Top Chef S11E17: “Finale”

…an episode reminding us all the importance of “singing with harmony.”

Top Chef enjoys spicing things up when it comes to its finale episodes.  Last year we had a live installment that crowned the exceedingly worthy Kristin as the ultimate victor, and this year we were treated to an episode with a positively JJ Abrams-style structure: we open on the judges embroiled in a veritable verbal kerfuffle, seemingly locked in a *gasp* tie.  But then faster than you can say “in desperate need of salt,” we’re transported forty-eight hours earlier to see how this crazy train called life first left the station.

And the first words out of Nick’s mouth brought us back to reality: “Every kitchen I’ve ever been in, I’ve always been like the best chef.”  We’re all aware that modesty and Nick parted company some time ago, likely when it turned up his oven temperature or failed to clean one of his knives thoroughly, but seriously?  As soon as Nick stopped waxing poetic about all that made him wonderful, Padma arrived to announce the final Elimination Challenge (insert aggressive smash cut here): to create a four-course menu and serve it in a pop up restaurant.  Because Nick has been communing with Satan these past weeks, his most recent Hawaiian victory gave him an edge.**

**At first, I thought Nick’s advantage was simply having the pleasure of watching Padma strut into his house in that red bikini because wowsers.  This was enough to convince me to leave my house unlocked at all times from now on just in case Padma is ever in the area and feels the need to bust all up in my house because, if we’re being honest, I would not call the cops on her.

But alas, Nick’s edge was to select his three person team first from the amalgamation of cast-off cheftestants from this season.  Nick clearly didn’t understand the opportunity in front of him and so selected Jason first because I guess he felt that the secret ingredient missing from his food this season (in addition to salt, of course) was a healthy dose of palpable homoerotic tension.  Palpable homoerotic tension nested lovingly in cornsilk, of course.  I mean what are we, savages?  Anyhow, he then picked Louis because Louis is a boss, and then he picked Brian because…well…because…he was in the show and could cut stuff?

Nina scooped up Shirley and Stephanie (she of the self-diagnosed Top Chef jitters) right off the bat because obviously.  When it came to rounding out her team, she picked…Travis?  *Record scratch* Huh?  Was she planning to cook Asian food with an characteristic level of snobbery?  Weird choice, girl.***

***In the end though, everyone was a winner, especially those not selected like Carlos and Janine because they got to hit the beach with Padma.  In that red bikini.  Just saying.

As the planning began, Jason and Nick began bonding over the fusing together of their scallop noodles, which surprised me because this show never aired on HBO before, did it?  Nina decided to be that overachieving finalist and add an amuse-bouche and intermezzo to the already assigned four courses.  After much shopping and beginning stages of prep work, Tom came around for his final installment of Butt-Puckering Mind Games, reminding Nick his panna cotta from #ImmunityGate was the worst and that Jason was a real knob as far as it went.  He asked Nina why she bothered making a dessert when she was clearly uncomfortable and could have gone with four savory dishes.  Tom straight up mind molested both of them so good!  Classic Tom!

Tom and Emeril then told Nick and Nina that they would be taking them out to dinner that evening, and I’m going to be honest; as the two of them wended their way deeper and deeper into the lush foliage of Maui, I thought maybe they were being lured to their deaths?  Talk about a controversial finale!  But, alas, there was no physical murder, just emotional murder as Tom and Emeril, ever the devious rascals,  surprised Nick and Nina with visits from their respective families.****

****We won’t waste too much time on this, but worth mentioning is Nick’s anecdote that he didn’t want to go on a second date with his gorgeous wife because homeboy got more rump roast than a Port Authority toilet as a single playboy.  Gross.

The big day was finally at hand, and Nick took the opportunity to belittle and humiliate his serving staff because they could not comprehend the heights of his genius.  He scolded and cussed and carried on like a cholichy newborn, in stark contrast to Nina’s poised professionalism with her own wait staff.

After Nina’s universally-praised amuse-bouche of breadfruit (whatever that is) with foie gras, she put out a delightful looking first course: tuna and escarole tartar with with jalepeno.  Meanwhile, Nick freaked out over The Case of His Missing Expeditor before going straight up d-bag and barking at the servers in front of the guests that #FishLandsontheLeft.  His first course, also a tartar, found Nick serving hamachi and tuna with apples presented roughly seventeen thousand ways because Nick believes why do something one way well when you can do it several ways terribly?  Makes sense to me!  Also, Nick was very concerned with Emeril’s blood pressure and so was light on the salt.  Just kidding!  Nick just does not, and never will, grasp the complexities of salt, and yet he’s in the finale.

Course two found Nina’s orecchiette and braised goat going up against Nick’s sweet shrimp bisque with scallop and noodles.  Tom wanted to draw a bubble bathe of Nick’s bisque and rub it into his tender places, declaring it the best thing he’d eaten all season.  Maybe it was that splash of homoeroticism from Jason?

The third course pitted Nina’s swordfish and kale dish versus Nick’s duck and squash plate.  The judges weren’t over the moon about either of them, and guest diner Morimoto in particular disliked the earthiness of Nina’s.*****

*****I found it bizarre that the show managed to wrangle international super-chef Morimoto for a stint on this show, but–aside from his above critique–they basically just cut to him every now and then saying “Yeah” and “No.”  Helpful!  #MorimotoWisdom

Nina served her intermezzo of compressed dragon fruit (it looked heavenly) before her underwhelming chocolate zeppole.  Nick’s second attempt at panna cotta, after a near disaster of a misplaced spoon, was better but still not up to the quality of jiggle that Emeril expects both in his food and life.

And then Nick screamed SO LOUD at a server that it resonated through the restaurant.  Awkwardness pervaded the room, but that server deserved it so much in Nick’s opinion because that server had never in her miserable life so much as considered putting anything in cornsilk and was thus an inferior life form.  Then Tom applauded Nick’s well-timed climax on the show, and I was glad I missed that scene.

At Judge’s Table (insert aggressive smash cut here), the judges found themselves in a dead heat, giving courses one and two to Nina and three and four to Nick.  Padma became the voice of reason and rolled her eyes at Tom’s overtly sexual love for Nick’s scallop and noodles, but he dug in.  Hugh (sweet, innocent Hugh) wanted to bring in the issue of Nick’s explosive anger and demeaning attitude toward the wait staff, but Tom poo-pooed it because apparently Top Chef is a dictatorship.  He also, to Padma’s frustration, refused to judge Nina’s two additional courses because then she would have wiped the floor with him.  I knew what was about to happen, and I didn’t like it one little bit.

Of course Nick won.  Of course.  The least deserving chef seemed pushed through by Tom’s hellbent agenda as he circumvented evidence and logic.  At least he can go draw that bubble bath of shrimp bisque now.  To be clear, this is Tom’s fault.  #TomGate

If I wanted to be dramatic, I’d say Top Chef lost all credibility in picking a wildly inconsistent winner who, still by season’s end, had not mastered rudimentary seasoning.  Had I had a melon baller or citrus press within arm’s reach, I might have hucked it at Tom’s dome.  And yes, I believe Nick is a fundamentally inferior chef to Nina (and Shirley and Louis and Stephanie, for that matter), but I had a blast covering this show and will eagerly await my next opportunity to do so.  You’ve got your grubby mitts in me but good, Top Chef.

Hope you enjoyed reading half as much as I enjoyed writing!  Bye!

Oh, and #NickistheWorst. Ugh.

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