Guest stars/judges will include Neil Patrick Harris (!), Lost producers Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof (!!) and Zooey Deschanel (!!!).
Full rundown of Masters contestants ï¿½ it is intense ï¿½ after the jump.
-ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ Rick Bayless ï¿½ Frontera Grill, Chicago, Ill.
-ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ Wilo Benet ï¿½ Pikayo, San Juan, Puerto Rico
-ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ John Besh ï¿½ Restaurant August, New Orleans, LA
-ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ Graham Elliot Bowles ï¿½ Graham Elliot Restaurant, Chicago, Ill.
-ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ Michael Chiarello ï¿½ Bottega Restaurant, Yountville, Calif.
-ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ Michael Cimarusti ï¿½ Providence, Los Angeles, Calif.
-ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ Wylie Dufresne ï¿½ wd~50, New York, N.Y.
-ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ Elizabeth Falkner ï¿½ Orson, San Francisco, Calif.
-ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ Hubert Keller ï¿½ Fleur de Lys, San Francisco, Calif.
-ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ Christopher Lee ï¿½ Aureole, New York, N.Y.
-ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ Ludo Lefebvre ï¿½ Ludo Bites, Los Angeles, Calif.
-ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ Anita Lo ï¿½ Annisa, New York, N.Y.
-ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ Tim Love ï¿½ The Lonesome Dove Western Bistro, Fort Worth, Texas
-ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ Rick Moonen ï¿½ Rick Moonen's RM Seafood at Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas, Nev.
-ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ Nils Noren ï¿½ French Culinary Institute, New York, N.Y.
-ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ Lachlan McKinnon Patterson ï¿½ Frasca Food & Wine, Boulder, Colo.
-ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ Cindy Pawlcyn ï¿½ Mustards Grill, Napa Valley, Calif.
-ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ Mark Peel ï¿½ Campanile, Los Angeles, Calif.
-ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ Douglas Rodriguez ï¿½ Alma de Cuba, Philadelphia, PA
-ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ Michael Schlow ï¿½ Radius Restaurant, Boston, Mass.
-ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ Art Smith ï¿½ Table Fifty-Two, Chicago, Ill.
-ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ Suzanne Tracht ï¿½ Jar, Los Angeles, Calif.
-ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ Jonathan Waxman ï¿½ Barbuto, New York, N.Y.
-ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ Roy Yamaguchi ï¿½ Roy's Restaurants, San Diego, Calif.
VendrTV, the street food Web series that debuted in February, just released its first Philly episode. Check out host Daniel Delaney digging into a falafel platter from Christos' (known colloquially as "The Falafel Man") at 20th and Market.
Living on the Vedge posted her take on the cultish cart last summer. Though we'll make an exception in Kelly's case, we generally don't trust those who worry about the inclusion of deliciously char-grilled chicken. Don't fight it. Just let it happen.
- The video above is from Hulu because bravotv.com stopped allowing embedding about three quarters of the way through this season. Of course, it cuts off right before that salt-and-pepper-headed guy with the non-moving eyeball announces this season's $10,000 Fan Favorite. To no one's surprise, it's Fabio, he of the panty-disintegrating accent that we've talked so much about this season. I am OK with this. Did you know that he is William Shatner's private chef? Even if he was an incorrigible bastard, I would still vote for him for Fan Favorite based solely on this. And apparently he is getting his own show.
- Lackluster conclusion to this season notwithstanding, is anyone else kind of bummed out that Season 5 is actually over? I would always temper the impossible-to-understand claw hammer to the brain that is the latest season of LOST with some good, clean Top Chef fun. Now I'm slowly slipping into fullblown madness.
- Leah and Hosea drunken pouty relationship crap: nomorenomorenomore. Both cheftestants' relationships are now kaput. That's probably a good thing. And now, please pour one out for Hosea's betrayed ex-girlfriend, who is quite attractive (and seems to just love the outdoors! fellas?):
- Why does Richard, who was voted off the show in Episode 3, constantly feel the need to remind everyone that he is popular with bears? Richard, you are a farcically large gay man who could crush my head with your bare hands. That you are a hit in the bear community is a given.
- Is wearing an "I <3 Foie" T-shirt, like Episode 1 victim Patrick, more or less obnoxious than the act of harassing someone who just happens to love foie?
- I kind of like Jamie now. I think she's funny. I would like to apologize for ridiculing your overreliance on scallops throughout this season.
- I've ready several takes on last night's reunion that criticized its reliance on overproduced montages, which focused on everything from "stew room" antics to the Stefan/Fabio "bromance" (retire ... word ... now). Why?! Overproduced montages are pretty much the only reason I watch TV. You have seen America's Funniest Home Videos, no?
- Till next time, Padma. Have I mentioned that you are transcendently beautiful?
Season 5 of Bravo's Top Chef wrapped up last night. Meal Ticket readers and I have been blabbing all week about who we thought would take home the title among last-chefs-standing Stefan, Carla and Hosea.
Full commentary after the jump (warning for DVR people — immediate spoilers).
Boulder, Colorado's Hosea — who I've consistently labeled as an underachiever thanks to his back-of-the-line shuffle through this year's competition — is Top Chef.
I did not anticipate this happening AT ALL, and I don't think anyone else did, either.
The final challenge is always simple — cook the best three-course meal of your life. It's a task that I felt Stefan, ever the steely-yet-eloquent tactician, and Carla, whose bubbly, soulful nature has come through in her food in the second half of the season, would destroy. Yet both made odd, uncharacteristic mistakes and decisions that tarnished their final offerings so much that Hosea's inspired, well-executed meal was the clear champion.
It's just one more thing to argue about for the two schools of Top Chef judging thought: determining a cheftestant's fate based on his or her collective output, or picking winners based solely on a singular challenge. It doesn't seem that Top Chef has a hard and fast policy regarding this — if they did, Stefan would've been eliminated for his extremely overcooked salmon in Episode 12 instead of Leah for her runny eggs. Last night, however, Hosea was clearly the best — and this stroke of superiority was enough to convince the judges that he deserved the crown.
What the hell happened here? Let's see.
After an idyllic breakfast on a paddleboat, we got to hear the contestants rave about what winning would mean to them. "It would suck to go home without the title," Hosea said at the outset. At this point, I don't think anyone thought the guy was capable of going home with it. We were so wrong.
The Final Three learned that they would be cooking their meals at NOLA restaurant Commander's Palace for a group of tasters that included all our judges' table friends in addition to the likes of elimitaliano Fabio, Rocco DiSpirito and Hubert Keller. Then they tossed a sous chef twist into the wind by bringing back close-but-no-$100K-cigar finale participants from previous seasons — Season 2 chem slanger Marcel, twangy Season 3 debutante Casey and Season 4 frontrunner Richard (who was featured on Meal Ticket back in November). After knife-drawing, the ladies were paired up, while Richard and Marcel ended up with Hosea and Stefan, respectively. ("He's a bit of a twat, but who's not?" Stefan observed of his sous chef. I'm not a twat man.)
A prep period saw the baldies bitching at each over the distribution of foie gras and caviar, which ranks as the most presposterously insensitive first-world debate I've witnessed this season.
The next morning, Tom C. materialized in the Commander's Palace kitchen with another twist: Each contestant was required to prepare an additional passed hors d'oeuvres using one of three native NOLA ingredients — crab, red fish or alligator. To determine who would get to pick first (as well as assign the other cheftestants their food), they ate pieces of king cake, which Felicia D. told you about the other day. Whoever found the plastic baby in their wedge would get the advantage. (Please just read this.) Hosea landed the infant/choking hazard — he took red fish, giving Carla too-easy crab and leaving the gator for Stefan (of course). This ended up being irrelevant to the finale's outcome, however, as all the judges and guests dug the bite-size starters of each chef.
It all came down to the coursework.
Hosea started with sashimi drizzled with hot fennel oil, following that up with a scallop/foie gras dish on pain perdu with apple compote and foie gras foam and the third course, a Colorado-like venison dish with 'shrooms, chestnut/celery root purée and Richard-fied carbonated blackberries. No dessert — but no one was required to make one. All dishes were approved by the judges (small criticisms included blandess in the first course), though Tom C. and Toby butted heads over the lack of a sweet plate.
Carla began with a beautiful seared red snapper bouillabaisse-type thing with saffron aioli, moved on to a NY strip cooked sous vide (Casey's suggestion, though Carla had never used the technique; judges found the meat tough and Toby called it "rather anemic") and ended with an incomplete cheese plate that she sent out sans a souffle that got effed in the oven. (She originally wanted to rock one of her signature tarts, but went instead with Casey's suggestion.) A lot of people are blaming Casey for "sabotaging" Carla's chances, which I think is horseshit. The chef had 100 percent creative control over her menu, and was not obliged to take any of her (admittedly overly opinionated) sous chef's suggestions and run with them. Why did she do it? It had to have been nerves. It's just sad and unfortunate that it cost her $100K — if Carla had cooked her steak traditionally and put together her cheese tart as originally planned, she definitely would've won.
Much to Marcel's befuddlement, Stefan decided to freeze a hyper-fresh portion of halibut so he could slice it thin for a first-course carpaccio with smoked salmon, a decision that led to the judges ripping the dish for being too watery and bland. In the middle, he whipped up a homey, extremely well-received pan-seared squab (Tom's favorite of the night) before concluding with the universally reviled dessert trio at right. My girl Gail, whose soul-screaming cleavage was my change-of-heart pick for Top Chef after I knew Stef had lost it, said it looked straight out of 1982. Padma called it "pedestrian at best." I don't quite understand what happened here, especially considering a) Marcel surely had more than a few tweaks and tricks in his bag for his chef; and b) Stefan has dominated with his desserts in previously (see Restaurant Wars).
"Cooking basic food is much sexier than doing a bunch of bullshit," Stefan said while going over his menu. I agree, but there's nothing basic or sexy about something that looks like it could be served at one of the restaurants from American Psycho. You were my pick, Stef! What went wrong?
On paper, Hosea deserved to win — IF (big if) your criteria is strictly the final challenge. He did a better job than his two competitors, who succumbed to unfortunate lapses in judgment (Carla's over-reliance on Casey's ideas) and in imagination (Stefan seemed to resent being asked to cook with no boundaries or stipulations). It's just difficult for me to accept that Hosea deserved the title. IF (another big if) you look back and absorb what he did in Season 5 as part of your decision-making process, you'll find that though he did win a handful of challenges, the chef side-stepped his way through most rounds by squeaking through in the middle.
In Seasons 1 through 3, I felt that each Top Chef winner — Harold, Ilan and Hung — was the premier talent of his season. In Season 4, I didn't have a favorite, but was comfortable with either Richard or eventual winner Stephanie taking it.
This time around, however, I can't bring myself to say that the show rewarded the chef who possesses the widest breadth of culinary ability. I'm not taking issue with Hosea's on-paper talent — he proved in this episode that he can do it and do it well. Rather, I'm flummoxed because his victory proved that this season was nothing more than a game of Sharks and Minnows — keep your neck above water long enough, and catch a couple lucky breaks, and you may just find yourself the last fish in the pool.
As much as I have crapped on Hosea this season — for both his creepo relationship with pout factory Leah and his irritating Stefan's-little-brother inferiority complex — you have to give him credit for pulling off something that a majority of Top Chef fans thought was impossible. It just makes me wonder — with the producers aware of the identity of the winner some time before the airing of the finale, why did they make absolutely no effort to build audience empathy for Hosea in the episodes leading up to last night's? Throughout this season, he was never portrayed as scrappy enough to become default underdog. (That was Carla.) Most of his camera time was dedicated to complaining about Stefan. And they made sure to squeeze every bit of manufactured "he's a scumbag!" drama out of the Leah/infidelity subplot. In other words, they basically skipped over any and every opportunity they had to connect Hosea with viewers, so much so that no one (no one I know, at least) was rooting for him — or even really thinking about him — come finale time.
What does this tell us about Season 5? It tell us the producers probably didn't want — and certainly didn't expect — Hosea to win.
So what do you think? Let me know in the comments. Meanwhile, I'll be scouring the Internet for a high-res picture of Gail's bosoms.
UPDATE: Here are some pictures of Gail's boobs for archival purposes. Many thanks to PW's Style Blog:
It looks like a majority of commenters on yesterday's call for Top Chef season finale predictions pick (or at least want) Carla to win. So I figure it's as good as time as any to share this masterful Photoshop piece I have spent several minutes days working on.
After conducting several heavy, heady rounds of scientific research involving DNA alleles and many more of the things they talk about on CSI: Miami, I can definitively conclude that character actor Tony Todd and Didi Pickles (Tommy's mom from Rugrats) are the frontrunner's parents.
I still stand by my Stefan pick even though his dad is not Candyman.
The Season 5 finale airs on Bravo tonight at 10 p.m.
I've had a blast writing about Top Chef New York here on Meal Ticket. It's a little sad, but also exciting, to think that it'll all be over come tomorrow night. (At least until Season 6 starts ... Vegas is the rumor.)
The Season 5 recaps have garnered some great response from Top Chef fans, so why stop now? Tell me who's going to take it, Meal Ticketers — Grouchy Finnish arm-crosser Stefan? Lovable hippie-dip caterer Carla? Seafood-searing novelty T-shirt mannequin Hosea?
I've already put my prediction out there. Share yours — and any salacious spoiler-riffic rumors you might've heard — in the comments.
NBC enters the foodie reality show fray with The Chopping Block, which premieres Wed., March 11 at 9 p.m. Host Marco Pierre White, who's operated multiple Michelin-starred restaurants in the U.K., was a culinary celeb when Gordon Ramsay was still just a foul-mouthed line cook. (He has previously hosted the Brit version of Hell's Kitchen.)
The Chopping Block is structured similarly to another U.K. reality contest, Last Restaurant Standing — eight couples run two neighboring restaurants in Manhattan, competing for the same customers while being judged by pithy food critics and surprise guests. The ultimate winner takes home $250,000.
Philly represents with mother/daughter duo Angie Brown and Samantha Johnson, who own Soul in Chestnut Hill. Johnson is a former Miss Pennsylvania, and from the look of their bio clip, these are ladies coming with some serious television charisma and more than a little interpersonal sass/drama.
Moments before last night's penultimate Top Chef started, I posted my Final Four rankings. How close did I come to being stupendously wrong? Soooo close.
Quickfire: In the most welcome "twist" of this season, Padma, Goddess of Cephalopod-Themed T&A, and Tom C., the Patron Saint of Dissatisfied Grimaces, met up with notably sedate Emeril Lagasse in the front yard of what looked like a setpiece from Double Jeopardy. I could shoot you in the middle of Mardi Gras, and they can't touch me!
Twist, right: The Final Four learned that they would not be cooking. Rather, three exiled cheftestants would be battling for a spot in the second-to-last challenge. In the running? Surly Sue Jamie, more formally known, in all her regal mollusktisity, as the Duchess of Scallopshire; my Dr. Robert Chase-ian dude Jeff, who recently came out saying that he felt producers exploited him for his boyish, narrow-hipped appeal (well-played); and ... Leah, who made awkward middle school flirty faces at Hosea. Nonono evilevilevil. Emeril told them to get busy on a crawfish dish.
Jeff ended up impressing the most with a crawfish/grits/andouille combo, earning him a chance to cook alongside the Final Four in the Elimination. (He would have to win the challenge, not just sneak through in the middle, to make the finale.) "Jeff's mind has a couple people talking in it," explained Jeff about himself in third person. I wonder what kind of people?
Elimination: Stefan, Carla, Fabio and Hosea, with their little Jeff +1, were given six hours to prepare two dishes (at least one Creole) and one cocktail for a 100-person masquerade ball organized by Mardi Gras parade brigade Krewe of Orpheus. (Go to their Web site — you'll be pleased to learn that the closeted Italian dude Salvatore from Mad Men is one of their special celebrity guests this year.)
Carla fun facts! She does not drink and cannot shuck oysters. (She also used to be a model!) She still managed, though, to complete an oyster stew and a shrimp/sausage beignet, and made the strange-at-the-time decision to offer a teetotaler's cranberry/lime spritzer as her cocktail. Stefan, who made it a point to taunt Hosea repeatedly with phallic andouille portions (above), came out with a duck/rabbit gumbo over grits, an apple beignet and some cherry/cran/rum drink. Jeff offered a fried oyster with from-scratch sausage (impressive), a crawfish pot de creme and a smash-hit cucumber mojito. Hosea did a pecan-crusted catfish, a Hurricane and stirred his roux for 20 years like an old scoliosis-stricken Cajun lady to make his centerpiece gumbo. Fabreezy, who likened the masquerade ball to an "old porno movie" (borrow please? thx), went slightly Medi with it, cooking crawfish/crab caserecci pasta with his a sausage/rabbit maque choux and a macerated red bell pepper tipple.
Despite her inexperience popping shells (girl coulda just steamed them, said Tom C.), Carla took home the win (and a Toyota) by impressing Emeril with her refined plates and shockingly successful non-booze beverage. (That's truly a testament if she came out on top lubricating the judges with cups of juice.) Jeff (oh, Jeff) was so very close to winning, but came up just short — all the textures/flavors were there for the panel (now featuring Gail!), but he didn't bring it home quite as strong as the last lady standing. Hosea, OF COURSE, snuck by in the middle, but to his credit, Emeril gave him daps for doing that gumbo the right way. Right now, he is probably wearing a stupid three-quarter-sleeve baseball T-shirt with a picture of the "Chocolate Rain" guy on it.
Bottom two: Fabio and Stefan. Oh, the foreign-born humanity. Judges had some nit-picky stuff for Stefan, but they were mostly sour on his attitude. (Why now? He's been acting like this the entire season.) Gail also felt that his food "didn't have soul," which is a preposterous and amazing thing to hear Gail say. For Fab, the pasta sauce needed more heat and the bell pepper cocktail was too sweet, and that was enough to send him on his way. What do you think? Did the right Euro go home? I'm inclined to say yes, but that's mostly because I dubbed Stefan the champ before the fact.
Next week: Finale Part 2. I've always admired the format of the Top Chef season ender — no flaming hoops, Diet Dr. Pepper desserts or wriggling invertebrates. Just cook us the best meal you've ever cooked. As impressive as Carla was in E13, I'm sticking to my swami guns: Stefan will just barely edge out Carla to take the title, and Hosea will present something perfectly good, but not life-altering. How are y'all seeing it?
As promised: After the jump, I rank the remaining four Season 5 contestants in descending order in terms of how likely I think they are to win the title of Top Chef. Don't worry, I kept it as simple as possible. No rubrics or flow charts, just short/sweet reasoning. Please share your thoughts, and/or your own rankings, in the comments.
The new episode comes on in a few minutes. Let's talk more tomorrow.
Quickfire Wins: 3
Elimination Wins: 4
Strengths: Stefan, a California-based caterer who was born in Finland and raised in Germany, is definitely the most refined member of the Final Four when you're talking pure skills. He displayed as much in Episode 11, when he wowed chef Eric Ripert with a near-perfect rendition of a Le Bernardin seafood dish. Plus, think about it in terms of diversity. Seasons 1 and 2 had white male winners (Harold and Ilan). Season 3 saw Vietnam native Hung take it home. Season 4 featured Stephanie, the very first female winner. Wouldn't it be cute and convenient for Season 5 to feature a Euro-bred Top Chef?
Weaknesses: The guy is a hothead, definitely does not work well with others (remember Episode 5, when Radhika said she'd rather cook with Satan than him?) and seems to get the hiccups when required to properly execute dishes driven by simplicity (see Episode 12, when he grossly overcooked Marcus Samuelsson's salmon). Then again, with the final challenge upon us, will any of these shortcomings even matter?
Quickfire Wins: 1
Elimination Wins: 3
Strengths: Carla owns a D.C.-based company called Alchemy Caterers, which carries the connotation of her turning crap into pure gold. She's been able to do as much with her late-season surge, which began with Episode 8's Blue Hill at Stone Barns group challenge and culminated last week in a Wylie Dufresne-approved egg Quickfire and a near-win for the "Last Supper" elimination. Also, remember how she took the win in Episode 10 with a gumbo she somehow pulled off in 20 minutes? The final challenge is taking place in New Orleans. A familiarity with EmerilLand cuisine cannot hurt her. She is a definite fan favorite, too, for her vivacious, odd-bird antics, which almost always translate well to the judges. (Except for Philly's Stephen Starr, who quite memorably expressed his desire to shake her.) Also, barring a few snafus (e.g. the non-frozen frozen yogurt from Restaurant Wars), Carla is the most talented baker and pastry chef remaining in the competition.
Weaknesses: Inconsistency. Carla wasn't able to turn on the afterburners until the final third of this season. Does she have enough left to keep a step ahead of Stefan in these crucial final episodes? As much as I would like to watch Carla win, I don't see it happening.
Quickfire Wins: 0
Elimination Wins: 3
Strengths: Florentine Fabio, he of the unavoidably charming panty-disintegrating Italian accent, is definitely the ballsiest member of the Final Four. He's taken the most risks with his food, an approach that's brought him both success and spectacular failure. His unabashed boldness on the stove (he's basically the only contestant to toy with "molecular" techniques) separates him from his peers and solidifies him as a threat. If Fabio just wanted to phone it in, he could've dressed every one of his dishes up in Italian clothes, a la Rad's omnipresent Indian influence. But he hasn't done that, and has reached the finals on the strength of his originality in the kitchen.
Weaknesses: Somewhat obviously, his greatest strength doubles as his greatness weakness. I can definitely see Fabio sticking his neck out a little too far in the final challenge, miscalculating the balance between branding a dish his own and presenting something that is a triumph in a technical sense.
Quickfire Wins: 1
Elimination Wins: 2
Strengths: Hosea, who's the head chef of a seafood restaurant in Boulder, Colorado, has won more challenges than it seems, mostly due to the fact that he's been a member of a winning group on several occasions. This means he's extremely good at teaming up. While this might not come into play in the final challenge, you never know what the Top Chef producers are gonna pull out of their crisp white sleeves. His outpalating of Stefan in Episode 5 showed that he knows ingredients, meaning he understands what the hell he's doing.
Weaknesses: Hosea's the classic example of a cheftestant who's dodged enough bullets, either through holding down the not-winning/not-losing middle of the pack or by coasting in a group situation, to sneak his way into the Final Four. Does he have enough imagination and individual chutzpah to stake his own culinary claim? I don't think so. Also: Stupid novelty T-shirts, stupid beard and he grossly made out with Leah that one time.
Twitter fanatic, UArts graduate and recent 10-Track Minder Daniel Delaney just launched VendrTV, a brand-new Web series focusing on street food — the "best curbside cuisine the the world has to offer."
For the debut episode, Delaney shares background on the Treats Truck, a mobile sweets shop in Midtown Manhattan. But before you start getting all "boo New York!" on us, know that he'll be queuing up at some of Philly's favorite sidewalk spots for future installments. (Fan up the show on Facebook to become eligible to win a Flip MinoHD camera.)
Philly street food fans: Have any suggestions for where Delaney and his crew should go? Shout at us in the comments.
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