March 1st, 2012
11:33 AM ET
After 29 chefs (and what felt like 29 episodes), “Top Chef: Texas” crowned a winner.
In the end, Paul got the Food and Wine magazine feature and added $125,000 to his already sizable stack of winnings. And it was never really in doubt.
OK, that last part is a lie. This was one of the tightest finales in the show’s nine seasons, with Tom saying it was the best food they’ve eaten.
For the final challenge, Paul and Sarah had to create a four-course tasting menu. A bunch of booted “Texas” chefs and two established American chefs each made a Quickfire dish, which Paul and Sarah blind taste-tested to determine teams.
Paul’s first pick turned out to be master chef Barbara Lynch, and he rounded out his crew with Ty-Lor, Keith and Pretty Chris.
Sarah had a strong group with Nyesha, Heather and Grayson. Unfortunately she also chose Tyler, who made the quickest exit in “Top Chef” history after flubbing basic butchering on day one. Both chefs blatantly avoided making eye contact with this guy, like when some hack cruise ship comedian is looking to pluck a volunteer.
When it came time to plan the dishes and cook, though, Paul and Sarah were in command, determined not to let anyone derail them. As Sarah put it: “I’m trying to get Tyler to feel like he’s part of the group, when really I don’t give a s***.” For once, I agreed with her.
For Paul’s first course, he presented chawanmushi (which the Google machine says is a Japanese steamed egg custard) with spot prawns. The first group of judges said it was exceptional, citing the silky smooth texture. But for the second rotation, the batch was an overcooked mess.
Next was grilled sea bass with clam dashi, radishes and mushrooms. The whole dish exhibited Paul’s deft use of contrast, and the broth was “brilliant.”
For the third course, Paul served congee (rice porridge) with scrambled eggs, uni and smoked albacore. It wasn’t as interesting as his other food, but was well-executed and confident.
Dessert consisted of coconut ice cream with puffed rice, Thai chili foam and a bunch of mystical-sounding stuff. The spicy foam played well with the (slightly too crunchy) rice.
Overall, it was described as a “sexy meal.” Dude is the mailman: he always delivers (but unlike Karl Malone, Paul got himself a championship).
Admittedly, Top Chef Nation – myself included – has been pretty rough on Sarah this season. But last night she showed she deserved to be in the finale.
She started off with squid ink tagliatelle with spot prawns (what’s with all the spot prawns?) and coconut. Gail described this as one of those out-there dishes that was so delectable, you wondered why nobody had thought it up before.
Next was rye-crusted trout (under-seasoned) with pickled beets (raw), the one “meh” dish of the night.
Third was veal cheek with sweetbreads and polenta. The polenta in the first batch was a Goldilocks porridge nightmare, but Sarah smoothed it out for the second judges’ visit. While the veal cheek was “luscious,” the dish lacked texture.
All the judges swooned for Sarah’s hazelnut cake with white chocolate ganache – especially Padma, who said despite her hatred of white chocolate, it was one of the best “Top Chef” desserts she’d ever had.
Overall, Sarah’s meal was dubbed “incredible.”
The judges concluded that while Sarah had a slight edge in the first course, Paul convincingly won the second and third, and the dessert was just barely Sarah (Tom preferred Paul’s). While Paul did what he knew and nailed the details, Sarah successfully stepped out of her comfort zone.
As I obsessively analyzed the chefs’ confessional room demeanor and Sarah’s giant grin during the “Watch What Happens Live” promo, I concluded she snagged the win.
Did I mention I’m not a body language expert? Like so many other challenges this season, the victory went to Paul. Commence obligatory/adorable crying with the parents.
Meanwhile, Sarah whined that she thought she deserved to win. But hey, she didn’t blame Bev!
So, yes, this season was prolonged and sometimes underwhelming. But it finished strong and the most deserving chef won. I’d take that over a more consistent season that ends with a Hosea or Kevin S. fiasco any day.
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