This is where it gets tricky. I know we probably say this at the same point every season, but I truly believe this was by far the most difficult decision we have had to make in the history of the competition (until next week’s, of course!). Never before has Top Chef had four finalists of such equal and notable skill vying for the title. That is not to say we have not had impressive talent in every season along the way, but I think most people will agree that these four cheftestants were pegged from the start as the ones to watch. As they stood before us at Judges’ Table in Napa, we knew destiny meant for them all to be there. This is best proven by the fact that throughout the entire sixth season, no chef other than these four won a single Elimination Challenge.
We shot the two-part finale only about six weeks ago, so much of it is still fresh in my mind. As I will explain, the food served in this challenge was all beautiful and well-produced. I enjoyed almost all of it, whether that actually came through in my commentary or not. As I have said before, our Judges’ Table discussions are never taken lightly. We rehash every element of food served by each chef and we are all given ample chance to say what we liked and disliked about everything. We debate at length the merits of each plate, the skill used in its preparation and the flavor combinations, as well as the presentation. This can often take six hours or more (finale Judges’ Table sessions usually run into early morning, as was again the case this season). It then becomes the job of our producers and editors to boil our discussion down to its most vital points, which are shown within the larger show as a mere few minutes. Such is the nature of reality television….
With that in mind, I want to stress how difficult our penultimate challenge was for the final four chefs. We asked Kevin, Bryan, Michael, and Jennifer to create two tasting-size dishes to serve at a winery “crush” party, celebrating the Napa harvest, for 150 guests. We gave them five hours within which to cook, requested that one dish be a vegetarian option, and that everything be sourced from a nearby farmers’ market carrying only local products, with the exception of salt and oil. They also had to cook and serve these 300 dishes from start to finish without assistance. For any seasoned caterer, this would have been a complicated feat, let alone having to do it in front of multiple cameras, in an unfamiliar restaurant kitchen. Talk about pressure.
None of the dishes we tasted were ill-conceived per se. They all made perfect sense in concept and were thoughtfully presented. Almost everything tasted good, so it was up to us to take each one apart in detail and discuss the tiniest possible discrepancies, in order to come to a fair decision. As we mentioned on the show, Michael’s Vegetable Pistou with Heirloom Tomato Coulis and 63-Degree Egg was clever and flavorful, but the egg had not been shaken carefully enough from its watery shell and appeared to overwhelm the other elements of the dish. Also, the brunoise vegetables were chopped so finely that they lost their structure, causing them to be a bit mushy and not as recognizable as we had hoped, considering the clear amount of work he had put into them. It was his Turnip Soup with Foie Gras Terrine, Poached Pear & Glazed Turnip that took my breath away. Here was one of the most interesting flavor combinations I had tasted on the show to date and it spoke to the immense talent Michael has at pairing contrasting flavors and textures. What you did not hear me say to him was how truly incredible the combination was: that bitter, bright green turnip soup, paired with smooth, rich foie gras and sweet, soft, wine-poached pear. It was a revelation! My only small issue (stated mainly because I wanted more) was that, when not eaten in the same bite as the other components, the turnip soup was quite bitter, as turnips always are. Since there was much more soup than foie gras or pear, this happened more often than not. I personally think the dish would have been absolutely perfect had the soup been thickened slightly and used as more of a sauce or puree.
Thank you for explaining the judges' decision, Gail. The blogs are so helpful in explaining a decision which the editing of the show makes inexplicable. One quibble: You said that Kevin's brisket was "undercooked". It's not undercooking that makes a brisket "toothsome", it's not having enough time to rest in the cooking juices afterwards, as any good Jewish momma (like me!) can tell you, 'cause we cook a lot of 'em! A brisket that is cooked through will still be "toothsome" until it's had time to sit & absorb the liquid in which it's cooked. The only way I know to cook & serve a tender brisket in one day is to allow for a significant resting period of several hours followed by a reheating in the braising liquid. Hence, Kevin's brisket wasn't "underdone" at all - he didn't have enough resting time before serving it.
why is egg considered a vegetable? michael served two protein dishes. shoulda been DQ'd immediately.
Nice blog and thank you for filling in the gaps created by the editing. This has been the best season ever due to the deep pool of talent. The final four were the most deserving. For me, Bryan stands out as the only chef to never be in the bottom. I enjoy Kevin's intellectual approach to his simple cooking. Michael cracks me up with is perpetual arrogance. He does have the goods to back it up. Jennifer started so strong with confidence and cool. Unfortunately, she couldn't sustain it and that erosion of inner strength led to her undoing. I most appreciated the mutual respect the chefs (except Michael V) held for each other (except for poor hapless Robin). All in all, it was a wonderful season.
I agree with Jamie. I was surprised that Michael used egg in his vegetarian dish. The last time I checked egg was a protein and not a vegetable. How is it that this was never addressed or brought up by the judges?
Actually, Jamie C, the challenge was to provide one "vegetarian option". Not Vegan. The egg was a perfectly acceptable option. You certainly can't want to DQ him because he used a second protein - that would exclude everything from meat to legumes.
Gail - I loved this season and loved this part 1 of the finale. Your descriptions of these dishes make me wish I could have just one bite!!
Can't wait until next week!!!!
I have watched Top Chef from episode 1.I think I can say without a doubt this is the most exciting season for me.All of the Chefs ,including Jen deserve to be Top Chef.I enjoy cooking and always have and I love to see the different styles these chefs have.I love Kevins simply executed but extremley tasty food. His consistency will make him Top Chef. As a side note, in the beginning people thought Bryan was out cooked by his brother. I never thought so .His food was creative and well done.Michaels was too flashy and over the top.If Bryan wins I won't be unhappy either.Unfortunately once you oversalt food the dish can truly be ruined,whereas if it's undersalted you can always add to it.What a great saeason.Good luck Chefs !You are all tops in my book!Thanks for your informative blogs Gail!!!!
Hi Gail. Wonderful, and insightful coments as always. I have to say, this is the best Top Chef season so far. The talent of the last four Cheftestants in this season blow away all the other seasons top four. You guys got it right for the final. Brian, Michael, and Kevin are all great Chefs. It should be some battle. Jennifer did very well, and I agree she is the best Female T.C. ever. It's a intriging final. Kevin, a superb chef who cooks simple with amazing flavors, and great articulation of his food. The V brothers with their outstanding techniques, and elegant cooking style. Brian the nicer, and more likable one who has never beeen in the bottom. Michael the arragant, cocky, and probably the best technical one of the three, who backs up his bravado. Any one of these three competitors can win. It simply comes down to who cooks the best and tastiest dish. Perfection a must, the one with the least physical and mental flaws wins the title of Top Chef 6. Whoever wins will be up there with Harold, and Hung, as the best chef in the history of Top Chef.
According to my dictionary (American Heritage College), vegetarianism is the "practice of subsisting on a diet composed of vegetables, grains, fruits, nuts, and seeds, with or without eggs and dairy products." Vegans avoid eggs & dairy products of course, but the challenge was a vegetarian dish, not a vegan one.
At any rate, Michael would have done better had he avoided the egg since it turned out to be his major flaw in the execution department.
Best season so far! (and I've loved all of them except the unfortunate Season 2).
Bravo Gail! Thank you for your extremely well written blogs throughout the season, particularly this one. It seems many people thought that Jen was robbed but you clearly explained what went wrong with her dishes. Maggie C, maybe it would be better if you actually TASTED the dish before you correct Gail on her assessment of Kevin's brisket. An egg is a perfectly acceptable option for a vegitarian dish...sheesh don't you think the judges would have brought that up if it was in violation of the rules people? It has been an amazing season with some unbelievably talented chefs and will be hard to match next season, thanks Gail for your insight, it is always very helpful to enhance the show. (nice work on all the adjectives) lol
Not to take anything away from Jen, who is an amazing talent, but I do think that Tiffani from season 1 could hold her own in a one on one cookoff with Jen. No matter who won, the food from both would be outstanding !
Thanks for the blog Gail, much appreciated. People, you do know that vegetarians eat protein, right?
Jamie C and Jeanine, vegetarian does not mean a diet consisting solely vegetables. You are confusing vegetarian with vegan. Vegetarians eat animal byproducts such as milk and eggs, and thus, eggs are perfectly within the guidelines. If you are screaming for Mike to be DQ'd for using egg, should you also be wanting Bryan's ouster since he most likely used egg to make his pasta?
I hate to speculate like this, but I wonder if Kevin's comment to Jennifer about the wood-burning stove at the beginning of the episode--that the stove would be ready to cook on later--hurt her. Ultimately she's responsible for keeping tabs on the stove, but she might have not checked on the stove after hearing Kevin's 'tip.' I like Kevin but after all it would be in his benefit to have Jen eliminated...In any case, it will be quite a finale next week!
Thanks for a great write up Gail. I've been a fan from the first episode and I think this season is my favorite. The level of talent is mind-boggling this season. Love seeing the chefs, for the most part, be so professional with each other too. Not to mention the fact that I'm the mom to four boys and my two oldest boys are exactly like the V brothers. Lots of fun to watch!
Don't mean to quibble over grammar, but am always interested in learning something new. I've noticed even in this blog the use of the word "toothsome" in a context I've never encountered---and it really jarred when Kevin used it last night in defense of his brisket. I have always heard and used "toothsome" to describe something - whether a person or a pie - as being "toothsome" when he/she/it is particularly luscious or delicious or just fabulously appealing. If this word is actually used in culinary circles in reference to chewy meat, I'd love to know!
Very nice blog Gail. The decision must have been very difficult and it was a loss to see Jen go. She is a perfectionist and it's hard to be perfect on a timer.
I agree re the eggs. Eggs are accepted as Lacto Ovo vegetarian food however most vegetarian restaurants Ive been in will identify them on the menu so ones knows what one is ordering. If I ordered a dish not knowing it had eggs nor milk in it I would be ticked and send it back. Its like these phonies who eat fish and call themselves vegetarian. If what you put in your mouth had a mother eyes or heartbeat it aint vegetarin.
I enjoyed reading this commentary, Gail, with one exception. After beautiful descriptions of the food, "she would have smoked them all (then sliced and served them to us in the most elegant fashion)" sort of ruined it for me. For some reason, the Rocky Horror Picture Show's infamous dinner scene flashed before my eyes - thanks for helping to revive that nightmare (just kidding - kinda)! :)
Thanks Gail, but I am confused. Tom said both Jen's dishes were over salted and you said one was too salty and the duck was bland? I appreciate the insight you provide in the blogs and I know I didn't taste the food, but how could the semi raw egg in the bowl of baby food beat Jen's duck?
Love the blogs and love the show...thanks!
The contestants were asked to make a vegetarian dish, not a vegetable dish. Use a dictionary. Eggs, pasta made with eggs, butter, cheese, milk . . . all acceptable.
Last night's decision was the worst I've seen since watching Top Chef. In the original critique, all praised Jen's dishes with the exception of over salting. No one said the duck was dry! So Brian UNDER salted and Jen OVER salted. Hmmmmm. Michael's eggs were undercooked and Kevin's briscket was stringy. How does this end up being Jen going home? Was it her admission that she originally planned to grill the duck? Tom seemed to have had a problem with that. To me, that is the mark of an excellent chef-you improvise!! And in one of her camera interviews Jen said she thought it might have been better cooked in the duck fat. And this is from a woman very critical of herself. I think Jen went home for the ratings having both brothers in the finale would bring. I'm also a Kevin fan, but the elimination of Jen was a shock based on what the audience heard. I'm not sure I have respect for this show anymore, and may not watch again. I certainly will not be watching the finale because my blood pressure rises every time Michael gets a pass-I think he will win. So thanks for the good years with "Top Chef".
Bravo to Bravo for the best Top Chef season so far. The level of talent in this final 4 is breathtaking. Any one of them could have the title and I'd be happy. I'd have rather have seen Mike go, but that's for personality reasons. I appreciate this blog too, thank you for the peek 'behind the curtain'.
If you watch the fine print at the end of each episode you will see that the final decision is up to the producers and the producers want to provide good viewing which is why they end up eliminating contestants some us feel should have stayed. I was disappointed to see Jennifer go, but in the end won't it make better TV if there's a face off between the brothers V? That's the set up.
Not that we taste the food but as personalities go, I would like to see either Bryan or Kevin win Top Chef. I think Michael is alittle cocky and condescending to other chefs for example, when he said "the food Kevin cooks is what I would cook on my day off." I like humility in a person and every season there have been chefs that are conceited. Aren't people raised to be humble? Anyway I love the show and look forward to the finale and next season.
Hello. Great show...I love it all. I have to say that it doesn't seem right to hand someone a Prius after working for about 30 minutes during a quickfire challenge, and handing the winner of 5 grueling hours of work...an "Atta Boy"...er. nothing. I think at this point in the game, some of those wonderful prizes given out earlier should have been saved for the winner of this elimination. No doubt, it was difficult to cook on a train, but common...it doesn't even compare to what they had to do next. Can't wait for next season. Sad to see this one go.
Thank You Gail for your take on the Part 1 Finale
All the chefs have been so strong thru out the season and Jennifer will be missed greatly she is indeed one of the most amazing chefs.
Thank you for your insight and explanation of both your thoughts on the dishes and on the judges' comments and decision making. It really helps those of us who are only able to watch the show (as opposed to tasting the food) see why certain things are done.
That said, and I know I probably come off as an anti-Bravo editing crew person (and if so, so be it), the comments you and Tom made in your blogs certainly did not match up to what we saw on screen. Jen's duck was dry? I don't recall seeing anything but repeated praised for the flavor (duckiness) of the dish, but nothing about it being too dry OR too salty (only her vegetable dish received that comment on air). Michael's dishes, on the other hand, both received negative comments - the egg made Padma clearly uncomfortable in terms of how its white portion was done, the balance of egg to the rest of the dish was repeatedly commented on as off, as was the too-small slicing of the vegetables leading them to be mushy (a terrible label for veggies). As for his soup, you commented on its great flavor, but lack of balance in proportion, and it was mentioned that the star of the dish, the foie gras wasn't featured enough. Overall, seemed like two dishes with some issues.
And as for the egg dish, while it's certainly acceptable for many vegetarians to have eggs in their dishes, featuring the egg as the centerpiece component of a vegetarian dish seemed, to me at least, to really push the boundaries, and I, like many, was surprised that it wasn't even mentioned (at least that we saw). I wonder how many vegetarians would see a dish with an egg as its main component as vegetarian?
The comments about Kevin's dishes were pretty universal (vegetable dish was excellent, meat needed to be cooked or rested more - not tender enough), but Bryan's dishes, while seemingly the clear winners, had problems too. You said that, in both cases, they were either lacking seasoning (and others said that salt and pepper was needed) and Tom mentioned that the fig got lost on his other dish. In episodes past, you've sent home people who, as Tom has said, don't realize that food needs to be seasoned - it needs flavor.
So on the one hand you have Jen who (on air) over salted one dish, but did an incredible job with the other, and Michael who had issues with both dishes. From the edited show we saw, things just didn't add up. I don't subscribe to the conspiracy theories people on here occasionally put forth, either in favor of the Brothers V or against the female chefs, but I have to say that the final products this season especially have left me shaking my head and reconsidering coming back to watch TC next season. PLEASE use that wonderful personality to get the editors to do a better job showing what you actually say, and not just create fake drama. If we wanted something like that, Bravo has a million "Real Housewives of ....." shows to melt our brains.
Regardless of my griping, I really enjoy your writing and you. You may hate me for saying it, but there are so many times that I can't help but think how cute and/or adorable you and your personality are, and it makes it great to watch. Looking forward to your next blog and the finale!
Hi Gail_ Thank you for your great blog! As a viewer, I would appreciate the opportunity to share what bothered me about this season. How could it be that Bryan, a talented, elegant, and supremely skilled chef go through the season winning all those elimination challenges and not have one prize in cash or merchandise,(except the $2500.00 that he turned down from his insecure and throw-people-under-the-bus brother, Michael) while the show threw money and merchandise at Kevin like there was no tomorrow?
And then there's Kevin. He has successfully made himself a hero by extolling his lack of advanced culinary skill, and while it is admirable that he can cook food and create great flavors without advanced techniques, the other chefs that have worked their rear-ends off to attain the skills of top chefs should not be diminished in the process. In that olympics, Bryan actually tried to achieve olympics quality food doing 9 hours of work in a few hours. /That should have counted for more than it did. I also throught Jennifer was diminished in the past weeks by Tom citing her for being nervous when they were ALL nervous and the others admitted to that. At the Pigs and Pinot challenge, instead of saying that Jennifer "went deep into the wine," like Tom said to Kevin, Toby, in supposedly complimenting Jennifer, talked about barnyard flavors, and shaved armpits and hairy armpits, when Jennifer had one of the best dishes that day-it wasn't evident by judges comments. I know Tom likes Kevin, but, come on. Lastly, it certainly wasn't fair to Bryan to lump Michael and Bryan together all season as if they were one person, when they seem to be as different as night and day. Michael wants to live and work in his own little world and hates working with others-it is hard to imagine what it would be like working in a kitchen with Michael.
I an amazed that everyone seems to think Kevin should be the winner this season. He has been a one note from the word go. He disregarded the boucos Dor challenge and did his same southern food. Also everyone thinks he is such a good sport,well that's easy when you're on top, but he has dissed every guest chef that dared to criticize his food. ( cactus, dry catfish,etc.) I like Mike. He was more polite to Robin than I would have been if she had tried to clean up while I was cooking( breakfast in bed challenge.) He has such a passion for what he is doing and I love that . I think Brian and Kevin are going for the money vs. title and I think Mike is doing the opposite. I think having the brothers in the final challenge would make for an awesome showdown. YEEHAW!!!
Gail, Thanks so much for your commentary. I love hearing your opinions both through the blog and on the show- you are incredibly well-spoken and fair, and you always have something valid and perceptive to say. I have to say I agree with you about Jennifer. She has shown herself from the very beginning as a chef with considerable skill, not to mention appropriate confidence. I love watching women like her- great at what she does, sure of herself, yet polite and considerate to others. At times in the middle of the season she did begin to second-guess herself, but she came around in the end. I hope she came out of this with renewed drive and self esteem. I really wanted her to win, but she did herself proud anyway and I'm sure we'll hear more from her in the future. As for Michael's egg, I personally think that's a cop-out. It's one vegetarian dish, and you use an egg? That's pretty disrespectful to vegetarians; it's like saying that unless you have something animal-based, the dish isn't worth eating. I have been veg for many years, so yes, I'm well aware of the different types of vegetarians. But just because he was allowed to use it doesn't mean he should have. There are tons of proteins out there without animal origin, surely he could make something from one of those. If he can't, what kind of chef is he? All in all, best season yet! I'll be sad when it is over, and looking forward to the next round. Keep up the good work!
was padma wearing a wig when her and some other guy were talking about the quickfire, respectfuly. I just want to say thanks for writing blogs and i read every word of it (:. I really think micheal shouldve went home personally i just think that they wanted drama with the brothers but i really cant tell because i wasnt there. Thanks gail
Gail, thanks so much for the great, detailed descriptions of the dishes. I often wish there could be an unedited version of the judges' table discussions available on the web site. I think we'd learn a lot from hearing the whole discussion of what works and doesn't about the wonderful dishes we see.
And yeah, dissers of Michael for using eggs--the other three contestants all used cheeses in their dishes. So if it were a vegan challenge, they all would have been disqualified. As it stood, they all followed the rules.
I heard one of the chefs on the videos mention they were at judges tables for 4 hours. This may be a stupid question but you literally have those people standing in front of that table for 4 hours?! How on earth can they stand at attention that long? I think I would collapse. Do you at least get them a chair to sit at? The editing makes it look like they are there for only a few minutes.
best season by far!
Hello Gail, Thanks for the excellent blog. Gotta agree with you,think the four finalist this season are the most talented chefs to compete on Top Chef. It's been great watching them compete all season. Sad to see Jen go, she is a fantastic chef. But all four of the finalist are. I think alot of people are way off base about Kevin. He technique and skill level are amazing. He differs from the V brothers in that he is not a molecular gastronomist(a la Marcel and Richard Blaise). Kevin does not cook "home style" food, He promotes Southern cooking as a viable,credible gourmet style. Kevin is a very classically trained chef promoting food from his region. The V brothers ,unlike Marcel, are great chefs AND molecular gastronomist. The food is excellent, so the techniques aren't the focus. Most great chefs aren't molecular Gastronomist, including Rick Bayless, Huebert Keller, and most of the Top Chef Masters. To dismiss Kevin as a glorified home cook does him a great disservice. Thanks again for great blog and insights. Really hate seeing this season end.
Gail, I always look forward to your appearances on the show - your commentary always strikes the right balance of positive and constructive, a hard trick to manage in a competitive environment.
But, I have to say I'm writing for another reason entirely. The blue dress you were wearing - absolutely beautiful. Where can I find it? Thanks!
Gail - why doesn't Padma ever blog anymore? She used to in seasons past. I can't wait unil the finale!!
Have not enjoyed Top Chef this much since Season One. You left out all the dorm room crap and focused on the food. Wonderful! All of the Chefs were so very proffessional and for the most part pleasant with each other. Okay, I so could have done without Robin! Anyway, I am sad to see the season end, I feel like I am losing my friends, which is exactly how I felt when the Finale of Season One ended. I still miss Dave and Harold and Miguel and snotty Stephen and even mean Stephanie, but they too, cooked their asses off. But bravo Bravo, on another Top Chef classic!
Hi Gail, I saw you on Hoda and Kathie Lees show.Your lamb dish looked wonderful and so did you.You looked much younger than on Top Chef.Not that you look old at all. Waiting for tonights finale.I have never been so happy with any season like I am with this one.The final three are great in their own way.I like Kevins food the best.I also think Bryan has come from behind and has done some really good dishes too.Michael is creative but not always successful, i think his big head gets in the way of anything else.So while I'm rooting for Kevin, If Bryan wins I won't cry because I like him too.Good luck chefs, you have all come so far!
Let's hope Part 2 tonight is as good as Part 1 was last week.
Rooting for Kevin -- Hope he cooks his ass off tonight and wins!!
GREAT season and great talent. I love all of them.. Wish Jen could have stayed to the end. Love that Philly girl!! She can hang in there with the best of the men!!! I root for Kevin tonight, as it may be awkward and create havoc in the family of the brothers if one wins and the other has to play second fiddle.
It isn't really fair to say this:
***This is best proven by the fact that throughout the entire sixth season, no chef other than these four won a single Elimination Challenge.***
When this entire season elimination challenges have been tilted to the strengths of the final 4. The past seasons have given us challenges that have the chefs, cooking for kids with strict caloric limitations, actually cooking with kids, designing a dish for Fridays, designing a frozen meal, cook for kids (the monkfish from season 1).
That being said, it is pretty obvious that the best 4 chefs made the finals.
What a disapointment. Worst decision in Top Chef history! (next to eliminating Jennifer) There is no way that Michael should have won over Brian. Brian was much more consistent all season and put out a superior meal last night. Not to mention that Michael has been an obnoxious, rude, nasy competitor all season! And that gimmick of saying Kevin's name and for a moment letting him think he had won------CRUEL!!! What a shame Kevin had an off night.....he would have been the best choice of all three.