Here it is: the finale. It feels like it's been a longer time than it really has. Is that just me? But instead of drawing out the entire season in a long recap, as I thought the show would, we're instead plunged straight into the action.
The elimination challenge: cook a four-course meal and create the restaurant of their dreams at two of Vancouver's best restaurants. But, of course, there's a twist: Paul and Sarah each get four sous chefs. Sous chefs from a pool of their former competitors, James Beard-award winning chefs or one of the handful of losers who got cut from the first 29 and didn't even make it into the top 16 of the season.
All 12 of these chefs have to prepare a dish that will hopefully earn them a sous chef spot on either Paul or Sarah's teams. They waste no time in getting the dishes out - or at least the show wastes no time editing it all together snickety-snack. Paul and Sarah then taste the dishes blind, and choose their sous chefs based on only the dish itself.
Sarah calls out her favorite dishes, and the chefs who cooked them step up to her team: She nets Nyesha, Grayson, Heather and...Tyler. Crazy fucking Tyler Stone. Who was one of the first 29 losers, in case you somehow didn't remember all of his crazy.
Paul fares much better, nabbing himself one of the Beard award winners - Barbara Lynch - as well as Keith, Crazy But Hot Chris and Ty-Lor. Oh, how I've missed you, Ty-Lor!
In the kitchens of the Vancouver restaurants, the teams get straight to work after a quick trip to the market. Sarah shows some actual growth compared to the rest of the season, by being determined to cook outside of her comfort zone and choosing unusual ingredients like persimmons with veal cheeks and sweetbreads. She also shows why Lindsey would have fallen apart in this round had she continued on from last week: Sarah is capable of giving up control of every single moving part in the kitchen and leading her team.
Also fully capable of leading a team is Paul, who is almost zen-like in his ability to delegate tasks and let his crew do their work uninterrupted. His kitchen already seems calmer, a sense that's further enhanced by the presence of Lynch and the absence of Crazy Tyler Stone. Who, by the way, has shown up to the kitchen in dress pants and dress shoes. Dress shoes. I hope to God that he slips and falls on his dumb ass.
Meanwhile, on Twitter, I just read the second-dumbest thing I've seen all day. (First-dumbest thing above.) "Veal cheek. They tortured and killed a baby cow for the cheeks? I can see for boots or a chop but for cheeks? #packyourknives #topchef" Can you count the number of things wrong with those sentences? I started counting, but my nose started bleeding and then I blacked out from the sheer agony of so much stupid in such a small, concentrated dose.
I have to focus on the show again now for my brain to clear. Paul has made a beautiful chawanmushi. Let's admire his egg custard for a while instead. Deep breaths.
Both he and Sarah have used spot prawns in their opening dishes, although Sarah has really stretched outside of her normal range here and made an Asian-inspired appetizer with dashi. Meanwhile, back at Paul's restaurant, the show surprises him with a table full of his favorite people: his parents and his girlfriend. If you guessed that Paul started bawling, you'd be correct. But so did his dad, which just made the cute in this scene exponentially cuter. I'm feeling better now.
At the end of the meal at Sarah's restaurant, her first service is done. The first panel of judges - which includes Padma and Emeril - say that there are "strokes of genius" in her food and that most of the menu was "spot on." Over at Paul's, Colicchio and crew are equally impressed, especially with his very Phillip Speer-like dessert, which has shades of Uchi in a spicy foam on the side.
The second service starts roughly for both kitchens: Sarah's table of friends and family finds a bone in their fish, so she rushes back into the kitchen to check all the rest of the filets before they go out to the main judges. And Paul's chawanmushis are all overcooked by Keith. He's not mad at Keith - whom Paul says he trained, so it's ultimately Paul's own fault - but only upset that he doesn't have any more eggs to make more chawanmushi. He opts to serve them all as they are, saying that he's sure he'll go down for this decision.
Despite these challenges, the final panel of judges - Padma, Colicchio, Hughnibrow and Gail - state that the food was the best they've ever eaten in a finale. I'm told that previous seasons featured far more talented chefs, so I'm having to stretch to believe this. Someone who knows better, sound off in the comments section below.
I should also take this time to point out that I'm actually not annoyed that this particular episode of Top Chef: Texas has nothing at all to do with Texas aside from the fact that both final chefs are Texan (enough). I've enjoyed the challenges tonight and the way that the show has focused almost exclusively on the chefs and their serious creative talents, which previous episodes haven't really done. This is the kind of show I'd watch on the regular; leave out the obnoxious Dallas fauxcialites and shitty tourist barbecue from the previous episodes and you've got a solid core.
That said, the final scene is already heart-wrenching: Paul and Sarah are surrounded by their families, loved ones and best friends as the judges announce the winner. They're all crying. In the background, all of their former competitors are watching. I mean, everyone is there.
And here it is: Paul is Top Chef. As we all expected from the very beginning. I'm proud of him and he deserved to win, but why do I still feel a little cheated? The show rushes to a conclusion, as credits roll over the judges toasting Paul and...it's over.
Just like that.
But what about you? What are your thoughts on the finale?
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Check out our past Top Chef recaps here:
Fire and Ice: Episode 16
- Top Chef:
TexasCanada: Episode 15
- Who Even Cares Anymore?: Episode 14
- Pee-Wee's Top Chef Adventure: Episode 13
- Chutzpah and Cat Cora: Episode 12
- Charlize Theron Takes Over Top Chef: Episode 11
- Restaurant Wars: Episode 10
- Barbecue and Big Books of Modernist Cuisine: Episode 9
- Twitter and Tales from Childhood: Episode 8
- Tim Love and Tequila: Episode 7
- Mediocrity Is Served at the South Fork Ranch: Episode 6
- Dallas Is a Damn Fool: Episode 5
- Chiles and Chili: Episode 4
- Rattlesnakes and Quinceañeras: Episode 3
- Bloodsport and Oxtopus: Episode 2
- Neck Tattoos and Nonsense: Episode 1