Top Chef: Creativity Wins

14_chefs

Top Chef: Las Vegas
Season Finale Part 2

In past seasons, I have been able to guess some of the three finalists, but never all three. There is usually a wild card in there or someone that surprised me as the competition went along. This time, I could have picked the final three from the first episode and by the last one, I would have picked Jen as the one to be leaving. I did like her a lot in the beginning, but she seemed to have lost her way during the competition. Bryan, Kevin and Michael were consistently good the entire time so I would be thrilled to see any of them win, but was really rooting for Kevin going into it.

Elimination Challenge

Tom and Padma met the chefs in the vineyards of Napa Valley. Tom informed them the elimination challenge would be to create a three course meal. For the first course, each chef would receive a box with identical ingredients. Each ingredient had to be used in the first course. For the second course, they could cook anything they wanted with any ingredient that they found in the kitchen. For the third course, they had to make a dessert. They would be serving their meal at Cyrus, a two-star Michelin restaurant and one of the best in the country. In order to assist the chefs create their meal, they had some sous chefs. All of the previous chefs from the season were there. Padma told them that two of them would be their sous chefs–one cooking with the for that night and the other cooking the next day.  There was also a knife block in front of the finalists that would select their sous chefs.

Kevin drew first. He got Preeti. He didn’t think her skill set was really strong. Bryan got Jennifer. Lucky! Michael got Jesse. He thought she was a workhorse so he felt good about her. For the next round, Kevin got Ash, Bryan got Ashely and Michael got Eli. I bet they were all glad they didn’t get Robin. Kevin was a little jealous at the sous chef picks that Bryan and Michael got compared to his people.

The finalists and sous chefs went to Cyrus restaurant to see what was in their mystery box. It contained:

  • Pacific Rockfish
  • Dungeness Crab
  • Kabocha Squash
  • Meyer Lemon
  • Matsutake Mushrooms
  • Anise Hyssop

I don’t know what half that stuff is. The chefs said goodbye to their second sous chefs and then had three hours to prep with their first sous chef. Michael had tons of ideas running around in his head of what to make out of the mystery box ingredients. Bryan was thrilled with Ashley and her techniques. Kevin was pretty mad at Preeti and her inability to do simple things like cut vegetables. He was doing way more work than he expected since he had a sous chef. Kevin said he had a list of 20 items on is prep list and Preeti was doing two of them. Michael felt that he took more risks compared to Bryan. He said it got him into trouble at some points in the competition, but he was doing what he wanted and making the food he wanted. Bryan didn’t see that he was playing it safe, but playing it smart in his style of cooking compared to Michael’s style.

The next day, Kevin was mad at himself at wasting so much time being mad at Preeti for sucking. He thought he had way too much prep work to do today that should have been done the day before. Bryan felt really good. He had everything planned out and was ready to execute it. Michael still had no idea what he was doing with the mystery box ingredients. There was a knock on the hotel room door. The chefs were waiting for some final twist, but it was their moms! They helped them get ready before going to finish cooking their final meal.

When the chefs got into the restaurant they learned there would be a twist related to their moms! They would be adding a fourth course to the menu. The new first course would be dedicated to their mothers and inspired by their favorite childhood dish. They only had three hours until the first course had to be plated.

Bryan’s Menu

  • First Course – “Tuna Noodle Casserole” – Sardine, German Butterball Potato, Panko Bread Crumbs, Fennel Cucumber Linguini
  • Second Course – Mystery Box – Sous Vide Rockfish, Diced Matsutake, Meyer Lemon Jam
  • Third Course – Chef’s Choice – Venison Saddle, Brussel Sprouts, Sunchokes, Maple-Glazed Carrots
  • Fourth Course – Dessert – Sheep’s Milk & White Chocolate “Dulce de Leche” Cheesecake, Dry Caramel, Fig Sorbet, Poached Pear

Bryan said his mom used to use a lot of texture in her tuna noodle casserole and probably how he developed a knowledge of texture in food at such an early age. He thought sardines would be a good play on tuna. Bryan said his concern with the mystery box items was the rockfish could be really dry so he was cooking it sous vide. Bryan said he hunts so he thought venison was a good choice.

Michael’s Menu

  • First Course – “Broccoli Reinvented” – Cream of Dehydrated Broccoli, Spot Prawn, Fried Broccoli
  • Second Course – Mystery Box – Butter Poached Rockfish, Tomato-Kombu Sauce, Sweet & Sour Salad
  • Third Course – Chef’s Choice – Fennel-Scented Squab, Pistachio Cassoulet, Textures of Mushrooms
  • Fourth Course – Dessert – Chocolate Caramel Coulant, Butternut Squash Ice Cream

Michael said he did not like vegetables when he was a kid and hated broccoli the most. He said as a chef, he likes to take food that he doesn’t like and make it in a way that is good to him. Michael said he made up the second course on his way to the kitchen. He wanted to achieve a “scavenger-hunt flavor” where with each bite the judges will find something different and unexpected. Michael wanted to make the third course have a rustic flair to it so that on first glance didn’t seem like his food, but the more the judges got into the dish, they would find his style in there.

Kevins’s Menu

  • First Course – “Chicken & Fixings” – Fried Chicken Skin, Tomatoes, Liquid Squash Casserole
  • Second Course – Mystery Box – Rockfish in Duck Fat, Roasted Matsutake, Roasted Crab Broth
  • Third Course – Chef’s Choice – Slow Cooked Pork Belly, Roasted Broccoli & Brussel Sprouts, Carmelized Ham Jus
  • Fourth Course – Dessert – Roasted Banana, Chocolate Bacon Mousse, Peanut Bacon Brittle

Kevin said he mom was a traditional southern woman so her dishes had that Southern slant to them. Kevin was most worried about the mystery box course. He said the mushrooms were tough and he didn’t know what to do with them. Kevin loved Ash as his sous chef since he was doing so much more than Preeti got done the day before. Kevin loves pork so he felt he was going to nail his third course. Kevin said he was hell bent on putting bacon in the dessert.

Dinner

The chefs came out to the table to present their dishes and found the usual cast of judges (Padma, Tom, Gail, Toby) and also found their moms. Bryan was worried since he didn’t think his mom had ever had a sardine in her life. He said he might have changed the dish a bit if he had known she would have been there. Kevin knew his mom would say exactly what she thought and he worried she might embarrass him a little bit. Other judges that were there were Douglas Keane (chef/owner of Cyrus), Bill Terlato (President/CEO, Terato Wine Group), Donatella Arpaia (Owner of EOS, Mia Dona, Kefi & Anthos), Stephen Starr (Found of Starr Restaurants), Drew Nieporent (Founder, Myriad Restaurant Group) and Sam Nazarian (Founder & CEO, SBE Restaurant Group). I might mix up who said what down below since some of the guys looked a little similar to me. I think I might have mixed up Douglas and Sam at times.

First Course

14_kevin1
Kevin – Childhood Dish
Southern Fried Chicken Skin with Squash Casserole & Tomato

Tom said that everything together worked nicely. He said he kept going back to the squash. It was like wine. He kept finding flavors in it. Sam said it took him back to the South and he thought that was the intention. Padma agreed. His mom said Kevin has never made a dish that she didn’t like.

14_bryan1
Bryan – Childhood Dish
Sardine, German Butterball Potato, Heirloom Tomato & Panko Bread Crumbs

Toby said it reminded him of sardines on toast. With the bread crumbs, that really brought it back for him. Douglas said it was the least seasoned dish of the three. Donatella said with sardines she was looking for acid in the dish, but there was nothing there so it was a shame. His mom said it was the first time she ever had sardines. She thought she was going to get a really fishy taste, but she didn’t.

14_michael1
Michael – Childhood Dish
Cream of Dehydrated Broccoli, Fried Broccoli & Spot Prawn

Sam said that Michael’s prawn didn’t work for him at all. Stephen said his shrimp were undercooked. Drew said his was cooked well. He thought a little bit undercooked was fine. Donnatella said that as someone that didn’t like broccoli, she said his dish made her like it. She also enjoyed his story. His mom said that she loved the fried broccoli best. Padma asked if he really hated broccoli as a kid. She said he hated everything.

The moms only stayed for the first course, so they left before the judges moved on to more food.

Second Course

14_kevin2
Kevin – Mystery Box Dish
Pacific Rockfish, Roasted squash, Crab Broth & Roasted Matsutake Mushroom

Donnatella said the broth was clearly the star. It was very rich. Drew said the essence and flavors were fantastic. Donnatella said that it was bad when she bit into the mushroom though. Tom agreed that he didn’t nail it. It was too tough. Bill thought he needed a hatchet to cut it. Tom said the fish was nicely cooked, but the others were better. He did think it was a good dish.

14_bryan2
Bryan – Mystery Box Dish
Rockfish Sous Vide, Kabocha Squash with Curry & Meyer Lemon

Douglas said again that he wished it had more seasoning, but he thought that maybe Bryan just wasn’t an aggressive seasoner. Sam said it was like “a blind date that you don’t want to go on.” He thought the plating was bland. Stephen thought it was the best cooked fish and he loved the curry flavor. Gail thought that Bryan’s dish was the safest, but it didn’t inspire her in any way.

14_michael2
Michael – Mystery Box Dish
Dashi-Glazed Rockfish, Sweet & Sour Crab Salad with Squash & Meyer Lemon

Tom thought the combination of meyer lemon and squash was amazing. He thought his fish was perfectly cooked. He had the mushroom cut very thin and crispy, which he found to be nice. Sam said the balance of the sweet and sour was great. It was his favorite dish.

Third Course

14_kevin3
Kevin – Chef’s Choice
Slow Roasted Pork Belly with Brussels Sprouts, Broccoli & Caramelized Ham Jus

Stephen didn’t think the pork belly was cooked long enough. He found it too hard. Bill loved the richness of the sauce. Douglas like the sweet and sour that was in it. He thought Kevin did a great job balancing the fat with acid.

14_bryan3
Bryan – Chef’s Choice
Venison Saddle with Puree of Sunchokes & Orange Juniper Sauce

Padma said that no one could say that this course from Bryan didn’t have enough seasoning. Others agreed that it was much better. Drew said the meat was cooked perfectly. Toby said that it had a nice, rich, pungent flavor. Tom pointed out that he put a lot of work into it since he made each vegetable two different ways.

14_michael3
Michael – Chef’s Choice
Fennel-Scented Squab Breast, Pistachio Cassoulet & Textures of Mushrooms

Drew said it was excellent. Sam said it had different complexities of all different textures. Gail said the mushroom puree that he molded into a mushroom lost some of its mushroom flavor. Donnatella said it was a gimmick and they didn’t need gimmicks at this level.

Fourth Course

14_kevin4
Kevin – Dessert
Roasted Banana, Toasted Peanut with Chocolate Bacon Mousse & Bacon Brittle

Stephen said he knows chefs like it, but he doesn’t want pork in his dessert. Gail said she loved the bacon crispies because they had a lot of flavor and texture. Tom didn’t think the banana was enough. He thought that is Kevin was going to do a dessert like that, he should have done the banana two different ways.

14_bryan4
Bryan – Dessert
“Dulce de Leche” Cheesecake with Fig Sorbet, Poaced Pear & Basil

Stephen said the cheesecake was pleasant. Douglas said it was beautiful to look at. Gail thought the fig sorbet was heavenly. She said it was a pastry chef’s dish and it showed a lot of skill.

14_michael4
Michael – Dessert
Chocolate Caramel Coulant, Butternut Squash Brulee & Butternut Ice Cream

While plating, Michael realized that Eli had filled up the molds a little too high and Michael had overcooked his dessert. Stephen loved the toasted pumpkin seeds that were on the side of the dish. They made the dish for him. Douglas thought the cake was a little dry and could have used more fat. Padma agreed that cutting into it, it needed more of a creaminess inside. Tom said that with the dessert, it needs to be served immediately after coming out of the oven or the caramel would start absorbing back into the cake and dry it out. Tom said it was almost a very good dessert.

Judges’ Table

Toby told Bryan that he thought his fish in the second course was very well cooked, but there wasn’t enough contrast and different textures in the dish. Toby said the hallmark of his dishes was restraint. Bryan said he didn’t think that was a fault. Toby said that everything was very well executed, but nothing felt particularly bold. Gail said she loved the venison dish. Bryan said it showed off his style of marrying modern and traditional cooking. Tom said the dish was seasoned and the flavors were great. It was perfect for the season and his most successful dish of the night.

Padma told Kevin that his first course had a lot of flavor. She said it was rich and beautiful. She really enjoyed it. Tom love the crispy skin and said that he kept going back to the squash to find new flavors. Toby told Kevin that he was a self-professed pork lover, including the tattoo of a pig he has on his arm. He thought the pork dish was going to be a knockout, but it wasn’t. Tom said it felt like he could have taken it a step further. He said if he had a roasted piece of pork along with the pork belly, it would have been a more complete pork dish.

Padma asked Michael how he dealt with the mystery box. He said he uses the mushrooms a lot so he just fried them until they got crispy so it could add some texture to the dish. Toby said he nailed the mushroom. It was great. He thought the pickled tomato was like a “flavor bomb that detonated in your mouth.” He liked the boldness and his willingness to take risks. Michael said he wanted to do that. He wanted to surprise the judges. Tom said he liked the fish course and how it kept revealing different flavors. He found it to be successful. When discussing the dessert, Michael said he makes it all the time, but he didn’t set his timer so it was overcooked. Toby said it was a mixture of good and bad. He loved the pumpkin seeds. They were a nice seasonal touch. Gail said the cake was super dry, but the flavor combination was totally great. She said it was almost a great dessert.

The chefs were sent out and the judges went down the line with the courses. Gail said Kevin had the most flavor in the first course. It was the most interesting to eat. Tom thought Bryan’s dish was a good idea, but he couldn’t get past the fact that it was so bland. Toby liked Bryan’s dish the best and he didn’t mind the fact that it was underseasoned. He could really taste the sardine and liked the different textures in there. Tom wasn’t a fan of Michael’s dish either. Tom said spot prawns are one of the most delicate things to work with and the fried flourish completely overpowered it.

For the mystery box course, Tom thought Michael used the ingredients better than the other two. It was more imaginative too. Gail thought everything in Michael’s dish worked nicely, except the tomato, which was a little strong. It wasn’t as low a point as the mushroom on Kevin’s dish. Toby realized that Kevin messed up on the mushroom, but he thought the broth was so good that it compensated for it. Tom said the mushroom was incorrectly cooked, so it wasn’t used properly. Toby said it was an easy fix by not eating the mushroom. Gail responded that he put it there to be eaten. Gail said with Bryan’s dish didn’t have any major lows or highs, but it had no texture. It was a one-note dish.

For the third course, Gail said she could not find a flaw in Bryan’s dish. Everything was seasoned well and the flavors worked together. Tom agreed saying it showed good workmanship and it was flavorful. Toby said Bryan’s dish was easily the strongest thing Bryan did, but he didn’t think it was as memorable as Michael’s squab. Gail said there were two things that failed for her in Michael’s dish. She didn’t like the mushroom, which she stated during dinner, and she didn’t like the texture of the pistachio cassoulet. Toby agreed. Gail said she knew Kevin was capable of so much more. Tom said in the past he found Kevin’s flavors to be sophisticated, but he didn’t find that in his dish.

For dessert, Tom said what bothered him about Michael’s dessert was that he didn’t make it right and he knew he didn’t make it right. Gail said that even though Michael’s dish was dry, she did like the boldness of his flavors. It made a lot of sense to her. Padma agreed. Toby thought Kevin’s dessert was disappointing. He did say that he thought Kevin was on the fast track to becoming a culinary superstar, but he had a bad night. Tom said he liked the flavors on Kevin’s dish, but if he was thinking of a complete dessert that he would want to eat again, he would pick Bryan’s dish. Gail agreed with Tom on that point. Gail said Bryan’s dish was the most restrained, subtle and sophisticated and that’s how she likes her desserts. She thought that with some tweaking, Michael’s could have been the best, but from what they ate that night, Bryan’s dessert was the best.

The chefs were called back in. Tom told Bryan that he put together a stellar roster of dishes. He said they were well constructed, beautifully presented and he wowed them with a great dessert. He told Michael that he put together some amazing creative dishes. He reached high and often delivered. Tom told Kevin that he stayed true to himself throughout the entire competition and showed them that Southern food is more than biscuits and gravy. Padma informed Kevin that he was not Top Chef. It was then down to the brothers. Padma informed Michael that he was Top Chef.

14_winner

Questions

  1. Do you agree with Michael being the overall winner?
  2. Did you wish Bryan or Kevin would have won?

Photo Source: Bravo

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: