Top Chef Finale by BB
It’s down to two chefs, Nina Compton and Nicholas Elmi. Nicholas can’t believe he’s in the finals. If you go by who were consistently the best chefs throughout the season, he shouldn’t be there. But that’s not how it goes. He won the last challenge and that’s how he got into the finals. Congratulations to both of them.
For the final challenge, they will each be taking over a restaurant and making it their own for the night. They have to create a four course meal. The judges will be in two group and will be eating at their restaurants at different times, so their food must be consistent throughout the evening. Nick won the last elimination challenge, so he’s going to have some type of advantage in this challenge.
The next morning, Padma walks in (flaunting her boobies in a brief bikini top) with previously eliminated chefs to help Nina and Nick. Nick, having an advantage, will get to select all three of his sous chefs first. He picks Jason (who is a jerk in my opinion), Louis and Brian. I wonder why he didn’t pick Shirley. Of course, Nina selects Shirley, along with Stephanie and Travis. I would have selected Janine over Travis if I had been Nina.
Nick wants to do contemporary French cuisine. Nina wants to showcase local ingredients but also include Italian food as well. The each go over their menus with their sous chefs. Nina decides to throw in two extra surprise courses. Nina was planning on making ice cream and bought ingredients for it. However, Travis arrives at the restaurant kitchen and calls her to inform her there is no ice cream machine there. She’s already running into difficulty. Nina decides to do a type of donut instead of ice cream. She’s not that happy about it, but had to have a backup since there is no ice cream machine.
Without going into great detail, Nina’s kitchen seems a little less tense than Nicks, which is not surprising. Tom and Emeril visit each kitchen and Nina thinks Tom tries to get into her head about doing a dessert when she’s not required. They talk to Nick about his past habit of under seasoning things when Nina seems to cook more spicy foods. At the end of the day, Nina is worried about whether her goat will be tender enough. Nick wants to make sure his food is seasoned well enough.
That evening Nick and Nina meet Tom and Emeril for dinner. When they get there they are joined by their families; Nina’s husband and brother and Nick’s wife and mom.
Brian thinks Nick has a great plan. He meets with the restaurant staff to let them know what he expects. Nina’s goat is not tender enough so she has to make some adjustments and it ends up being ok. When Nick is ready to instruct the servers, two are missing and Nick is not happy. Showing up at Nina’s restaurant first are Tom, Gail, David Kinch, chef/owner of Manresa, and Takashi Yagihashi, chef/owner of Takashi. Over at Nick’s restaurant are Padma, Hugh, Emeril, Paul Bartolotta, chef/owner of Bartolotta Ristorante Di Mare, and Masaharu Morimoto, chef/owner of Morimoto Restaurant Group. Padma tells the others she’s curious to see if Nick will cook the kind of food he did in the last challenge or revert back to what he was doing in New Orleans. This is telling to me and makes me wonder how he made it into the final four in the first place. But I digress. He’s there so there’s no use questioning how he got there now.
Nina starts her dinner off with Breadfruit with Whipped Foi Gras Butter. It’s one of her surprise courses, a bread service. Gail thinks it’s so lovely and Tom thinks it’s quite delicious. Her first course is Tuna and Escolar Tartar with Tomato Water and Jalapeno. No criticism from any of the judges.
Over at Nick’s place, he’s still having issues with order tickets and expediters and such and he’s a little embarrassed by the slow service. When his servers bring out the first course, he corrects them about making sure the fish is on the left. His first course is Hamachi and Tuna with Green Apple Wasabi, Celery and Maui-Meyer Lemon. Emeril and Hugh think it’s a little under seasoned (a recurring theme for Nick). His second course is Sweet Shrimp Bisque, Scallop and Daikon Noodles with Thai Basil. Chef Morimoto says the abalone is cooked perfect, but doesn’t know why he used scallops. Chef Bartolotta says something about it I can’t really understand, but I don’t think it was complimentary.
Back at Nina’s, her second course is Roasted Goat Sugo with Orreccheitte, Cherry Tomato Confit and Goat Cheese. Chef Yagohashi says the cherry tomato is a nice pop in the mouth. Tom and Chef Kinch say the goat is perfectly cooked and seasoned and Tom says he would come back for that dish. Her third course is Swordfish with Squash Puree, Braised Kale and Smoked Onion Jus. Tom thinks the components of this dish are competing against each other and it doesn’t work.
At Nick’s, he’s not happy that the duck is a little tough and he and Brian are trying to pick out the best portions for the judges. It’s Kombu Cured Duck Breast with Kabocha Squash, Hijiki and Ginger. Hugh likes it and says it’s packed with flavor. Emeril says the duck is a little chewy, but Chef Bartolotta says his is done all the way through. Nick’s dessert course is served and there are no dessert spoons on the table, which he had told the servers prior to make sure they were there. The dessert is Caramelized White Chocolate Panna Cotta with Almond Cocoa Crumble and Tropical Fruit. Overall the judges like it, although Padma says something about it not being jiggly enough. Overall Padma thinks it was a great performance from Nick and she’s excited to see what Nina’s will be like.
Nina’s is serving an Intermezzo course. Compressed Dragon Fruit and Frozen Papaya Skewer. Someone says the frozen papaya is damned good and they like the little something extra. Last is Nina’s dessert. It’s Chocolate Zeppole (donut) with Macadamia Nuts and Passion Fruit Anglaise. The judges don’t think it’s a complete dessert and Chef Kinch says it’s ending the meal with a whisper, not a bang. Nina thinks she did too much that she didn’t need to do.
The judges switch restaurants. Nick is still frustrated with the front of the house service. Nick serves his first course. A couple of the judges are still saying there’s not enough seasoning on the first course, but it’s perfect on the second course. Tom says the second course is easily the best dish he’s had all year and Gail says yeah. Chef Kinch says “really?” (like he’s not THAT impressed). Gail says it’s fantastic. They also like Nick’s duck dish. They hear Nick losing his cool with the servers in the back. Tom says “wow,” Gail says “awkward.” Gail asks Tom if he thinks Nick redeemed himself with his second try at dessert. He says it’s like night and day. Chef Kinch says he would be happy to have Nick’s food in any of a number of restaurants. Tom says he thinks Nick peaked at the right time. Gail says they will have a lot to talk about at the judges’ table.
Back at Nina’s, the judges love Nina’s bread course. They also love her first course. Hugh and chef Morimoto love her goat dish and Emeril says he wants another bowl. The judges think Nina’s swordfish dish is a little too much of everything, almost too much for the palette. Hugh doesn’t think Nina’s dessert is the best she can do for the Top Chef finale. Emeril shrugs his shoulders.
Nick and Nina come before the judges (Hugh, Emeril, Padma, Tom and Gail). They mention the yelling in the back at Nick’s restaurant. They tell Nick his first course was under seasoned. Tom tells Nick his second course was the best dish he’s had all season and he wouldn’t change a thing and he should include it in his menu. Padma makes an incredulous face while Tom is talking. Padma tells Nick she liked his duck course, but Emeril tells him it was undercooked. Tom says his was cooked the way it should have been cooked. He thought it was fine. Emeril gives Tom a look. They all say his dessert was good but may have been a little too “set” and not jiggly enough.
Tom asks Nina if she thinks she should be judged on the two extra course “she wasn’t supposed to do.” She says if she felt it worked and it made the progression a little better, why not. Tom says ok. Hugh and Gail loved her bread course. Gail tells Nina her first course was one of the best dishes she made all season long and Emeril thought it was awesome and delicious. Hugh says she nailed it. Nina agrees that her swordfish didn’t really gel. Tom says her components didn’t meet. Gail tells Nina her dessert didn’t feel like a full dessert, it felt like a nice little bit, like Nina described it.
The chefs leave and the judges start talking about how difficult the decision is going to be, which is how it should be according to Tom. Padma suggests they compare course to course. For the first course, nobody argues that Nina won. For the second course, Emeril likes Nina’s goat, but Gail thinks Nick’s shrimp was a little stronger. Tom thinks Nick’s second course was the best dish of the night. Hugh liked Nina’s goat better and Padma thought Nina’s ragu was the best dish by either chef all night. Second course to Nina to Tom’s chagrin. Third course. Gail liked Nick’s duck dish. Emeril said he couldn’t even eat some of it because it was undercooked. On the other hand, Emeril thought Nina’s swordfish was salty so he’s calling it a tie. Tom thought Nina missed the mark on her third course and would give the nod to Nick. The dessert course went to Nick. So Gail is announcing that Nina took the first two course and Nick took the second two courses.
Hugh is wondering what happens because they are in a tie. Tom says whoa, whoa, whoa, are they in a tie? Gail says she feels like it was one of those meals where they could talk for 60 more hours and still not agree on everything they ate that night. Hugh says they are going to be judging on which chef delivered the overall best experience. Tom says yes. Emeril says meaning where you want to go back and have dinner tomorrow? Padma says yes, she thinks they should consider service. Hugh says they saw Nick lashing out at the wait staff and that’s going to play into his decision, it’s got to. And I think it’s Gail who says it should (or it could have been Padma).
Tom thinks Nick did a better job on consistency from start to finish. Tom questions the wisdom of Nina making the two extra dishes. Padma says but she did make the extra courses and they were amazing. Gail says there’s a part of her that wishes Nina has taken that energy and put it into making a better dessert. It would have made Gail happier. Tom asks if they all agree on what the worst course of the night was. Hugh says Nina’s dessert. Tom thought he was going to say Nina’s swordfish. Hugh wants to say what his best course of the night was, but Tom keeps pushing him to say what the worst course of the night was. Padma says there’s something brewing here. Emeril says he ate all of his swordfish but he couldn’t eat the duck. Padma says it’s the closest finale she’s ever experienced.
And the winner is . . . . Nick.
I will end with this. This is the first time my husband has watched Top Chef – ever. He’s seen a few minutes here and there while I’ve been blogging this season. He was busy doing something else and only caught the judges’ table portion of the finale. When Padma announced Nick as the winner, my husband asked why. He mentioned that the bald-headed guy (he doesn’t even know who Tom is) was steering the deliberations towards Nick the whole time. Plus, he wonders why they had a four course meal (an even number) where there would be the possibility of a tie. And when it seemed the two chefs were tied, overall experience and service came into play. So the fact that Nick was yelling at the wait staff should have sealed the deal for Nina.
In whose kitchen would you rather work? I know whose kitchen I’d pick.
Aftermath by NMD
On WWHL after the show – 80% voters chose Nina over Nicholas, and Tom Colicchio called in and was extremely defensive. He carried that over to twitter:
This is how we scored last nights challenge 1st course 5 to Nina 2nd 3 Nina 2 Nick 4th 1 Nina 4 nick 5th 0 Nina 5 to nick Nina 9 nick 11
— Tom Colicchio (@tomcolicchio) February 6, 2014
Beverly Hills reunion is taping today. Keep an eye on twitter. I predict the aftermath won’t be pretty.