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Hours. That's how long it took for us judges to decide the winner of this season's Top Chef Masters. In the final cut of the episode, we deliberate for what seems like a few minutes; in reality, Ruth, Gael, and I spent a very, very, very, veeeeeery long time discussing, arguing, cajoling, and sometimes talking in circles about which of the three extraordinarily talented finalists - Mary Sue, Traci, or Floyd - should take home the title of Top Chef Master.
At the outset of our deliberation, each of us thought a different chef should win. For the final elimination challenge, as with all elimination challenges, our job was to assess the chefs not on their past successes, but on the meal they'd just prepared for us. In the end, after the back-and-forth, the three of us decided that Floyd had earned the title. Any of the three could have landed it, really, but I'm elated, absolutely elated, that it went to Floyd. Of the three dishes he prepared that evening, every single one was a stunner, something that couldn't be said for Mary Sue's or Traci's offerings.
I knew I was going to have a strong emotional connection to Floyd's third dish, a version of the Sumatran braised dish rendang that he cooked to realize my own culinary memories of being a 19-year-old traveling in Indonesia. And what a plate! Floyd had never made rendang before, and he pulled it off beautifully, serving us something soulful and generous, and flawless in its technical execution (in spite of the reduced cooking time!).
What I wasn't expecting was a similarly moving experience with his first course of upma, a traditional South Indian wheat porridge, typically eaten for breakfast. I lived in South India for a year not that long ago; my best friend there is a tiffin cook named Vijayan, and upma made up a good percentage of his menu. Floyd took an almost absurdly simple food and, thanks to the inclusion of coconut milk, chicken broth, and pan-seared mushrooms, elevated it to something sublime. He nailed it with his fish course as well, even if the puffed-rice coating was a bit texturally jarring. The rasam broth that formed the foundation of the dish was dynamite, the vegetables were cooked perfectly, and the overall experience was intensely pleasurable. It was a fabulous dish; I could eat it every day of my life.
I was so proud of Floyd for taking the title of Master Chef - you guys made a great decision. It was so hard, they were all so amazing and for the most part was sad to see each elimination. Floyd was my early favorite - and for once I picked a winner. Truly I thought that Naomi or Traci would win, but actually squealed in delight when Floyd won last night. What a great show, what a great concept. I loved this program - again, amazingly watchable television from Bravo!!! Thanks for the memories!!! Way to go Floyd - you really deserve great things!
James blogged, "our job was to assess the chefs not on their past successes, but on the meal they'd just prepared for us" only. The Top Chef Master won just a single Elimination this season, but Floyd was among the top 3 in several challenges. Do you think that this season's change in judging format (to elimination style) has affected which chef would win the finale?