. Now, I did not really watch "The Restaurant". I've heard about it on more than one occasion and I get the idea. But I've also read Ruth Riechel's reviews of Rocco's restaurants and seen him on "Top Chef" this season and read his blog and I like the guy. He seems like he's learned his lesson and is humble and hard working and knowledgeable. His blogs actually rival Bourdain's in terms of enjoyment. Where Anthony is saucy and hilarious and witty, Rocco is clever and educational. He takes the time to explain cooking methods and origins and he's a great writer. While Anthony Bourdain is right in that Rocco vaguely resembled David Gest (cringe) in his first "Top Chef" appearance, last night he looked downright hot. Yes, he has slimmed down due to his marathon trainings but his face looked quite fetching as well. Kelly Hu syndrome me thinks.... Anyway, Rocco followed Hung's precise directions as did Todd and Michelle. All expressed some hesitation about the sheer number of ingredients going into these dishes. Simplicity was stressed and there was the overriding concern that the chefs were overthinking in their zest to blow the judges out of the water. Michelle was very wary of Casey's choice of pork belly. Casey was braising it first and then planned to stick it in the oven. Michelle seemed to think this meat was a dangerous choice for our fair Casey which was increasingly getting frustrated. I think Casey seems to work by herself best as does Hung to an extent. Casey seems like she needs to actually be in the moment, touching and tasting her food and seeing how the elements work together and then improvising changes and clarifications. It seemed difficult for her to do that when Michelle was prepping her mise en place. As for Hung, he's such a whirlwind and talks so fast and has so many ingredients-sometimes it probably is more efficient for him to take care of things than to have to explain it. Now Dale on the other hand seems to enjoy managing and delegating and Todd English commented on how nice it was to "not think" and just do what Dale told him to do. Yes, Todd, I agree. I love being a robot sheep too. Baaa baaaa.
The next day, the chefs are hard at work when the big bear himself head judge Tom comes in and tells them to come outside. Now anyone who's ever watched any Bravo show or reality competition knows a twist is coming. Sure enough, they have to prepare a "surprise" 4th dish. But they can get help from sous chefs CJ (the gentle giant with one ball and eyes for Padma. They are totally getting it on now that she is divorcing), Sara (cheese lady with bad cous cous), and Howie (his secret ingredient: sweat). So off our little chefs go. Hung decides to tackle desert and sends Sara on her way. Dale and CJ decide to do a scallop and hopefully CJ's knife skills are faster. Casey and Howie decide to do lamb but apparently it's out along with poor Casey's chances and she goes with beef (yawn).
Let's get to the good stuff now. The celeb sous chefs are part of the table alongside the standards-Padma, Tom, Gail, and Ted Allen (I wonder if he has ever noticed how much he and Ilan, the Season 2 winner, resemble one another). They are joined by B-rok aka Brian Malarky, recent cast off. Brian lost the cowboy hat for the occassion and jokes that the meal is his $100K prize. He's a good sport, that Brian. The chefs present their dishes head to head and I can't help but wonder how much each judge actually eats of the dish. It's a lot of food and you have to have at least 2 or 3 bites to get a feel for the dish. And if you love the dish, maybe you even clear the plate. It's 12 dishes in total so I think I finally understand why Padma is wearing that South Beach meets muu muu navy blue number. If a hint of a bump started to show in her belly, rumors might spread that CJ impregnated her!
So here's a run down of the dishes, I'm going to go into explicit detail b/c a) I'm just a home chef foodie and not a professional so I cannot remember all the ingredients and b) you can just to BravoTV if you want more food specifics.
Hung-His take on fish and chips using himachi. It looked clean and delightful. The judges really liked it but felt it could use some acid in the form of lemon juice.
Dale-Foie gras with raddish salad and peaches. Apparently, Dale put so much foie gras on his plate that the geese population will never forgive him. Judges wanted some toast to cut the richness but it was well received besides that.
Casey-Cinnamon scented scallop and foie gras on an apple with some sort of yellow sauce. I like the way Casey says "Cinnamon". It's adorable. It's a lot better than my friend Kim's southern fried Texas accent. To say the judges did not care for the roe would be the understatement of the year. They were beyond sickened by the presence of salmon roe which Casey tossed on "for color". Oh Casey Casey Casey, fish roe with foie gras? I love both things but together they do sound unpleasant.
Hung-Giant prawn with palm sugar glaze served on ocean scented rice (which let's be honest probably just means salt right?). There was some foam on this one I believe? And he was using Tamarind and a variety of other hard to find in the average American grocery store items. This was tasty and refined but the judges thought it could use a dash of salt and maybe some acid yet again.
Dale-His surprise dish with CJ was a scallop dish with purslane (some weed that is similiar to aloe vera apparently) and grapes. This looked lovely and the judges went ape shit for it. They loved loved loved it. Best dish so far hands down they cried!
Casey-Giant prawn in a lobster mushroom yuzu broth with some caviar sprinkled on top. The judges were mystified by her use of roe. I think this was Howie's fault I am told by my friend Margaret but I can't recall who flung the roe. But in Howie's defense, he honestly was trying to make nice.
Hung-Sous-vide duck (you stick things in a vacuum sealed container and then you can poach it in water so it retains the flavor and juice and can come out perfectly if prepared well. This show is so educational!!!!) with crisped skin in broth with some kind of foam on top. There was mushrooms in this as well. This dish looked amazing. Even though foam can look a bit disgusting and many say "it's been done", this dish made me drool. I would have had a "When Harry Met Sally" moment if I ate this dish I felt. The judges loved this one. Todd English said it was worth three Michelin stars!! That's no joke! That's an amazing compliment. Rocco said the duck was cooked to perfection and all the other judges agreed. That is when little B-rok piped in that he found absolutely nothing wrong with the dish and also reminded us that he was still there. Michelle said she was a little jealous of this dish too. Or was that the scallop? Oh dear, maybe I should have wrote this blog this morning...
Dale-Lobster with mushrooms, corns, butter, bacon, gnocchi, curry sauce and the kitchen sink. There was a lot going on here but it sounded tasty. However, the judges felt the lobster was overcooked (doll's head texture perhaps) and the curry overpowered and ruined the dish. Bad Dale bad.
Casey-Pork belly, gingered pea shoots, perfectly cooked peach, and some creme fraiche. I love pea shoots. And I think I like pork belly. And I of course like peaches and creme fraiche. However, this one was no good for Casey either (who now it was clear was not going to win even tho she was arguably the fan favorite going in with her past victories and great personality). The pork was overcooked to the point of being burned (hey it's more like bacon that way right?) and Michelle and Tom just knew she left it in the oven too long. The sides were delish though.
Advantage: Hung no doubt
Hung-Chocolate molten cake with some sauce blah blah boring. I hate dessert. Dessert is boring. I have a salty tooth and I love savory foods. I also don't like chocolate cake. But apparently, the cake was tasty and well done but boring and did not go with Hung's Vietnamese/French/modern meal progression.
Dale-Colorado lamb cooked in duck fat (yum! but oh wait, I don't eat lamb..) on a bed of something or other. This one was perfectly cooked and judges were impressed yet again.
Casey-Her extra dish. Basically it was steak and potatoes. You can stretch out the word fingerling and say ruby this and that but it was basically steak and potatoes. It was Casey's best dish declared the judges yet Howie basically made this. Ouch.
Advantage: Dale, the self-proclaimed big gay chef, who loves them cowboys
So judging commenced. 2 for Dale, 2 for Hung. It was a nail bitter. Tom hated Dale's lobster with a fiery passion matched only by the sun. Everyone else loved his scallop so much that they felt it made up for the lobster. Tom said he would rather eat unimaginative chocolate cake over doll head lobster any day and put on his angry face. Basically, Dale had two really superior dishes. However, he also had a really terrible dish. And he credited 50% of the scallop dish to CJ. WHY DID YOU DO THAT DALE? SO NOT SMART!! I feel like it was probably 75% Dale anyway so you should of said that. Now is not the time for Mr. Nice Chef. Hung's duck was a "triumph" and all his dishes overall were consistent, well thought out, and delicious. Tom would have eaten any of them again. I had no idea which way it would go. Dale had that wrenching story about how he got laid off from his dream job and didn't cook for a year after that until he landed on "Top Chef". That story was killer and I really felt for Dale. Dale has all that heart and a lot of creativity and really started to make some amazing dishes towards the end. However, he is really out there and combines a lot of different ingredients which either pays off big or is a huge disaster. He also says he can't smell well which is an odd thing for a chef to say. I wonder if that affects his taste buds? It's like having Helen Keller lead you across traffic. Hung is cocky and competitive yes. But it is a competition and he said before if it was a kitchen, he would help out but it's not so he has to play the game. Hung is an immigrant with a family full of cooks and he is so passionate about food and just loves it and is so knowledgeable about technique. Oh I like him too! The way he ripped apart those whole chickens was so amazing. He's been the one to beat since the beginning and especially after Tre kicked it (I still blame you CJ) but I just didn't know what would happen. Reality shows can be so unpredictable.
Cut to the live show that was very "Survivor"esque. Everyone wore the same clothing as in "Survivor" and "The Apprentice" even though obviously we knew that it was not all happening the same day. Seriously, where did Padma get that dress? Motherhood Maternity? I think I want one for bedtime. The finalists got to say their last words, tears were shining in their eyes and I clutched my heart. My sister came through the room to ask who won at 9:55 and I found myself yelling "SHUT UP" I was so keyed up with emotion. Finally, it was revealed that Hung was the winner. Hung's 6 people jumped up and cheered (including Marcel his BFF from Season 2 who was felled by too much foam and hair that looked like Wolverine) and then there was slow standing O from the rest of the crowd who just won't give Hung his effing due. I mean come on, he's not the evil villain everyone wanted to make him out to be. Yes, he was at times selfish and overused the phrase "it's so simple a monkey could do it". But he could back it up with talent and he obviously has a passion and talent for cooking and I think he's a good guy. I love a good immigrant success story sigh. A sad display of confetti fell down as Gail hugged both Hung and Dale a little bit too long. Padma swished in, shoved a mike in Hung's face and he mentioned something about the support of America. I felt a bit awkward for my man there b/c it was not a popularity contest where people vote like "Dancing with the Stars" but I'll chalk that comment up to too much excitement!
In conclusion, Hung fully deserves the $100K from the Gladd family of products, a vacation to the French Alps sponsored by Evian Natural Spring Water, a feature in Food and Wine magazine, and the title of "Top Chef". Casey and Dale will be okay. They are extremely talented and now beloved by America and they can certainly parlay their fame into bigger things. Maybe Bertolli needs a new spokesperson.
Note: This blog has been brought to you by Cold Stone Creamery. Fin!