This season’s finale was truly an embarrassment of riches. Two extraordinarily talented chefs with wildly different cooking styles put all they had into the last Elimination Challenge. I loved this final challenge because being a chef is more than just understanding flavor profiles and acidity. At its core, it’s about communication. With every plate, a chef’s vision is sent out onto the table for someone to literally consume. It’s one of the reasons being critiqued is so difficult. Sure chefs have egos—you need one to be so ballsy as to send your vision out to 200 diners on a Saturday night. But they also have imagination and heart, and the food expresses those in a pretty raw way. So to be judged poorly can feel intense, whether the criticism was about execution, technique or concept.
Consider that for a moment when you remember that 12 of the country’s best critics were the diners for this finale, and they were judging dishes that were so personal and intimate. If this was a straightforward challenge to create four spectacular Top Chef Masters dishes with limited time to shop, prep, cook and plate, it would have been difficult. But to have to make each of these dishes a revelation really made it worthy of the finale. Chris is a passionate and emotional chef on any day. But for Kerry, a chef who prefers to express himself with spot-on technique rather than personality, this final showdown had to be extra tough.The win this season could have gone either way. The food from both of these chefs from beginning to end was amazing. Kerry’s dishes showed off his unbelievable talent for making food that’s so perfectly prepared, it’s a joy to eat. His apology letter, the Flan of Sugar Snap Peas with Prosciutto, Morels and Chervil melted in my mouth. Chris’ four courses were pure Chris, which is to say proudly, boldly, and gloriously made with entrails. There’s a reason he’s called the Offal King, after all. I loved that he fashioned his letter to himself, the Blood Sausage, Poached Oysters, and Egg, as his last supper. The simplicity of the plate felt honest and surprising.
Ruth put it well when she said that the very different styles of these two chefs raised the question, “Do you want to be comforted or thrilled?” And truth is, I want both—at different times and depending on my mood. But this week, it was Chris’ passion, riskiness, and wholehearted dedication to who he is that put him on top. Congratulations, Chris! It was a stunning meal.
I’d also like to give a huge round of applause to all the chefs who stepped out of their lives to come to Las Vegas and compete for charity. You made it an amazing season, and it’s been a pleasure to eat so much of your beautiful food week after week.