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Review: Top Chef - Season Finale, Part 2

by Kona Gallagher, posted Dec 10th 2009 1:15AM
top chef finale
Well, it's pretty hard to argue with a Top Three whose members have won twelve of the thirteen elimination challenges, as Tom tells us at the beginning of the episode. Some of you may think that Jen was robbed in favor of creating more drama by having the Voltaggio brothers in the finale, but I disagree. She had a several-week stint toward the end where she just fell apart and barely made it through elimination. None of these guys had that, so they absolutely deserve to be here.

However, it is mighty convenient that having brothers in the finale tugs at our heartstrings just a little bit more, since they bring the moms in for the final challenge. I love the idea of having the chefs create a first course that reminds them of childhood memories, especially since we got such good stories out of it. Kevin's mom loves fried chicken skin! Brian was inspired by the texture in his mother's simple dishes, while Michael was a picky eater who "hated everything." I guess he got past that.

I was excited when they brought back all of the previous contestants and had the finalists draw knives to see who their sous chefs would be. Most reality shows like this generally just have the most recently eliminated contestants come back, so it was cool that there was the opportunity to have some randoms who we don't even remember have a shot at working on the finale.

Unfortunately, the entire thing turned out to be a big waste of time, since Jen and Eli were chosen, who were the most recently eliminated. Beyond that, none of the sous chefs got to say anything, so they really could have gotten anyone to fill those roles. Usually in situations like this, the eliminated contestants at least get to do bitter interview clips about how the entire situation is completely jacked, but I guess Top Chef is too classy for that, or whatever.

Kevin said something during one of his interviews that I really agree with. He said that basically on any given day, any one of them could win this competition. I really believe that. They have always seemed evenly matched to me, albeit with very different skill sets.

Kevin can make simple food with deceptively complex flavors. Michael is probably the most inventive contestant on the show, and isn't afraid to take risks. Bryan is probably the most technically talented, and can pull off extremely complex dishes better than anyone else. It really is anyone's game.

This is reflected in the challenge, in which they all knock it out of the park at least once. For Kevin, it was his chicken skin dish. Bryan had his venison dish, and Michael aced the mystery box challenge. On the flip side, they all also had their weaknesses. Michael faltered when he undercooked his prawn and overcooked his dessert, while Bryan's first two dishes were too bland for most of the judges. Kevin's pork belly underwhelmed, but his night really went off the rails with his ill-advised bacon dessert.

The cult of bacon has become this trend that as a lifelong vegetarian, I do not understand even a little bit. However, I feel that it wouldn't make much more sense to me even if I did eat meat. It's one of those trendy things that I knew would annoy at least some of the judges, and that seems to be what happened. The dish was universally panned, and that's when I knew that Kevin and his magical beard wouldn't be taking home the Top Chef crown.

So it came down to who we probably always knew it would be: the Voltaggio brothers. It's fitting, really. They have wildly disparate styles, but the same intensity and work ethic. They've both been competitive with each other throughout the competition, but Michael, probably a bit moreso, owing to the fact that he's the little brother. That's why, when the judges named him the winner of Top Chef, I was really impressed with how gracious he was toward Bryan -- especially when he interviewed that it meant more to him to be in the top two with his brother, than it did to actually win the competition.

I was a little surprised with the ending, as I had always viewed Bryan as the front-runner, but I guess Michael's innovation really won over the judges in the end. However, when it came to the popular vote, Kevin won the Bravo text poll with over 50% of the vote. So that makes me wonder, do you agree with the outcome, or did the judges get it wrong?

Did the judges choose the right Top Chef?
Yes, Michael absolutely deserved it.144 (28.4%)
No, Bryan is clearly the more talented Voltaggio brother.166 (32.7%)
No, Kevin was robbed!197 (38.9%)

[Watch clips and episodes of Top Chef at SlashControl.]

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I have no problem with the final three, nor who the winner was. I have a problem with the disclaimer during the credits stating that the producers have a say in who the winner was. That no longer makes the show a competition, it just makes it scripted television. Of all the "competition" shows on tv, I really thought that Top Chef and Bravo were above this.

December 17 2009 at 12:18 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I was rooting for Kevin to win because I like his concept of simple yet flavorful food. Artistic presentation is all well and good, but sometimes I think there is to much focus on that at the expense of cooking food that is actually good to eat.
However, that being said, I dont fault the judges for their decision. It is the nature of Top Chef that we just have to trust the judges opinion, because we cant taste the food ourselves. On a show like Project Runway, we can see for ourselves wether or not a particular design is to our liking. On Top Chef, we have to leave that evaluation to the experts. We also have to understand that the way the show is edited has a bearing on how we view the competition. A good example is, someone commenting here that Jens dish was oversalted to the point of being inedible, but that fact was not reflected in the show. So, our opinion as viewers is being manipulated and shaped due to the way the show is presented to us. This isnt necessarily a criticism,just a comment on the way it is, and something we need to keep in mind when we are making up our mind about how we view the judges decisions.
I enjoy watching Top Chef and commenting on it and talking about it. But I do try to refrain from second guessing things that I have no ability to evaluate for myself.

December 15 2009 at 8:48 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I believe Kevin deserved to lose the competition not only because his cooking was merely unsophisticated comfort food, but because he was diabolical and played dirty on at least two occasions: He messed with Jennifer when, in the guise of being helpful and so psychologically disarming, he misinformed her with unsolicited assurances that when the grill flame goes down the coals will be very hot. Similarly, in season 5 Carla was misguided by someone else's ideas causing her to change her approach and it cost her the competition. The difference being that Carla's sous chef had nothing to gain by sabotaging her. Jennifer thanked Kevin only to find later when the flames went down, contrary to Kevin's certainty, there was no heat. Either he was arrogantly pretending he knew what he was talking about or he was actively undermining her. Prior to that, in the round being judged by Bryan's mentor, and former employer of both Michael and Bryan, Kevin had the nerve to ask Bryan how to cook meat using technique inconsistent with what he claimed was his "style". He then went on to win the round because of the reliability of the specific technique he employed which was in fact Bryan's-and did not win because his food was great. For this he won a 30,000 dollar prize and the opportunity to be the representative in a competition for which he was the least suitable since however tasty his cooking might sometimes be, it is still too basic for an international professional competition. As Michael put it, he cooks like Kevin "on his days off".

December 13 2009 at 7:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Plan B

At the risk of being called a jerk...To all the people who say that Kevin should have won because you like his personality more, may I remind you - this is a culinary competition. Yes, Kevin appears to be a much kinder person, but when it came down to it, Michael put out better food and that is what they were judged on period.

That said, I think the majority of people watching will agree that this was the season with the highest level of talent yet. Any of the three, going in, could have won. All chefs have bad days and unfortunately, this was one of Kevin's. Bryan has had seasoning issues before. Michael made the least mistakes. Different night could have had different results.

December 12 2009 at 9:15 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I think Kevin could have won had he cooked the mushroom properly...and also, from some other reports I've read, he'd just found out his wife was leaving him around the day of the finals, so his being in such a funk is easily explainable. Whether that's actually true or not I'm not sure...

December 11 2009 at 2:16 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to nick's comment

Yeah, the story about his marriage breaking up is true. It's mentioned in an Atlanta Constitution interview he did that ran on the 10th.

He talks about regretting letting his emotions spill over unfairly in his harshness with Preeti, and how it was good to see his mother, but hard at the same time not being able to openly talk to her about his problems with the Top Chef cameras on them 24/7. Competing under circumstances like that, and for the title at that, must have been incredibly difficult.

He admits that the mushrooms didn't work out well, but stands by his pork belly dish.

I wouldn't say I'm "happy" with the outcome, even in a post-Top Chef interview Michael V. comes off as a bit of a plonker, but I wouldn't dispute that the best chef, on that particular day, won. And with the field being as well matched as it was, that's what I'd say it really came down to.

Overall, I didn't necessarily find the personalities quite as engaging as in some of the past seasons, but it was still really enjoyable. I liked the emphasis given to food and technique this season.

Jen was probably my favorite, with Kevin a close second. Beyond being an extremely talented and knowledgeable chef, she had moxie, humility (probably a bit too much in the end), charm, and did her best to dig deep and bounce back after hitting a rough patch.

I'll be back next year ready for more.

December 11 2009 at 12:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
cress d

Worst season of Top Chef EVER! Kevin was the best chef. But they went with asshole, elitist brothers with the personalities of robots. Michael is a complete tool.

December 10 2009 at 5:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I am OK with the winner as all three are top chefs. However, I was surprised how much they ignored Michael's failed dessert. Essentially giving him the "it would have been great if he had cooked it properly." They have skewered other contestants for making such a ridiculous mistake, particularly at such a huge moment.

I also have to say I hated that they randomly got assigned former contestants. Kevin certainly got the short end of the knife on that draw and it rattled him.

December 10 2009 at 3:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

one thing is for sure - no one was robbed. Kevin blew it and he knew it. If anything was a joke it was who he got stuck working with. I was a Jen supporter who became a Kevin supporter who ended up pulling for Bryan but Michael certainly wowed them more and was more inventive.

This is certainly the best season so far (in terms of skill) and it's going to be hard to find chef's as talented/ professional. Any of the final four would have won in previous years.

Can Ron win for fan favorite I love that guy!

December 10 2009 at 11:40 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

oh p.s. http://www.orble.com/teevee-top-chef-finale/

December 10 2009 at 11:24 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I think the right person won. I think Michael was a great personality for the show (aka a jerk) but was also the most innovative, creative chef this season and will represent Top Chef well. (check out Tom C.'s blog on Bravotv, because it looks like clever editing of last night's episode really amped up the 'he was robbed' sentiment)

I think Bryan is an amazing technician in the culinary arts and proved that over and over again on the show and will surely continue on to do more amazing things.

AND I think Kevin has shown the world that his love of simple food packs a flavorful punch and will undoubtably have a great career in front of him. Could you see him doing a show on the Food Network? I can, he's just such a lovable a guy.

I can only hope that next season of Top Chef brings in the caliber of chefs that this season held!

December 10 2009 at 11:22 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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