Top Chef Finale: All Hail the Queen or Ding, Dong, the Witch is Gone

Thursday, June 12, 2008

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Well folks, it’s been a long and bumpy road, but we’ve finally reached the end. Top Chef Season 4 is no more. In last night’s bittersweet Finale, Stephanie Izard was crowned the new (and first female) Top Chef! It was bitter because, while I was thrilled for Steph, I couldn’t help but feel so sad for Richard. Both of them were worthy of the title and coming into the Finale, either of them could have taken it.
Unfortunately, whether due to nerves or over-analyzing, Richard, in his own words “choked”. While he produced a fantastic and inspired meal, there were elements of it that just didn’t impress the judges enough to tip the scales in his favor – and he knew it. The look on his face at the Judges’ Table was heartbreaking. He was crushed!

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Stephanie, on the other hand, kept on an even keel the whole way through. She was calm and cool, carefully and methodically creating the meal that would change her life. It wasn’t a mindblowingly spectacular performance, but it was enough under the circumstances to garner the win. Who knows how things would have turned out if Richard had been a little more focused in the kitchen. All I can say is THANK GOD THAT NASTY B*TCH LISA DIDN’T WIN!

Let’s go back to the beginning, shall we? As the episode opens, all three finalists talk about what being Top Chef means to them and why they should win, blah, blah, blah. They then are summoned to meet with Padma and Chef Tom, where they find that there will be no Quickfire Challenge. Instead, they are greeted by three celebrated, world-class chefs, Eric Ripert (Le Bernardin) , April Bloomfield (The Spotted Pig) and Dan Barber (Blue Hill), who are each standing behind a huge pile of celebrated, world-class proteins. It seems that each of the Finalists is to be paired with one of the Chefs and their aforementioned proteins, from which their menus will be derived. Each chef will act as a sous chef for the Finalist they are stuck…er…paired with.

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Stephanie gets to pick first and she chooses Chef Ripert (Duh! Who wouldn’t?). Richard looks a little nauseous over this and he selects Chef Barber, leaving Chef Bloomfield for the other one whose name I have blotted out of my mind.
Chef Tom explains that their final challenge is to create a four-course tasting menu for nine diners starting with fish, moving to poultry, then red meat, and finishing with dessert. Dessert? WTF? I don’t remember dessert being required in any of the previous Finales, do you? Stephanie is definitely not happy about that development! (Ya know, instead of traipsing all over Asia, it might have been a good idea to get a few simple dessert recipes under your belt – just in case, Steph. I’m just sayin’.)
Anyway, Stephanie decides that her menu is going to present simple, clean, fresh flavors. Richard’s food is going to reflect his culinary journey from where he’s been to where he’s going. Too bad that they’re both the same place! “The Other One” is going with a totally Asian menu with big and bold Thai and Vietnamese flavors, cuz that’s what she does best. Big surprise! Wasn’t she the one who called Dale a one trick pony for relying so heavily on Asian dishes?
On Day 1, things are moving right along for the Finalists and their “sous chefs”. Then, on Day 2, the inevitable wrench is thrown in the works. Tom Collichio strolls in and announces that all three of the sous chefs have “called in sick” and will not be coming to help anymore. Ack!!! Oh, shit!!! This is NOT good news. All three Finalists suddenly look like they’ve been bashed in the head with a meat mallet. But, with even less than no time to spare, they press on. This is where Richard really starts to lose it.
Finally, it is dinner time and the judges’ panel is gathered round the table with some famous Puerto Rican chef whose name escapes me right now, and none other than Tim Zagat. Now, I don’t have to tell you who HE is, do I?
So, here’s the menu du jour……………
First Course – Fish:
Stephanie: Red Snapper, Truffled Clam and Asparagus Broth and Asparagus Salad
Richard: Scallop with Mango and Pineapple Vinegar
The Other One: Grilled Prawns with Chili Basil Sauce and Crab and Homemade Potato Chips
The judges liked all three, but Steph and The Other One seemed to be the favorites.

Second Course – Poultry:

Stephanie: Seared Quail Breast over Lobster Ravioli with Mango-Lobster Sauce and Quail Egg
Richard: Guinea Hen, Chicken Egg, Foie Gras and Spring Vegetables. He calls it “Which Came First?”.
The Other One: Tom Kha Gai Soup with Dumplings
The judges really liked Stephanie’s’ dish except for the undercooked leeks on the plate. Richard got props for the “whimsical” nature of his dish, but the judges were otherwise underwhelmed. The Other One’s soup was a huge hit and won the round.
Third Course – Meat:

Stephanie: Lamb with Maitaike Mushrooms, Braised Pistachios, Blackberry and Olive Tapenade
Richard: Pickled Radishes, Mirin Broth and Pork Belly
The Other One: Wagyu Beef with Chayote and Cucumber Salad, Hot Sauce and Garlic Chips
Richard’s pork belly was pretty much a flop. The judges thought it was under seasoned and not crispy enough. The other One’s wagyu was just meh. Stephanie’s lamb dish was a triumph! The judges admit that they were skeptical about it when they saw it on the menu, but they absolutely loved it.
Fourth Course – Dessert:

Stephanie: Ricotta Pound Cake with Tropical Fruit and Banana Creme
Richard: Banana “Scallop” with Bacon Ice Cream
The Other One: Thai Black Rice Pudding with Lime and Mango Cream, Taro and Toasted Coconut
The judges didn’t care for Stephanie’s cake. I don’t blame them. It was beneath her. They did like The Other One’s pudding and gave points for it’s originality and tastiness. (Uh oh! I don’t think I like where this is heading!) They also loved Richard’s dessert combo.

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At the Judges’ Table, it is painfully clear that this has become a contest between Stephanie and The Other One. Poor Richard just stands there hanging his head. After deliberating into the wee hours, they reach a decision. The new Top Chef is………Drumroll please……..Stephanie! Woohoo!!!
….

That’s all there is, and there ain’t no more.



Now, for the other moment you’ve all been waiting for – our final Giveaway Winners! If you recall, I’ve saved some special prizes for this last giveaway. Word must get around, because the number of comments this week were the highest yet. So, without further ado, the winners are as follows:

The winner of this uber chic Top Chef apron designed by Laura Bennett from Project Runway is……Grace from A Southern Grace! Congratulations, Grace. I know you will love this. I’m going to have a hard time parting with it!


The winner of this first edition/first printing Top Chef cookbook autographed by Dave Martin, Betty Fraser and C.J. Jacobsen is……Brad from Bone in the Fan. Congratulations, Brad! I’m so glad your wife led you in my direction!
If both of you lucky winners will email your snail mail addresses to me at stickygooeycreamychewy AT gmail DOT com, I’ll get your prizes out to you pronto.

I just want to take a moment to thank all of you fabulous readers who made this Top Chef journey with me this season. Even though I can’t give prizes to everyone, you’re all winners in my book. I’ve enjoyed every comment and the chance to get to know some of you better. Although Top Chef is over for now, I hope that you will continue to visit me here in SGCC Land. I promise you won’t be disappointed!

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Ciao for now!

19 responses to Top Chef Finale: All Hail the Queen or Ding, Dong, the Witch is Gone

  1. On June 12, 2008 at 2:50pm, David Dust said...

    You are SO RIGHT about Steph shaving a day or two off her Cambodia trip, and learning how to make a friggin’ cake!!!!!!

    CLICK HERE for DavidDust’s Top Chef Chicago recap.

    And look for my Project Runway recaps next month!

    :)

  2. On June 12, 2008 at 2:55pm, Maryann said...

    There’s a saying that “cream rises to the top”. I think we are seeing that in this contest.

  3. On June 12, 2008 at 5:17pm, ann marie said...

    whew…te one who shall not be named almost pulled it off….as usualy she did dishes she has done 1000 times….innovate much? i guess not..

    steph won by the skin of her teeth…..braised pistachios did it for her….im going to have to try that one…..overall i found the dishes once again well beneath the complexity and innovation of past finales…i really hope they find some cool chefs for the next one….i hear the are going to do teen top chef….thats sounds cool….i still want to see top non professionally trained blogger chef.

  4. On June 12, 2008 at 5:56pm, Mike of Mike's Table said...

    I must admit, I was concerned as the finale menus weren’t as mind blowingly amazing as some of their previous work. Why concerned? Because I was worried Lisa would pull ahead and win with her final menu! Thank god that didn’t happen. I was sad to see Richard choke up and Stephanie’s dessert seemed like a big sore spot, but alas. For all my groaning all season, now I have no good TV. :-(

  5. On June 12, 2008 at 7:13pm, Manggy said...

    I just realized that it would be much more exciting (possibly fairer) if the judges were blinded to the chef or each particular dish :)

  6. On June 13, 2008 at 2:57am, joanne at frutto della passione said...

    I so wish I could have seen this – the braised pistachios have me very curious. I’m glad for Stef, sad for Richard, indifferent about the other one.

  7. On June 13, 2008 at 5:10am, MoscowMom said...

    I just saw your post on Esperia over at bleeding espresso. I loved it! I lived with a host family in 1993, splitting our time between weekdays in Rome and weekends at the family’s centuries’ old home in Esperia! I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE it there! I helped with the vendemmia, too…

  8. On June 13, 2008 at 8:08am, Tempered Woman said...

    Ok~ so I wasn’t the only one totally screaming at the TV and gnashing my teeth? I believe the exact words were “ohmyfreakingah! ifshefreakin wins I’ll NEVAH watch this show again!!” And then they finally announced Steph as winner and me and daughter screamed and hurrahed and I drank my wine and took a big chill pill. Ahhhh. I was worried there for a sec, heh.

  9. On June 13, 2008 at 11:27am, Hillary said...

    Yayyyy!!! SO happy for her. I wrote about it too here. Can’t wait to eat in Stephanie’s restaurant…this is why I’m so glad to be from Chicago!

  10. On June 13, 2008 at 4:46pm, We Are Never Full said...

    Great play-by-play. A few of my observations:

    1. I think Richard was more consistent than Stephanie all season – but maybe it’s cause his food is more what I like to eat?

    2. Stephanie definitely got better and more adventurous in her cooking as the competition went on.

    3. Lisa is a biznatch and hard to listen to. The only reason she complained that no one ‘congratulated’ her after winning 3rd place by the skin of her teeth was b/c no one really ever congratulates the person who doesn’t go home – maybe i need to check this on reruns. whatever, she’s still a b*tch and her voice is like nails on a chalkboard. oh and did i mention her cooking sucks balls? which leads me to #4…

    4. Lisa’s menu was almost the same as the one at my local thai restaurant. BOOOOORING! so you add a friggin’ dumpling to the soup and it’s now somehow different? whatever. she sucks.

    5. what is it about eric ripard that makes me want to lay next to him and play with that lovely pillow of hair?????? i have a major crush on him. and his hair.

  11. On June 13, 2008 at 6:50pm, Prudy said...

    How did I miss your TWD post? I did a trio of mini tarts too. My favorite was the blackberry. Yours look perfectly heavenly!

  12. On June 13, 2008 at 7:57pm, Emiline said...

    Congrats to all the winners.

  13. On June 14, 2008 at 6:25am, The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

    I was pleased to not see Lisa win. I haven’t been watching consitently enough to really get a feel whose food I liked the best. I do have a soft spot for Stephanie though because there is something about little curly-haired women that makes me want to root for them. ;-)

  14. On June 14, 2008 at 7:58am, Cookie baker Lynn said...

    What fun. I don’t watch the show but after reading your write up I feel like I spent all season glued to it. Thanks for saving me the time!

  15. On June 16, 2008 at 6:20am, Ann said...

    I was also sad for Richard who is, I think, the best chef over-all. But I’m glad for Stephanie… she was my next-favorite… and I’m REALLY happy that mean-minded no-talent Lisa did not win.

  16. On June 20, 2008 at 12:58pm, Nanc Twop said...

    -

    ” …thank all of you fabulous readers who made this Top Chef journey with me… I hope that you will continue to visit me here in SGCC Land.”

    ‘Thank you!’…
    & ‘Of course we will!’

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Hello and welcome to SGCC! I’m Susan, a professional writer, food columnist, recipe developer, wife, mother, daughter and sister, who used to be a lawyer in a previous life. My love of food comes from a long line of wonderful and creative Italian home cooks who didn’t always have a lot, but knew how to make a lot out of what they had. I hope that you enjoy yourself while you’re here, and visit often! read more >>

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