Saturday, June 14, 2008

Top Chef 4: FINALE!!

by Xani and Erin

Well folks, its all over, and a new champion has been crowned. All hail (spoiler alert)... Stephanie!

OK, so maybe it wasn't so much of a surprise. BCD and many of our loyal readers have been saying Stephanie was the best chef all along, right?!? But, as Bravo always does, they edited the show so that there was no way of knowing who would come out on top until the very last minute!

Unlike other season finales in the past, this year all three chefs went head-to-head on a traditional four course dinner. The twist was that each chef would be paired with a hugely successful sous-chef (Eric Ripert, Dan Barber, and April Bloomfield (chef at the Spotted Pig - remember when EP went there?)). Each sous-chef comes complete with a variety of luxurious proteins. Padma mentions that they planned to have the chef with the most wins pick their sous-chef/proteins first, but since Richard and Stehpanie are tied (cut to shot of Lisa looking cranky), they pull knives to see who picks first. Advantage Stephanie-- and she picks Chef Ripert. Richard chooses Dan Barber and so Lisa and April Bloomfield are paired together. Into the kitchen to begin prep work. It's interesting to see the Top Chefs work with the bigwigs, especially when Stephanie nitpicks Ripert's fileting technique! Richard has brought liquid nitrogen as his "special ingredient" and gives an impromptu cooking demo which draws the attention of chefs Ripert and Bloomfield but of course Lisa thinks its all gimmick and not "simple" like food should be. We trust Chef Ripert more than Lisa though, right?!

The next day, the chefs are informed by Chef Tom that they will have NO help from their sous-chefs today. RUH ROH! Personally this would be my downfall-- I plan a menu knowing exactly who is doing what task, and when. To suddenly have twice as many tasks for one person would be a huge setback. It's a testament to their skills that Stephanie, Richard, and yes, even Lisa managed to overcome this hurdle. Although Richard seems extremely flustered when Tom asks about his menu ("it's abstract...") and Stephanie is freaking out about her dessert, they seem more composed when its time to serve dinner. Lisa, by the way, is strangely calm throughout. The 9 dinner guests include the judges' panel, the sous-chefs from day one, plus Puerto Rican chef Alfredo Ayala and Tim Zagat (I was glad when Padma introduced him, so now we all know how to pronounce his name!).

For the chefs' four course menu, they had to do the traditional progression of fish, poultry, red meat, and dessert. Chef Tom was sure to remind everyone that they really did have to make a dessert; no beef shortribs for dessert a la the "movie inspiration" challenge. For their menus, Richard's theme is "abstract" and none of the course names are helpful to the reader (e.g., "Be the bacon" and "Which came first?"). Stephanie's theme is just good clean flavors. Lisa is of course going Asian mafia on everyone.

While they were eating the meal, it was interesting that Padma and Gail and the others would ask the sous-chef about the dish and whether they had assisted in the dish and/or whether they knew the chef was going in that particular direction. In most cases, the sous-chefs were kept in the dark. Eric Ripert was a great cheerleader for Stephanie for most of the meal, except when it came to her dessert.

After all was said and done, it appeared that Stephanie and Lisa were the ones in the final running, with Richard sadly lagging behind. Clear winners were Lisa in the second course for her Tom Kha Gai soup with dumpling, and Stef in the third course for her very interesting lamb dish with maitake mushrooms, braised pistachios, and blackberry and olive tapenade. Richard's dishes were okay but the girls seemed to outshine him. (For a good recap on each of the dishes and what the judges had to say about each during the meal and at judges' table, check out this Serious Eats post.) This reminds me of when Casey choked during the Season 3 finale and was not even considered for the title in that awkward live show where they named the winner. Remember that?

After the meal and the deliberations at Judges' Table, let the dramatic editing begin! My guess is that there wasn't much actual drama going on, and Stephanie was a pretty clear winner, but you know how Bravo likes to get us all riled up! What's the fun in watching a show that doesn't make you curse when they throw in a commercial (or five) at crucial moments?

In the end, it's our girl STEPHANIE who takes the cake! Hooray! She is the first female Top Chef (or as Bravo is calling her, "The First Lady of Top Chef"), and she totally earned the title. We can't wait to see what she does next! As for Richard, it's sad that he didn't win, since he worked so hard and is truly a unique chef. But, I think the chances of him doing extremely well in the rest of his culinary career are high, so I'm not too worried. As for Lisa....well, she'll be interesting at the reunion show next week ;)

Final Take: We are both thrilled that Stephanie won and have had so much fun having Top Chef be a part of our blog! The Fafarazzi game was a lot of fun - thanks to those who played along!

And now for some favorites:

Xani's favorite episode: Wedding Wars

Erin's favorite episode: High Steaks (butchering and then steak restaurant challenge)

Best Andrew quote: "I have a culinary boner right now"

Most awkward moment: Either when Blais said he wanted to go home and make babies, or when Lisa made the really bad joke about being Jewish while butchering a pig

Favorite guest chef: Tony Bourdain, of course! Other favorites included Ming Tsai and Eric Ripert

Thanks to all our readers for watching along with us and commenting (sometimes heatedly!) with your reactions to the show. And thanks for your patience with us to get these posts up! It's been pretty crazy lately for us, so thanks for bearing with us. Stay tuned for more BCD posts soon!

Congrats to Top Chef Stephanie!

X & E


  1. I hope you don't mind that I sent Richard a link to your post about Home. Thought he might like to know that Baltimoreans like his red velvet cake. :) Don't know if he read it though.

  2. I think the TC5 chefs and editors might have a hard time topping the "culinary boner" comment. Really pretty awesome!

    Fafarazzi was fun (I say, very modestly) - I'm feeling good about my before-the-season-started Stephanie pick.

    I really enjoyed the season overall - including your posts!

  3. A pretty good episode I have to say, but only because my gal Stephanie came out on top! Felt bad for Richard though.

    I heard an interview on WGN with Stephanie where she said she's going to stay in Chicago and try to figure out her new restaurant theme and location. It may take six months or so, but she's most likely going open one again.

  4. I sent Stephanie a congratulations email to the old email address I had from her former restaurant and low and behold - she sent back a thanks with a hop that her new restaurant would be open next spring.

  5. Yes, I am quite happy about Chef Stef taking the Top Chef title! But in retrospect, it seemed like a foregone conclusion once they gathered those three together at the end. I would've murdered my DirecTV box had I heard "Lisa Fernandes, congratulations! You are Top Chef!"


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