Each week we chronicle how Seattle represented (or didn't) in the show's tenth season.
Previously, on Top Chef: Kristen fights her way back from Last Chance Kitchen and pees a little bit in her pants. Sheldon says aloha.
Lights! Camera! Padma’s boobs! No explaining the rules or surprise sous chef visits here: We are immediately thrust into the in-progress finale. Kristen and Brooke and their sous chefs are already hard at work in an arena-style kitchen. It’s very Iron Cheffy. Like an episode where you missed the first 10 minutes.
Padma, wearing a low-cut red dress and doing her best game show host impression, explains that the chefs are creating five dishes to serve 160 people and all the assembled judges. Tom looks mighty uncomfortable with this whole format. Each dish is a head-to-head competition, and the first woman to win three rounds is Top Chef.
First, we get a clip show of Brooke winning one million challenges. Aww, there’s the Space Needle. Remember when this show was in Seattle, guys?
Now the finale takes us back three hours earlier, when Brooke and Kristen are herded out onto the arena stage and Tom welcomes them to the live finale. The ladychefs chose their menu and sous chefs earlier and off camera; Brooke is working with CJ, Stefan, and Kuniko. Kristen went simple with Lizzie, Sheldon, and Josh—the last three chefs eliminated.
All nine of the previous Top Chefs are there. Hooray for Richard Blais and Paul Qui and Stephanie Izard. Gail says that either way, a lady will join these ranks after tonight’s finale. She asks Stephanie, thus far the only female Top Chef, “are you ready to share your tiara”? Pshaw. Like Stephanie Izard would be caught dead in a tiara.
Brooke’s first course: a crispy pig ear and chicory salad with a six-minute egg. Kristen’s first course: chicken liver mousse with frisee, mustard, prune, and pumpernickel. The entire audience counts down the clock for round one. It’s like the most stressful New Year’s Eve party ever. Though it’s not the first time the judges have tasted Kristen’s chicken liver mousse, they fawn over it anyway. Hugh, Gail, and Emeril declare her dish their favorite, and thus the round one winner. Brooke looks on the verge of tears.
For the next round, both chefs are cooking scallops. Kristen’s are cured in citrus and lavender. Brooke is searing hers and serving them over a brandade and with crispy speck.
Now it’s time for another clip package about Brooke. This time we see her deal with her various phobias—heights, boats, helicopters, unicorns, pencils, etc. Gail sidles up to Brooke’s husband and family to ask if they ever imagined this moment would be happening. “I bet Hudson would be here too if he could have stayed awake.” Smart choice, Hudson.
Michael Voltaggio actually seems jealous that he can’t be down there plating 160 scallops under intense pressure. We flash to Tom and Emeril, clucking over the proceedings like those two old-man muppets up on the balcony in The Muppet Show. Somehow Sheldon is Fozzie Bear in this scenario.
Round two countdown. Brooke presents her dish and has a hard time remembering the bajillion ingredients. Tom has to remind her about the romanesco. The judges praise the simplicity and flavor in Kristen’s scallops.
Padma tries to drum up big fanfare for each round of judging—tough to do when it’s essentially people going down the table and saying who they liked best. This time Gail and Emeril give the edge to Brooke. Tom and Padma go with Kristen, so it’s up to Hugh to break the tie and anoint the winner: Brooke.
The third round: Kristen does a celery root puree with bone marrow and mushrooms. Brooke wants redemption for the sad fried chicken she served at Tom’s poolside party pad so she’s doing vadouvan fried chicken with sumac yogurt-tahini and pickled kohlrabi fattoush. She frets that “maybe the judges don’t want to be eating with their fingers” in a Top Chef finale.
Now it’s time to walk down Kristen’s memory lane. We hear her talk about how lucky she is to work under Barbara Lynch. And remember Stephanie, Kristen’s coworker and close friend who didn’t make it past the first episode? We relive that long-ago clip of Kristen saying that the two women bonded over boob sweat. Sweat seems to be a theme of Kristen’s. Some of her family members are in the audience, too. Kristen’s brother remembers dropping her off in Boston “with a suitcase of clothes and dreams.” Her cuddly grandpa-looking father remembers telling Kirsten, “you’re my Top Chef.” Awww.
Brooke tells the camera that “Kristen’s dishes are always beautiful,” but hopefully the judges are more interested in flavor than concept. Is that the best drama the editors could manufacture? God, this episode is boring. Yet again Michael Voltaggio says that cooking in this arena kitchen looks like a lot of fun. Clearly this man has never experienced boob sweat.
“I forgot the wet naps!” Brooke jokes as she brings on her fried chicken. The table of past Top Chef winners declare her dish a ballsy move. Nevertheless, Kristen’s bone marrow and celery root puree gets the edge from Emeril, then Tom (“more developed flavor and much more interesting dish”) and finally Padma. Kristen, 2. Brooke, 1.
“It’s all or nothing with this next dish,” Brooke notes. “My fried chicken was a crucial mistake; I can’t make another, but it’s not over yet.” She sounds like she is doing commentary on her own tennis match.
And now for a pre-taped sequence of Top Chef victors offering awkward advice. Blais is earnest; Stephanie Izard recommends making dishes that don’t suck. Voltaggio doesn’t say any actual words. Thanks, guys.
Next round: snapper. Brooke serves it with braised pork cheeks; Kristen prepares it with uni, leeks, and a shellfish nage. While they cook, we are treated to yet another clip show, this one about the past nine Top Chefs, how excited they were to win, and all the impressive things they’ve done since. The production staff had to dig a little deeper to find stuff to brag about for Kevin Sbraga and Hosea. Fun fact: Since appearing on the show, the past nine winners have opened 17 restaurants.
Back at the past winners’ table, Padma again brings up the whole female Top Chef thing. We get it, guys. Ilan Hall says he looked really fat and oily on TV and his hair always looked like crap. “Nothing has changed then,” purrs Padma. Ouch.
Meanwhile, back where actual cooking is happening, Stefan is being distracted by comely audience members trying to flirt with him. Over on Kristen’s side, nobody is hitting on Sheldon, so Kristen just tells him to make sure dishes are hot. The assembled sous chefs aren’t getting a lot of screen time tonight.
Time for round four. Kristen says she is sweaty. The judges collectively praise Brooke’s dish and find a few technical faults with Kristen’s. Now it’s time to vote. Padma’s really pushing the whole “OMG will this be the deciding dish” aspect.
Gail: “Kristen’s flavors were just a little more harmonious.”
Emeril: After a prolonged internal struggle, he goes Kristen.
Padma jumps in: “If you get Tom’s vote, you are Top Chef.” Roger that, Padma.
It all comes down to the bear dreamboat. He gives it to Kristen, thus anointing her Top Chef in the most anticlimactic fashion possible. She tells the camera “Being the second female Top Chef is fantastic, but I wanted to win regardless.” Boo to whatever producer asked her that stupid leading question about being a female winner.
A teary-eyed Kristen says that a trip to Korea, her birthplace, is in her future. She tells Tom, “Thanks for that whole Last Chance Kitchen thing.” And thanks, show, for briefly stopping by Seattle on your way to Alaska.
Percentage of female Top Chef winners: 20
Number of times the woman thing was brought up: 4
Number of times it came up without being contrived: 0
Seattle mentions: 1?
Coolest Seattle moment: Uh I guess we got to relive bits of the Chihuly and Canlis episodes via the clip packages. Oh, there was a shot of the Space Needle, too.