The most fabulous thing about this season's final episode, and there were many fabulous things about it, was that the pairing of Chris and Kerry was an uncanny distillation of all of the contestants on this season of Top Chef Masters. In their eight dishes, the aesthetics of all the departed cheftestants was present, from Missy to Lorena and everyone in between. I had the sense that in some ineffable way they were all there beside Kerry and Chris as they cooked. For that we can credit a lot of things, including the camaraderie that developed among all the chefs and the subconscious ways in which, by the end, everyone was influencing and referencing everyone else. But chief among them was the way that Chris and Kerry embody the two extreme poles of contemporary fine dining.
It hasn't actually been that long since high-end dining in America has split. On one side is Kerry's sort of food, the variety that's been around (with the occasional modernist leap forward) for quite some time: rarefied, splendid, intensely theatrical on the plate, dogmatically French in technique, and global in spirit. It's fantasy cooking, not food you could cook at home on a weeknight or even a weekend, most likely, unless you had a few years of training, a slew of specialized ingredients, and a lot of patience. For the diner, it's an ivory tower experience, something elevating and rarefied, an exercise for the palate: the texture of a pate so smooth it has the quality of air, a wisp of tarragon passing through a sauce.
On the other side of the equation is what Chris cooks food that is, in truth, only a step or two removed from the sorts of things that Grandma used to make. It'scucina povera, classic in the way that a mother making dinner for her children is classic, but in its elevation to high-end dining it takes on an intellectual nuance, an electric amplification of the flavors, textures, and ingredients that verges on the audacious. It's the crazy torn-up raw herb salad with its intensely vegetal flavor; it's the charred roast that doesn't mask its ferric tang; it burns bright and hard and fast, the absolute opposite of that subtle wisp of tarragon. Plated, Chriss variety of food is raw and naked and casual the opposite of the kind of food that requires tweezers.