|Unspoilery food photo. Because otherwise people get “angry”|
Is it just me, or is there is absolutely no method to the madness of who the show has chosen to compete to be sous chefs for Paul and Sarah?
There are six of the original castmembers—but not Edward, Lindsay, or lightning rod Beverly. And there are two random master chefs that we’ve never seen before (Barbara Lynch and Marco Canora). And then there’s a scattered assortment of the rejected Alamo gang, including—wait for it—legend-in-his-own-mind Tyler Stone. (Yup, the dude who couldn’t locate the tenderloin of a pig.)
Here’s how it works. They have 45 minutes to cook and then Paul and Sarah will do a blind tasting to pick their assistants.
The dishes are laid out on the table.
Paul picks first.
He selects the dish made by Barbara Lynch. Good palate there, buddy.
Then Sarah picks Nyesha’s halibut with green lentils.
Then Paul picks Umlaut.
It’s already getting a bit awkward that Marco Canora has not been picked.
But Sarah, you see, really wants Heather. Because they’re pals and she has enormous respect for her as a human being. Also, because Heather knows how to make dessert.
But Sarah is confused. She thinks that Heather made the dumplings. But, wait, there’s a plate of scallops with a raisin citrus sauce. Isn’t that dish on Heather’s restaurant’s menu? It must be a sign, right?
“The scallops,” Sarah blurts out.
And who should step forward with a smug little grin on his face and an extra bounce in his step? You guessed it: Tyler Stone (“Stone. Tyler Stone” as he said—not jokingly—in his audition video). Oh, the humanity! (Of course, he thinks he made it because of his super awesome cooking skillz and not because Sarah outsmarted herself by trying to find Heather. Oh boy, she’s created (more of a) monster.)
Then Paul picks Malibu Chris
Marco Canora rocks nervously on the balls of his feet and smiles stiffly.
Sarah picks Heather.
Marco Canora begins to twitch.
Paul picks Keith
Marco Canora begins to scream silently.
And Sarah picks. . .Grayson.
Quickly in damage control mode, Padma establishes that Marco will now serve as one of the judges. No hard feelings. I’m sure the shame of this won’t ruinously affect his career at all.
(Just kidding, Marco. I’m sure you rock.)
So there are two subplots going, as the chefs begin to prepare their four-course meals for the evening.
For Paul, the subplot is: Will he defer to Barbara Lynch or hold his ground? And will she come to respect him as a head chef and team leader?
For Sarah, the subplot is: Will the selection of Stone, Tyler Stone be the death of her?
Things don’t start off promisingly, for either of them.
Barbara Lynch questions Paul’s last minute decision to buy shrimp, as it wasn’t on his menu.
“You’ve got to be confident in your game plan,” she says. (Or something to that effect.)
Stone, Tyler Stone, meanwhile is making all sorts of “helpful” suggestions, like telling Sarah she should sous vide her vegetables.
“He has some nerve,” she says.
Once they start cooking, however, Paul’s problem is quickly resolved. Game knows game, as they like to say in the sports world—and Barbara Lynch recognizes that Paul is the man. She falls into line. (And, for the record, his decision to buy shrimp actually saved him, cause the crabs got “funky” overnight.) (Personally, I like my chickens funky, but not my crabs.)
“Paul is amazing,” says Barbara. “I’m proud to have this opportunity.”
Sarah’s problem, however, is ongoing.
First, Tyler shows up in the kitchen in dress pants and shoes. (Hey, you never know if a Hollywood casting agent is watching the show, people! You can all have your bandanas and drawstring pants and comfortable shoes. Stone, Tyler Stone, is a sharp-dressed man.)
Then, his mise en place skills are mise en whack.
Seriously, I can chop celery faster than he does. And I have the knife skills of a particularly adroit monkey.
Later, he assures Sarah that he knows how to whip up a white-chocolate ganache better than she does.
“It’s going to be super smooth like
me this,” he says. “You’re going to have the perfect texture.”
“Tyler is moving at his own pace, which is highly inappropriate,” Grayson says. “We’re going to jam out with our clams out and Tyler is going to do what he does.”
Yes, she actually said “jam out with our clams out” and no, I have no words.
Judging time. Tom Colicchio is wearing hipster nerd glasses, which I do believe is one of the 12 signs of the Mayan apocalypse.
Paul’s restaurant is named Qi.
Sarah’s restaurant is named Monte Verde.
So here’s how service goes:
Each one of them has a course that goes more smoothly during one round.
For Paul, it’s his “Chawanmushi,” which is sheer perfection for the first judging round (head judge: Tom), but overcooked for the second tasting (head judge: Padma)
For Sarah, it’s her veal cheeks, crispy veal sweetbreads, and polenta.
For the first serving (Team Padma), the polenta is lumpy.
But she smoothes it out for the second group (Team Tom).
So basically, Tom lucked out with the superior version of both dishes. That’s so him.
There is also some quibbling over Paul’s congee with slow scrambled eggs and uni. (By the way, has everyone here read my love letter to uni? In short: I REALLY like uni. A lot.)
Tom thinks it’s a little bland, and not quite as revelatory as Paul’s other dishes.
Hugh Acheson thinks it’s a slam-dunk. (On principle, I’m on Team Hugh here.)
All agree that both desserts—which both featured kumquats, oddly enough—are stellar.
It’s going to be close. Very close.
There are cute moments with the fams. Paul’s dad tears up, which makes Paul tear up. One gets a sense that Paul’s dad isn’t the weepy type, so the fact that he’s crying is kind of a “big deal.”
Cuter still, Sarah’s fiancée leans in and conspiratorially whispers to her: “Check the fish. Mine had a bone in it.” I’m not sure if that’s cheating or not, but it was pretty adorable.
Final judgment time:
“In nine seasons, this is the best food we’ve seen in the finale,” Tom says. Which would be a lot more powerful if he didn’t say that every year.
“I hate white chocolate. And I thought this was the best dessert I’ve had in nine seasons,” says Padma of Sarah’s hazelnut cake with roasted white chocolate ganache.
(I only mention this because I once tried to start a Twitter war with anyone who loved white chocolate. I couldn’t find many takers. Ballsy move, Sarah. Ballsy move.)
Both Paul and Sarah make final cases for themselves. Paul talks about his newfound confidence—although form isn’t quite following content, because he’s stammering and sweating and looks like he’s about to cry.
“I’m back to being nervous Paul,” he admits. “But I really am very confident.”
Damn, you just want to pinch his cheeks, don’t you?
Damn, you just want to pinch his cheeks, don’t you?
Sarah talks about her passion for food and being raised by a single mom.
I’m kind of at peace with either of them winning at this point.
The judges deliberate one final time.
The general consensus: Sarah took more risks, but Paul “sweated the details,” according to Tom, better.
They bring them back into the judging room.
“It was as close as it can get,” says Tom.
“Paul, you are Top Chef!” says Padma.
Hugs, confetti, tears, joy, resentment (okay, just a little—Sarah really thought she was going to win.)
And Southwest Airlines website crashes as a million Top Chef viewers across the country book a flight to Austin so they can have the chance to taste Paul’s food and pinch his cheeks for themselves.