Top Chef Texas: Finale

E: Oh the sweet relief.  I genuinely thought that Sarah was going to win.

M: Well, I wasn’t remotely sure, but I definitely thought that was a STRONG possibility, especially after Keith overcooked the second batch of Paul’s chawanmushi.  Thankfully, though, Paul pulled it off!

E: I know you’ll mock me for this, M…

M: I can’t believe you’d think I would ever mock you!

E: …but I couldn’t help feeling stunned at how close we were to the first woman winning in 5 seasons (plus the three of Masters and two of Just Desserts) and yet there I was, rooting against her with all my might.  I’ve been trying to separate out my feeling for Sarah the mean girl and Sarah the chef, because in the end it should be merit.  The food is what should matter.  Tom says it so well in his glowing report on the finale food.  But I can’t.

M: In a sense I’m proud of you.  You were able to set aside your chauvinistic ways and root for the person who deserved to win regardless of gender, that’s very big of you.  The problem is, you didn’t do it because you wanted to judge them on their qualifications, but because you didn’t like the woman.  Well, I’ll take it, it’s still a step in the right direction.  🙂

E: It really is embarrassing, but I’ll attempt to set my shame aside.  To return to the beginning, I loved the motley crew of eliminated contestants, failed contestants, and master chefs who were pitted against each other in a blind taste test.  Sarah and Paul picked the four dishes they each liked best, and the corresponding chefs became their sous chefs.  Excellent.

M: I loved having that in the place of the Quickfire challenge!  What a great way to pick out the sous chefs, so much more fun that drawing knives or just letting the final two choose who they like.

E: Very much so.  How hilarious is it that Sarah accidentally picked Tyler because he made a dish that’s on Heather’s menu?

M: Oh, I loved that! Sarah soooo clearly didn’t want ego-boy on her team, so that was great. The thing that I took away, though, was that his dish tasted close enough to the quality she expected from Heather for her to feel strong that it could be hers. That’s got to say something about the cocky Tyler’s actual skill level, as did him executing her dessert that the judges raved about, and as Tom said, offering her the correct suggestion for what to do with the beets that helped sink her in the end. Plus, Sarah’s line about not letting him butcher was hilarious.

E: Yep.  At little gratuitous, maybe, but definitely funny.  And how surprisingly devious of Chris Crary to make an Asian influenced dish in order to lure Paul into picking him! His unhappiness at working with Sarah is well documented in the season’s beginning.

M: Yeah, that was far more scheming than I expected from Pretty Chris.  It paid off, too.

E: But wow, what a peculiar grouping of former contestants! I understand that they wanted to give Lindsay and Bev breaks, but why no Chris Jones? Or Ed?

M: I thought the same thing, and was trying to figure out how they picked the people they did, but couldn’t come up with anything. My first impression was that it probably had a lot to do with who was available, but then Ed, Bev, Chuy and Chris J were all at one of the dinner services, so that couldn’t have been it. The contestants they brought back that didn’t make the cast seemed random, too, as they weren’t the last few cut.

E: They all got a lot of screen time, though – and I can’t help thinking must have been pretty hungry for redemption.

M: I was glad to see Vegan Colin get another crack at the show, as he got a bum deal in the cook in, but alas, he was not chosen. Maybe because people like meat and cheese.

E: Like, I don’t know, us.

M: Of course, one of the two ringers, master chef Marco Canora, was passed over on all eight picks, so Vegan Colin had good company.  I have to admit, I was really surprised by that, and Chef Marco had to be pretty humbled.  That aside, I thought the picks worked out pretty well for both of them, though.

E: Very embarrassing for poor Marco.  Having Bev or Ed on his team could have been a real asset to Paul; nobody there had experience with Asian food. Well, wait. Did Ty-lor have Asian experience? He did, right? So I guess that doesn’t leave Paul entirely high and dry.

M: Yes, he definitely did. And having Boston chef Barbara Lynch (another reason Top Chef should come to Boston next season!) was a huge help to him. To round the teams out, Paul had Master Lynch, Ty-lor, Pretty Chris, and gigantic Keith. Sara ended up with Nyesha (big win there), Ego-boy, SuperBully and Grayson.

E: Which really both worked out well.  Each chef gets a restaurant, and service for a hundred people. Now, I know we’ve complained about them having to serve massive numbers of people, but I honestly think this is perfect; after all, this is their job. It’s not making 12 perfect plates, it’s running a kitchen and a restaurant.

M: Exactly. And they gave them plenty of time to prepare.

E: And both services seemed to go beautifully.

M: Wait, if you give the contestants enough time and good parameters, the food turns out great? Shocker! Seriously, though, the judges kept saying over and over how great the food was, and how it was the best food in a finale in the history of the show. That’s pretty high praise, and praise that Tom didn’t remotely back down from in his blog, which is awesome. Of course, that just reinforces to me that the contests for most of this season were what was screwing it up. When they gave them good challenges, they got great food. I’m now thinking that a better set of conditions would have had us thinking this was the best crop contestants yet.

E: I can’t help but agree.

M: Instead of trying to break it down course by course, what stood out to you?

E: Well, almost nothing is food that I’ve had.  I take that back, I had sweetbreads in Russia (not a big fan), but the wonderfully squishy looking and fabulously named chawanmushi, congee, squid ink pasta (although, tartar and coconut? shudder) and really both fish courses intrigued me.

M: For me, Paul’s gelatinous chawanmushi with spot prawns (because the crab he bought went bad, but he had wisely bought a back up, despite his Master sous chef’s criticism for lack of focus) looked really neat. Sarah’s pasta (shocker!) with coconut and tartar was a different twist on her usual, and seemed pretty cool, too. Ultimately though, to me the desserts looked amazing, which is unusual for Top Chef. Desserts usually get people sent home, but Sarah’s hazelnut cake (with ton of other components) and Paul’s coconut ice cream with puffed rice and Thai chili foam (!!!) were both lauded all around. And oddly, they both included kumquats. Who knew!

E:  Those desserts must have been amazing.  Hazelnut cake with peppermint ice cream?  Yes please!  Love Sarah’s fiance quietly letting her know she had to recheck the fish for bones.

M: I loved the way he did it, but I was actually sitting there hoping she missed one, and one of the judges ended up with a bone in theirs. Yes, I know that’s bad of me.

E: You should be ashamed, M.

M: I would be if she hadn’t earned that reaction over the whole season.  Like, say, if I was rooting for Paul because of his gender.

E: Whatever.  Moving on, I just adored both contestants responses to seeing their families. Wonderful.

M: That was great, especially the part with Paul and his dad. You could tell that Sarah’s mom has been proud of her most, if not all of her life. But Paul was legitimately convinced that his dad was not proud of him. I would hazard a guess that his drug dealing past certainly played into that, but also the cultural bias against chefs as a worthy profession seems to be a significant factor. Seeing them hugging and crying together, both at the restaurant and after he won? That was great.

E: That was a little heartbreaking and a lot beautiful.  Mr. Qui really has a lot to be proud of; how awesome was Paul when he refused to blame Keith for overcooking the chawanmushi, saying that it was his own responsibility for not training Keith better?

M: Or him giving ingredients to Sarah and Bev in the ice block challenge, or a ton of other things that he did.  Paul was a stand up guy like that all season. You know what the best part of watching the episode was for me, though? I’ll give you a hint, you couldn’t possibly, because it involved Mrs M’s reaction to the end. Now, Mrs M usually watches with me, but this season she hasn’t watched more than a couple episodes. This time she was sleeping next to me on the couch as I watched, but woke back up at the very end. She woke up just in time to hear Sarah, after the final decision, say with tears in her eyes “I thought that today I did enough to be named Top Chef”. To which my beautiful wife, in her best imitation of Viggo Mortensen, blurted out “but today was NOT THAT DAY!” The lesson, as always… I love my wife!

E: I think I need to hug your wife, bro.  That’s awesome.

M: And on that note, we wrap up another season of Top Chef.  Hopefully the next one comes here to Boston, and we find a way to weasel into one of the events!

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