Top Chef Season 7, Episode 14: And the Winner is….

So, here we are kids, end of the road. I think this episode exemplified the best and sometimes the worst of Top Chef. It’s always surprising who will rise to the occasion and who will self-destruct, but it’s also hard to take the show’s stance of, “it doesn’t matter what you did before, all that matters is the dish today” seriously, especially when we see middling chefs get the upperhand based on one night’s dish. Those who watched the finale know exactly what I mean…

So, let’s get it out there, do I think Kevin deserved to win? As much as I have been annoyed by Angelo, when you compare his work with Kevin’s, it’s a no brainer. Based on the overall season, Kevin does well with simple food, which there’s nothing wrong with. Kevin Gillespie from Season 6 showed how impressive simple food can be after all. However, Kevin G. has a level of technical skill and imagination that I don’t see in this season’s Kevin’s dishes overall. Compared to the risks that Angelo has made throughout the season, I think Kevin S. will be among a certain group of Top Chefs, like Ilan and Hosea, that didn’t really deserve the honor.

Anyway, back to the beginning, the chefs were thrown a few surprises about the final round, which was the typical, “best four dishes of your life” meal, with a vegetable course, fish course, meat course, and *dun dun dunnn!!!!!* dessert course. First, Eric Ripert and Tom Collicchio would chose the fish (rouget, cockles, and lobster) and protein (duck).  But, one of the “make it or break it” twists would be that they would receive sous chef help from a former Top Chef, either Ilan, Hung, or Michael Voltaggio.

Obviously, everyone was hoping for either Hung or Michael, so it made me ever so happy to see Ed stuck with Ilan. Ed was immediately moaning and groaning about previous finales where the chef lets their sous chef ruin their chances (like Kevin G.’s loss with Preeti or Carla from Season 5’s experience with Casey from Season 3 as her sous chef). Ilan would throw out suggestions and Ed would shoot them down…yet he left the entire dessert up to Ilan’s saffron-scented devises.

What killed Angelo is the lack of energy he had due to the stomach bug/flu he has during this last round. His sous chef, Hung from Season 3, was a godsend, since Hung is a beast when it comes to prep. If Angelo had won Top Chef, he would have owed at least half of that honor to Hung, who did Angelo’s shopping, prep, and helped the exhausted Angelo keep focus. Also, thanks to Angelo’s nitpicky nature, those darn diagrams he loves to draw actually were useful this time around.

So, with Ed’s alpha male prodding with Ilan and Hung carrying Angelo’s germ-infested butt, the combination of Kevin’s solid but safe food and Michael V’s spot on cooking was sure to win. The fact that these two are buddies made it that much easier for Kevin to do well, they’re basically speaking the same language and Michael really wanted to see Kevin win here.

So, on to the food! I was confused by Angelo’s vegetable dish of noodles with royale mushrooms and pork belly, since the focus seemed to be on the pork belly than the mushrooms. Kevin’s vegetable terrine seemed in theory to be what the vegetable course was all about, but lacked any heat or seasoning. Ed’s chilled corn velouté was the clear winner for this course, as everyone praised it for its execution.

The fish dish was where we could see the chefs either cracking or sailing. Angelo’s bouillabaisse with cuttlefish and rouget was praised for its broth and was touted as the dish you would remember. However, Kevin shined with his rouget and cuttlefish “noodles,” showing some invention that I didn’t expect from him. Plus, his pairing of pork belly and squid ink was pretty impressive, I just wished we saw that kid of daring during the rest of the season. Ed went overboard as he likes to do with a stuffed rouget, a glazed lobster, and cuttlefish with pesto, which proved to be too complicated and just too much stuff on one plate.

With the duck course, we see where Angelo lost his chance at the Top chef toque. The words “marshmallow” and “duck” should never, ever go together. Plus, everyone was baffled by his cherry shooter, which was too thick to be a simple palate cleanser. Kevin shined with a roasted duck breast and carmelized bok choy, which was well made, but not particularly out there. Ed took the course to another level, offering a duo or roasted breast and a stuffed duck neck with the contrasting brightness of the baby spinach greens and the smokiness of the duck.

Now, the main event in my eyes, the dessert course. Chefs either sail through this or are completely annihilated. Based on these three dishes alone, I could see why Kevin was the winner, he took the local fruits and made a delicious version of a Singapore sling. It was one of the few times this season that I wanted tasteovision on my screen, because I was jealous that the judges got to eat that. Luckily for me, it doesn’t seem like Angelo and especially Ed fared as well. Angelo’s “Thai Jewel”, a coconut cream with crushed ice seemed ok, but not amazing. Ed’s dessert, a toffee date pudding, as handled by Ilan, was seen by the judges almost in a comical light and I can see why. It’s looked like a brick of , well, something you don’t want on your dinner plate if you catch my meaning. Compared to the lighter desserts done by Angelo and Kevin, combined with some lackluster courses, Ed was out of the running in my mind.

So, it was down to Angelo and Kevin and with Angelo’s sickness and that awful duck course, the win was all for Kevin. I just wish that we could have seen the techniques and inventiveness he displayed in this one episode all season. He was so up and down, that I can’t feel entirely happy about this finale. But, Kevin seems like a decent guy, this will enable him to start his own restaurant, and we don’t have to see Ed brag about a finale win, so it’s not all bad.

We have the reunion to look forward to next week, do we anticipate a return of Puree-gate?

~Julia

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