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We all know what that means… as the cheftestant losers shuffle in, Paul and Sarah muse over who will be returning. They want Heather, Grayson, Nyesha, Keith and Malibu Chris (he's so hot Sarah can't cook around him). Turns out they get mostly who they wanted. It's those five and Ty-lor, plus (surprise!) three amateurs that didn't make it past round one: Tyler Stone, Ashley and Colin. As an added bonus two James Beard award-winning pros, Barbara Lynch of No. 9 Park in Boston and Marco Canora from Hearth in Manhattan are also in the running.
In a quasi-quickfire challenge, the eleven chefs have 45 minutes to create a dish to earn a sous chef spot for the final cook off. Sarah and Paul blind taste the dishes to pick their team. Sarah gets mostly who she wanted, including Heather but misjudges a scallop dish and ends up with the pesky Tyler Stone. OOPS. Remember him? Overly confident, under-skilled "personal chef" who got kicked out in first round for inept butchering. Sarah makes a "I'm not letting you butcher" joke and Padma loves it. Paul snags a mostly male team plus Barbara Lynch - score! Okay, teams are set. No one picked Marco Canora's salmon, that's gotta be embarrassing. Tyler Stone just beat you out and all reservations were just cancelled at Hearth.
They have six hours to prep and cook in the restaurant, and an additional three tomorrow before the judges arrive with 100 guests. Sarah wants to combine her German and Italian side and Paul's thinking Southeast Asian. The un-Top Chef-weathered chefs pose problems. Pro chef Barbara is making suggestions and Paul politely entertains them but wants her to shut up. Step off, sous chef. Tyler is all in Sarah's face telling her to sous vide everything and checking in with her for exact measurements on the celery. Just chop the celery, Tyler. Team Sarah is at Black + Blue, team Paul is at Coast. After the prep, Sarah and Paul go in to see Tom and Emeril to
Time to cook. There are a few glitches since the prep. Paul's crab sat overnight and now tastes funky. No biggie, plan B, they'll use the backup spot prawns they got. Good planning, Paul, way to keep your head in the game. Tyler shows up in dress pants and dress shoes, naturally, and also can't cook. Grayson dismisses Tyler and resolves the girls will just "jam out with their clams out," giving us the best line of the season.
The judges split into two groups and switch off with the two seatings. Paul's restaurant is called Qi and Sarah's is Monte Verde.
Paul starts with the Bravo-promotional-judges-table: Gail, Marco Canora, Mark McEwan (head judge of Top Chef Canada), Tom and Cat Cora (co- of new Bravo show, Around the World in 80 Plates). Here's his menu:
First course: Chawanmushi (steamed egg custard), edamame, pea shoots and spot prawns.
Second course: Grilled loup de mer with clam dashi, pickled radishes, and mushrooms.
Third course: Congee with slow-scrambled eggs, uni, purple kale, fried green kale and smoked albacore.
Dessert: cocoanut ice cream, puffed wild rice, candied kumquats, mangosteen, thai chili foam and jasmin gelee.
The judges love everything. Tom thought the texture of the rice and fish were too similar in the congee, but overall Canada says it was a "sexy" meal and Tom thinks he knocked it out of the park.
Sarah's judges table includes: Emeril, Hugh Acheson, Bill Terlato (Terlato wines), and David Myers (chef/owner Comme Ça). Here's her menu:
First course: squid ink tagliatelle, spot prawns and coconut.
Second course: Rye-crusted steelhead trout with fennel sauce, pickled beets and gras pista (whipped lardo).
Third course: Braised veal cheek and crispy veal sweetbreads.
Dessert: Hazelnut cake with candied kumquat and roasted white chocolate ganache.
The tagliatelle comes together perfectly. They like the rye crust on the trout, but the beets are too raw. Sarah had been upset about the polenta but Padma thought the veal cheek was "luscious." They go nuts over her dessert. Hugh says the white chocolate is brilliant and can't wait to rip it off. Emeril says the meal was really spot on, and the dessert was over the top. David says you can see strokes of genius throughout her menu. Disarmingly strong finish.
SWITCH. Sarah fixes her polenta problem and smoothes out the texture with some cream. Paul accidentally told Keith to put chawanmushi in too early and they're overcooked. Both changes are noted but otherwise the response is about the same. The congee goes over better this time, Tom hadn't loved the texture but David thinks he nailed. They continue to go crazy for Sarah's dessert. Both had emotional meetings with their family in between service. Paul's family is precious, he already told us he's just trying to make his parents proud and his dad is the proudest dad ever. His dad cries, Paul cries, it's adorable. Sarah cries less adorably with her family, but her fiancé comes through in a major way telling her there was a bone in his fish with enough time for her to run down to check the judge's plates.
There's a Watch What Happens Live commercial where Sarah's beaming like she won. Uh oh. At the judges' table, they tell Sarah and Paul this was the best food they've ever seen in a finale in all nine seasons. They're both very proud.
And the winner is dun, dun dun….PAUL, and we finally get the rightful victor of the longest season ever! We were scared for a minute they might give it to Sarah, but it had to be Paul. It was his from the beginning. Sarah obviously does not take it well, she cries like a baby saying she deserved to be Top Chef, but we no longer care. It's over. Finally.