Real Time Web Analytics Foodie Gossip: Top Chef New Orleans Recap Episode 17: "Finale Part 2."

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Top Chef New Orleans Recap Episode 17: "Finale Part 2."

This one is going to have an asterisk next to it.

Why? Because this finale will go down in Top Chef lore as, "The One Where The Wrong Person Won."

The decision was so close the producers felt the need to give us a flash-forward sequence where we see the judges arguing and debating at judges’ table even before the show starts. 

They really wanted us to feel their pain and went as far as showing Tom say this was “by far” the closest Top Chef ever. In a way, it seem like the show was hedging their bets and wanted us to know perhaps they picked the wrong person. 

Perhaps they did.

We pick up right after Nick and Nina were named the two finalists. Padma and Tom pay them a congratulatory visit at to the Tiki Hut and tell them the final challenge. It’s a simple one.

Each Chef takes over a restaurant, four courses, best meal wins. That’s it.

Padma reminds Nick that since he won the challenge going into the Finale, he’ll have an advantage.

Gotta get people to watch somehow.
For being loyal Top Chef fans who stuck around and suffered through this mediocre season, we are rewarded by a shot of Padma coming out of the ocean in a skimpy red bikini that rivals any Sport Illustrated swim suit video.

Thank you producers. We needed that.

Apparently Nick and Nina needed that too. Padma, still in her bikini, shows up at the two chefs’ swanky hotel suite with a bunch of cast-off chefs from this season. You know how this works. Time to pick your team for the final challenge. 

Here’s the roster: (read: Chefs who wanted a free trip to Maui)

Shirley. Louis. Carlos. Stephanie. Brian. Travis. Janine. Sara. Jason.

Remember that advantage Nick won? He gets to pick all three of his sous chefs first. 

Reunited and it feels so good. #BlondLove
He goes with Jason, Louis, and Brian. Those seem like reasonable picks. He and Jason are buddies from Philly, Louis proved himself by winning Last Chance Kitchen, and Brian…I have no idea why he picked Brian. 

Nina picks Shirley, Stephanie, and Travis, which also makes sense. Nina’s friends with all three, and while they’re not as strong technically at Nick’s team, I do think they have better chemistry. I mean, who else is she going to pick? Certainly not Carlos because this isn’t a Mexican challenge. I don’t think she really knows Janine, and let’s face it, everybody hates Sara.

I’m not sure it was that much of an advantage for Nick to pick first. With the exception of Louis, I don’t think Nina would have taken either Brian or Jason. So the advantage is pretty much moot.

What. Nobody wants to work with me? #Surprise
Time to plan the menu.

Nick is going to do what Nick does best. Use a bunch of techniques and put a lot of components into one dish that ultimately will need more salt. He is however, going to ask Jason to make a scallop “noodle” dish. Apparently it’s something Jason is known for back in Philly. Nick’s going to put his own spin on it, of course. Hey it’s always good to win Top Chef with someone else's signature dish. 

Nina’s going to do what Nina does best. Combine island flavors with Italian techniques. The surprise here is she’s throwing in two extra courses. She knows it’s a risk but believes it’ll add to the overall experience. Taking on unnecessary work usually doesn’t end well on Top Chef. #Protip

Whole Foods wins Axis and Allies.
The gang splits up. Part of the team heads to Whole Foods to shop while the other half heads to their respective kitchens to start cooking. Once again we end up at Whole Foods. Sometimes I wonder why the show even bothers with exotic locations when all they do is shop at Whole Foods. Surely there are beautiful local markets in Maui. Right?

Time to start cooking.

On Team Nick’s side. Louis is prepping some hamachi for a crudo, Brian is curing duck breast, and Jason is pressing scallops in between two hotel pans with his Chuck Taylors on. Pretty sure that breaks a few health code violations. 

Here comes Tom and Emeril for the last cook n’ chat.

Right away Tom sizes up Nick’s team and is surprised that Jason was his first pick. Jason seems offended. Tom doesn’t care. Tom asks if Nick’s doing a dessert. Nick says he is because he wants redemption for the crappy panna cotta that should have sent him home earlier in the season. Tom agrees that the earlier panna cotta was crappy. I think “tasted like plastic” were his exact words.
Somebody call the health department.

Clearly Tom and Emeril view Nick as the underdog here. Because, when they went over to Nina’s side, their tone was much more relaxed. They casually ask about her game plan, but slip in the question about dessert as well. Obviously the judges had a discussion off camera on whether or not these guys should do dessert. The funny thing is, if you know Top Chef and know Tom’s philosophy, you would definitely NOT do dessert.

All along Tom’s message is “make the best dishes you can.” So if you’re not a pastry chef and can’t make a great dessert, why bother? It’s the same as “Chinese food isn’t my strong suit, but I’m going to make a Chinese dish just because.” It makes no sense.

Reunited and it feels so good. Hey wait!  #OtherBlond
Alright. When the two chefs are done cooking for the day, Tom and Emeril are going to take them out to dinner. And by dinner they mean a surprise visit from family members. Time for some emotional backstories and tears. However, at this point it’s getting stale. We get it already. Nick’s had a tough childhood (not surprised, judging by his anger issues) and Nina comes up from a small tropical island. These backstories are as repetitive as their foods.

Speaking of food. Let’s get back to it.

Nick's crack crew.
Day of service. Both chefs are giving instructions to their service staff. For some reason Nina’s wait staff is all in uniform and ready to go and sampling the dishes, while Nick looks like he’s dealing with a bunch of lollygaggers on spring break. As you can imagine, Nick isn’t too happy about this. But there’s no time to fret. Here comes the guests and judges.

Since it’s the finale. We’ve got the full roster of judges plus special guests. Tom and Gail brought Chef David Kinch and Top Chef Master Takashi Yagihashi to Nina’s restaurant 'Canouan,' named after the island where her father’s from.

On the other side, Padma, Emeril, Hugh and brought along Chef Paul Bartolotta and Iron Chef Morimoto to Nick’s place 'Kris,' named after his wife.

Here’s the menu.

Canouan (Nina)

Amuse Bouche
Another tartar. #Yawn
Breadfruit with Whipped Foie Gras Butter.

First Course
Tuna & Escolar Tartar with Tomato Water & Japlapeno.

Second Course
Roasted Goat Sugo with Orecchiette, Cherry Tomato Confit & Goat Cheese

Third Course
Swordfish with Squash Puree, Braised Kale & Smoked Onion Jus

Compressed Dragon Fruit & Frozen Papaya Skewer

Chocolate Zeppole With Macadamia Nuts & Passion Fruit Anglaise

Kris (Nick)

First Course
Jason Nick's Signature Dish.
Hamachi & Tuna with Green Apple Wasabi, Celery & Maui-Meyer Lemon.

Second Course
Sweet Shrimp Bisque, Scallop & Daikon Noodles with Thai Basil.

Third Course
Kombu cured Duck Breast with Kabocha Squash, Hijiki & Ginger.

Caramelized White Chocolate Panna Cotta with Almond Cocoa Crumble & Tropical Fruit.

After the first round of tasting by the two groups of judges and guests, it’s hard to tell who’s got the upper hand. On one hand, Padma’s group found Nick’s dishes slightly underwhelming. His crudo is under seasoned (again), the scallop noodle too subtle, and the while everyone at the table loved the duck dish, Emeril somehow got served an undercooked piece and could barely chew through and finish his. And though they liked his dessert, it’s still just dessert.

This season. Basically.
While over at Nina’s, though everything was cooked and seasoned perfectly, only the goat dish stood out. Tom really didn’t like the swordfish and thought the final dessert was an incomplete dish. It’s basically chocolate donut holes with a dipping sauce. And while two extra dishes was nice, it was an amuse and an intermezzo. Hardly anything impactful that’ll sway the judges.

But that’s only the first half. Now the judges switch sides and do it all over again.

During the second round, the results start to slowly be revealed. Because, with the under-seasoned tartar aside, Tom seems to love every single dish Nick brought out. He went as far as calling the scallop noodle dish, the “best dish he had all year.” 

This finale. Basically.
On the other side, while Padma’s group seems to have a better time at Nina’s, I’m not sure they fell in love with the entire menu. They thought the breadfruit was inventive and the goat dish shined, but there were complaints on the swordfish and the dessert as well. The same types of problems Tom had with Nina’s menu. 

Which brings up an important part of the night.

The Service.

Right off the bat and as expected, Nick’s having problems with his servers. There are bunch of diners just sitting there and no tickets are coming in. He’s edgy and publicly chides his waiters in front of Padma’s group of judges when they fail to present the dish correctly. Padma wryly mimics Nick. #Awkward

In case you’re wondering, Nina’s servers are doing just fine.

Dining experience.
The problem with Nick’s servers continues. He had asked them to make sure the dessert spoons were on the table for the judges. When the time comes, they’re not and Nick once again scolds them harshly out in the open. I dunno about you, that isn’t relaxing or fun for anyone, especially the judges. Hugh sarcastically asks Nick, "How are the servers?," and when Nick says “Fine,” Hugh gives him a big fake smile. #Awkward

Oh yea. Still smooth sailing over at that other joint.

Top Psycho.
Later when Tom’s group was at Nick’s the problem got worse. At some point during that service a table complains that they didn’t get their first course. That’s the final straw for Nick. He loudly slams the table and yells “GOD DAMNIT!” so loud that it startles Gail and the rest of the dining room. Apparently it didn’t stop there because you can still hear Nick screaming after the initial outburst. It was so tense and frankly kinda embarrassing that Gail finally says what everyone’s feeling, “Awkward.”

After the service is over, Nick goes over to his family’s table like a little boy who's had a bad day and seeks out mama for comfort instead of his wife. Talk about awkward.
Easy there Oedipus.

It’s all done with now. The dinner’s over. We go straight to judges table for some Q n’ A.

Right away the judges ask about the service problems. Nick parries it with the skill of a PR professional and stuck to his talking points, “We were having a tough service. But I thought this food was pretty consistent.”

Atta boy. Admit mistakes and quickly put the focus back on the food. Ari Fleischer would be proud.

Don't contradict Padma.
What happens next is strange. Tom starts off by pointing out the lack of seasoning of Nick’s tartar, but then proceeds to defend his next two dishes to the rest of the panel. When Padma says the scallop noodle has no scallop flavor, Tom says, "Best dish all season long." When Emeril says his duck was too chewy, Tom says his was perfect. Tom’s defense is so curt and to the point it drew rolled eyes from Padma and a curious look from Emeril. 

Onto to Nina.

Tom asks whether she should be judged on solely the four required courses or should they include the two extras. Nina says if it helped with the progression then why not?

Et tu Colicchio?
No problems with her tartar. It was herbaceous and flavorful. Home run on the second dish across the board. Emeril went as far as calling it “awesome.” But here comes the problem. The swordfish dish. Nina concedes that even though she tries to “put herself” into every dish, this one didn’t quite gel. And when asked about the dessert course, she confessed that dessert wasn’t her strong suit and the objective was to end with “a little bite.” Exactly. A little bite isn’t exactly a full dessert course.

Ok questions over. Go stew while the judges deliberate.

First course. The consensus is to Nina. Once again the lack of salt killed Nick.

Just...a little bit chewy.
Second course. Tom and Gail vote for Nick’s scallop noodles, the other three prefer Nina’s goat. 2-1 Nina.

Third course. Looks like Nick took this one. The only person who didn’t vote for Nick’s duck is Emeril. I think he’s still chewing his piece.

Dessert. Nick wins this one. Nina’s didn't really count as dessert. 2-2. Tied.
So now what? Well this is what the producers want you to see in the beginning of the show. Just how tough it was for them to reach a conclusion. 

At one point, Hugh and Padma brought up service and how Nick lashed out at the wait staff. Tom is shown frowning as if he’s surprised.
How dare you accuse me of playing favorites!

An hour goes by and Tom states that Nick’s menu was more cohesive and well thought out. When Padma brought up the Nina’s two extra dishes, Gail says Nina would have been better off putting that extra energy into making a better dessert. Point well taken.

Another 40 minutes goes by and now the question is what was the worst dish of the night. Even though Emeril says he couldn’t even get through the duck, it was a split between the donut holes and the swordfish. We’re getting a clearer picture now.

The way the producers edited things, it made it look like Tom, with Gail in tow, manages to brow beat Padma, Emeril, and Hugh into submission. But if you think about it, they didn’t. 

Tom is innocent!
The big question is “whether or not Nick’s behavior should count towards the final result?” Because if the answer is yes, then Nick definitely should lose. No matter how great the food is, I would think twice before going back if the chef is out in the dining room yelling at servers. But in this case, the answer is no. "No" because normally chefs aren’t out in the dining room, and they’re not dealing with subpar servers running around without a clue. 

This final challenge is about the food. Cook the best four courses and win. In the end, the 5 judges voted on each dish and final tally was 11-9. 

The underdog from Philadelphia pulls an upset. Your new Top Chef is Nicholas Elmi.

I get the girl too? #NO
Why will this season have an asterisk next to it? Because the focus will be on whether or not Nick should have resigned the week he made chocolate chicken, the worst dish created on the history of Top Chef. The focus will be on how much of a jerk Nick was throughout the season. The focus will be on how Nina out cooked Nick time and time again. But that’s not how this show works.

Perhaps the title of “Top Chef” implies the winner must be someone with superior skills, impeccable creativity, and character beyond reproach. That might be a Top Chef in real life, but on this show, a Top Chef is someone who doesn’t get eliminated throughout the season and cooks the best dinner in the finale. That’s it. So put the asterisks away and congratulate Nicholas Elmi.

Don't hate. Congratulate!
There you have it. Another season under our belts! We’ve had some highs and some lows, but in the end we got through it together!

New Orleans is one of the greatest food and culture cities in the world. As much as the show tried, it would take a Herculean effort to truly depict the love and passion that exists in New Orleans. And I give the show all the credit for putting in that effort. Those of you who haven’t had a chance to visit, you must. Trust me. You’ll fall in love with the Crescent City.

Thank you stopping by week after week. I love you all! 

Now go eat something delicious!

{Written by Mykl Wu}

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, Tom can post as much Twitter crap as he wants. He totally handed the win to Nick.