Top Chef Episode 12: The Finale

Watching the final episode of Top Chef was like reading a reverse-murder mystery, where you know who the murderer and/or the victim is already (think Sunset Boulevard), but you want to know exactly how it happened. All the conventions of reality television pointed to Good Guy Harold winning, with Bad Girl Tiffani getting her just desserts, pardon the pun. It did in fact happen that way, but nevertheless it was an entertaining ending to the season.

I think that loyal viewers of the show knew since the teaser last week, when it was shown that the last four eliminated contestants - Stephen, Miguel, Dave and Lee Anne - were to be the sous chefs for the two finalists, that Tiffani was basically doomed. None of the four liked her, and at least two of them actively hated her. Three of them outright chose to work with Harold, with only Stephen for whatever reason choosing Tiffani. (The closet Stephen fan in me would like to think it's because he has a kind heart.) Harold picked Lee Anne outright, and had Miguel and Dave drawing those dang knives to see who went with who; Dave, to his obvious dismay, ended up with Tiffani. Then, blatantly showing their lack of respect for her, Dave and Stephen went out on a drunk and showed up late with a hangover on the big day. I did feel rather sorry for Tiffani at this point, though I guess she had it coming.

Since the setting was Las Vegas, I was fearing some kind o circus-like ding-dong final challenge in a public arena, Iron Chef style, but fortunately that wasn't the case. The final challenge was quite fair: come up with a 5 course tasting menu paired with product placement Bracco Vineyard wines.

As far as the two menus were concerned, they both seemed to have highs and lows. Harold played it safe by presenting 5 fairly simple dishes, while Tiffani, perhaps sensing that she had to go for broke, presented 10 dishes in total - 2 per course. Ironically, the one dish that the judges seemed to love was Dave's panna cotta dessert, the one he has come up with in the event that he made the finals. Whatever his feelings were towards Tiffani, Dave showed his generosity of spirit in 'giving' her one of his dishes. And, when she tried to claim that dish as her own after the judges had already heard from Dave that that was his dish, her enshrinement into the pantheon of Reality Show Villains alongside lumaries such as Omarosa (The Apprentice), Richard Hatch (Survivor), and Team Guido (The Amazing Race) was assured.

As for the dishes themselves - to be honest, Harold's dishes didn't excite me much at all. A few of Tiffani's dishes were quite intriguing however, especially the artichoke 'risotto' with panchetta. Since the viewing audience cannot taste anything, we can only go by the judges' reactions as to how good or bad things were as usual, and they chose Harold's conservative menu over Tiffani's perhaps overly ambitious one.

And so, the contestants ride off into the sunset of reality television. It was certainly entertaining; often hilarious, frequently frustrating, occasionally infuriating. There was of course lots of reality-show-drama. As a food show it performed less well, but did offer a few tantalizing glimpses into certain aspects of cooking professionally. And at the very least it provided some nice food porn along the way. There is a lot of room for improvement, but I am cautiously looking forward to the second season.

A few closing thoughts about the final episode:

  • Being New York-centric when it comes to the U.S. dining scene I was quite impressed to see restauranteur extraordinaire Drew Nieporent as a guest judge. (My mom the retired restaurant manager was quite good friends with him when she was in NY and mentioned him often, but I never got to meet him.)
  • The look of bewilderment on guest judge Lorraine Bracco's face when the 'sous-chefs' expressed their total lack of support for Tiffani was quite funny, though not surprising since she obviously didn't know any of them prior to this judging round.
  • I cringed a little at the sight of Harold sneaking gulps from a mini liquor bottle. I've seen first hand the unfortunate prevalence of alcohol and drug abuse amongst restaurant chefs. Harold looks so much like a cast member from the short-lived sitcom based on Anthony Bourdain's book, Kitchen Confidential...I'm hoping those gulps were simply because of the particular high pressure situation.
  • When Tiffani lost out to Harold in the inevitable end, and tearfully said she had hoped she'd be able to travel with that money to learn more about the origins of the food she was cooking, I couldn't really get out the hankie for her. People who think they can only go traveling overseas with a load of cash are too shortsighted; you can travel on a budget and still experience the world. My first few trips to Europe (from the U.S.) were done on shoestring budgets; I travelled around with a rail pass, stayed at youth hostels, b & bs and cheap hotels; filled up on free or very cheap breakfasts and skipped lunch so that I could indulge myself at dinner. Or, I aimed for the usually less expensive lunches. One time, I skipped lunch for about 3 or 4 days in a row, and had bread and and a couple of tomatoes from the market or something for dinner, so that I could afford to go to one of the famed restaurants that I had been dreaming about for ages. And it was worth all the hunger pangs and feeling faint and all that. (Of course, now that I'm older and softer in more ways than one, I'm not sure I could do it again.)

Complete list of my Top Chef reviews:

[Edit a bit later:] Top Chef has cracked the Top 20 TV Show list on iTunes, breaking the usual strangehold of Lost, The Office, Desperate Housewives, Alias and 24. As far as I know I think it's the first time a reality show has shown up on the Top 20.

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Top Chef Episode 12: The Finale

Ok. I was thinking about not watching it after last week but of course I had to!! I'm glad Harold won but I think it would have been much more interesting if it had been Lee Ann and him in the final (although Harold would have probably still won).

I agree with you that it was pretty anti-climatic since it was pretty obvious that Harold would win unless he completely messed something up beyond any belief!

I almost fell over when Tiffani tried to claim the dessert as her own!! Idiot - cameras are following you around. We all know you are a liar! That was probably the funniest part for me because I'm always amazed at the useless lies that people tell.

They had a side vote going during the show where you could call in an vote for who you think should win. Harold got 92% to Tiffani's 8%! Even though I knew people didn't like her, I thought that was quite a landslide.

Dana | 26 May, 2006 - 20:28

Top Chef Episode 12: The Finale

ooh. i'm one of those people who pushed top chef into the itunes top 20 list, i reckon; i've been reading about it here, but haven't watched the episodes i've downloaded yet. i suspect i was so entertained by your recaps that the show might be a letdown in the end.

santos. | 27 May, 2006 - 02:26

Top Chef Episode 12: The Finale

Yeah Harold! Well I am sure that it was a hard choice between the two for the judges but came down to personality in the end. Tiffani will do just fine but needs to get some people skills before she can own her own restaurant. I don't think Harold will be a trend setter in the food biz but his restaurant will be solid.

I LOVE THIS SHOW.

Gabriella True | 27 May, 2006 - 05:58

Top Chef Episode 12: The Finale

Santos, even as a reality show TC was really a lot of fun. I hope you'll enjoy it!

maki | 27 May, 2006 - 17:04

Top Chef Episode 12: The Finale

They are all gone now, but not forgotten...

Of course big Cheers to Dave for giving his dessert to Tuffy...it was interesting in that she managed to claim partial credit for it when the judges we gushing over it. No one is talking about that, but she say's something to the effect of it was a recipe he had and I discussed a few changes with him, when it clearly shows her handing dessert over to him completely. (Dave's no dummy, anything of his that wins acclaim puts him that much closer to hitting the restaurant golden door of his own business. And how could it be better that to have it video-docuemented...what a break!)

Steven volunteered to go to Tuffy's team out of sheer Stevenism--he always must be different and look for the challenge. But there was a part of me that thought he felt a little something here, dare I say ....compassion....all the ugliness he confronted previously on the reunion show, how he was forced to see himself as he was video taped, and grow to hate himself as much as so many viewers did....I think there was a flash in his eye...that he actually identified with Tuffy's pain, and stood beside her, even though he did not like her. But turning up hung-over was the Steven-esque twist which left us all writhing with delight! He's such a silly boy! (It would be nice to see Tuffy bitch slap him with some leather....maybe lead him around on a leash....this could be a good look for them both.)

Sure, who wouldn't want to work for Harold...I hope he develops a bit stronger mettle, or Harold's restaurant may be in trouble. He's a capable chef, but I wonder if he will be able to bring the solid kind of leadership necessary to a restaurant. The one thing you did see during Top Chef was Harold soaking in as much of Tom C as he could; you saw him listen to each bit of advice about leadership and responsibility and you saw him use it, so Harold has come away from this a better leader, more than anything else.

Tuffy--what can we say? Tuffy was the flea circus that kept the wheels turning in order to get TC to ratings in sweeps, so whatever else, Bravo should at least give Tuffy a cut of the backend merchandising. Let's face it, they didn't keep her on for her looks or her cooking, it was her stellar personality. I wish Tuffy a lot of luck, she'll probably do very well in life, staying in vegas and opening the first clothing optional S&M Gnocchi bar! (Jeez, the options there are just endless, huh?)

It's been fun

Lou | 30 May, 2006 - 04:12

Top Chef Episode 12: The Finale

I thouroughly enjoyed reading your commentaries from the different episodes. I couldn't stop at solely reading the finale episode blog (since I missed it.... although it didn't matter since I already knew who was going to win =).... I found your assesments very accurate. I was also a bit disappointed with the show but still was curious enough to follow it and fell victim to TV drama. I suppose a bit like Knots Landing junkies in the 80's OH THE DRAMA !!!! I particularly agree with the catered event episode. I think the outcome was very good considering the circumstances. Catering is an art within itself that requires a balance of simplicity (keep it appealing to a mass audience that can easily be presented in a proper and timely manner) and originality (every couple wants to feel that the food on their special day was as memorable as the event). My problem however, is that in a competition the purpose is to impress and that factor certainly played a large role in the elaboration of the menus.
The only part I cannot agree with is stephen. How many succesful chefs have you met that are endearingly humble ? ( and by succesful I don't mean Alain Ducasse )... The kid has talent. His palet is a bit off but he has good ideas, although a bit experimental but the potential is far greater than say Tiffany. My personal favorites were Stephen, Lee Ann and of course Harold. and PS I happen to enjoy natto =) .... peanut butter is good and marmite... well it is an acquired taste. One more thing I found disturbing was Ken's reference to being trained in Europe. I will agree that the hazing in European kitchens is pretty harsh. Probaly, in his eyes, it gave him the green light to exercise a tough "I'll show you how it's done" attitude similar to the one he was subjected to. I was also trained in Europe (France) and would never allow that sort of behavior in my kitchen. I also don't think European chefs would allow his gun-ho attitude. He was clown, not a chef. Once again, loved the blogs which were both accurate and entertaining.

Jorge
Le Cafe at santa Maria

Jorge | 15 June, 2006 - 09:37

Top Chef Episode 12: The Finale

I would like to fill out a application for my boyfriend to compete on a chef show. If you have more information please email me at the above address. Thank you for your help. -Juile Lapka

Julie Lapka | 20 June, 2006 - 11:54

Top Chef Episode 12: The Finale

lapkaj [at] yahoo [dot] com

Julie | 20 June, 2006 - 11:57

Top Chef Episode 12: The Finale

I'm really not sure where you can apply but you may want to try the BravoTV.com web site...

maki | 20 June, 2006 - 22:01

Top Chef Episode 12: The Finale

I just read that Katie Lee Joel will not be returning as the host of Top Chef!! Thought you'd like to know! Read more about it on http://televisionary.blogspot.com/2006/06/katie-lee-packs-her-knives-bre... . I just wanted to tell you thanks: I read your site when I couldn't watch the Top Chef episodes! Thanks for providing such a great resource on top chef!!

Passionate Eater | 22 June, 2006 - 08:30

Top Chef Episode 12: The Finale

I guess the people at BravoTV read the forums and such where people were almost unanimously against Katie Lee Joel. I feel a bit bad for her but...uh actually I don't really; I think she got the job just because of her celebrity-association status and her looks. Here's to hoping they get a better and more animated host next time. In any case I'm glad everyone enjoyed my commentary!

maki | 22 June, 2006 - 12:30

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