Toby Young

Toby Young was surprised at how poorly Kevin's dishes turned out.

on Dec 8, 20090

After we knew who the final contestants were going to be in last night’s competition, several people asked me whether all three of them were better than the winners of previous seasons. I’ve only been a judge for two seasons, so I can’t comment on the strength of the winners in the first four seasons, but in a sense the question is meaningless. As judges, we’re asked to assess a contestant’s performance on that night, completely disregarding how well or badly they’ve cooked before. So, in the case of last night’s episode, the question isn’t whether all three of the contestants were better than previous winners of Top Chef, but whether they performed better on the night than the previous winners performed on the night. And the answer is no. Kevin choked.

In saying that, I don’t mean to disrespect Kevin. I think he’s a very talented chef — in some ways more talented than either of the Voltaggio brothers. Both Michael and Bryan are cutting edge chefs, incorporating the very latest techniques in their cooking. Kevin, by contrast, is much more of a traditionalist. He’s unimpressed by things like molecular gastronomy: he prefers a good sauce to a good foam. That shows a single-mindedness and strength of character that are great qualities in a chef and I firmly believe Kevin will go all the way. He may not have won last night, but in the long term I wouldn’t be surprised if he emerges as the biggest winner of the group.

But he did choke. By far the most surprising thing about last night’s episode was how poor Kevin’s dishes were compared to the dishes he’d cooked before. Remember, Kevin entered the finale with the most wins under his belt. I had him down as the favorite. So what went wrong?

Watching the episode, it was clear he was disappointed with the sous chefs he was saddled with, particularly Preeti. But it’s hard to dismiss the suspicion that that was merely an excuse.

My hunch is that the pressure just got to him. Sitting at home in your Lazy Boy, you have no idea how intense the atmosphere is in the kitchen. Not only are the chefs in the final furlong, desperately competing against each other as they approach the finish, but they’re under all sorts of time constraints. Their reputations are on the line — they want to be seen to succeed. Being named “Top Chef” is a huge win — it can completely transform their lives — so the stakes are high. As Tom said, “This meal can make your career.” In those circumstances, some people thrive, others don’t. Clearly, Michael and Bryan soaked up the pressure, while Kevin found it a bit too much. It probably didn’t help that he his mother was watching him from the wings.

53 comments
fooddude
fooddude

Let's get you into a quick fire challenge, balance some flavors, perfectly cook something, make a dessert and make a dish that is not "one note". My best guess is you can make a lean cuisine dinner in the microwave.

LISN
LISN

Toby,

Kevin choked? Yep, so it seems... So did Michael!!! His first course included the presence of burnt brocolli. His 3rd course included some strange mushroom concoction. His dessert included burnt cake! Yet, all of Bryan's courses were basically fine; if not fabulous (his 3rd & final course). Based upon what was said on air and in these blogs (except Tom's), the winner announced was incorrect. Michael's meal was 2nd to his brother's and his sob story of an answer to the big question. The wrong V brother was given the title.

D
D

After watching several seasons, it seems like the downfall of many of the final show is the extra help that's brought in mess up the contestants. Carla was hurt by her sous chef.

Maybe the sous chef thought is that it's there last time to shine.

I remember when Hung won, His sous chef made the comment, he thought hung was just trying to keep him busy to stay out of his way.

my thoughts d

Julia
Julia

Dry cake alone should have eliminated Michael. That is such an amateurish mistake. And Donatella was right about the fake s -- TACKY. And there is nothing bold about sweet and sour, if you ask me. (I cook it from scratch)Michael V. comes across to me as someone who is straining to be creative -- emphasis on straining. Sardine and panko bread crumbs - now that's a twist on sardine and toast, as you mentioned. A slice of lemon would have done it, I am sure, so, big deal. but how does one fix fix dry cake? I think you, Gail, Donatella and Michael Chiarello in the last two episodes showed integrity. Kudos to you. I think Tom C, for some reason or other, played faves w/ Michael V., and it clouded his judgment, got the better of him. As a viewer, I feel betrayed (my first time to watch Top Chef).

reggie210
reggie210

Toby - first thank you all season on the show and blog for your candor. You crack me up... the hairy armpit re: Pinot's was hysterical. Second - thank you for your spelling. I lived in Canada for a few years and miss the pronounciation and spelling of some words (like favourite vs. favorite). To this day I still say holiday instead of vacation, it just sounds a lot more fun!

On to the finale, I agree re: Kevin choking. If you have any input to the contests in the future, please recommend that it at least have some parity. Having the all the contestents from the season available and pulling knives for names had the potential for having an unfair advantage for a chef. We may all never know the chicken and the egg of Kevin choking, but maybe he would have psyched himself out anyway or maybe having such disparity in sous chef's influenced his downfall. It may not have even been that Preetie was not as good as Eli or Jenn, but that the three finalists obviously had a much better relationship with Eli and Jenn. From the footage of the season you could see that Kevin, Michael V, Bryan, Jenn, Eli and Michael I were close. Possibly if they could choose 1, 2, 3 or Michael I was given to Kevin it could have been closer.

It was sad to watch the finale and I thougth to myself on the final episode that "Kevin pulled a Carla". I thought last season it was Carla's to lose, just like this season it was Kevin's to lose. It was sorry to see both not trust their instincts and play the game that got them there.

Have a great Boxing day and keep being yourself and funny as hell!

feednotfatten
feednotfatten

Toby, thanks for your engaging comments during another entertaining season of TC. Well done.

More particularly, I'd like to comment on how patient and non-confrontational you were in the recently shown judges table interaction with Marcel. I sincerely hope you will be in subsequent episodes.

lotsahelp
lotsahelp

I was definately team kevin- his cooking was good all season, his attitude was good, and I got tired of Michael acting so snobby. I think had Bryan not been there to take Michaels side earlier in the season Michael would have irritated more of the group. And from watching it seemed that Jennifer was not that good. I am sorry Kevin did not do as well at the end but I am a little stunned that michael won with the mistake he made with his cake. I really thought from comments shown Bryan was going to be the winner.

mmc
mmc

The winner should be the sum total of all the contests plus of course the finale!So therefore Kevin won.Hated Padma calling Kevins name first and telling him he was not the winner. All was done for drama so the V. brothers would be left standing together.Cruel and unecessary and not a way to treat a kind and gracious man.Also drawing knives to pick sous chefs was so unfair and only added more stress to a totally stressful situation.Let the final chefs write two sous chefs name on a piece of paper, put them in a bowl, toss around and let the chefs then draw out two each from the bowl.Also bryan should be given some sort of a prize for being one of the final three.

mmc
mmc

The winner should be the sum total of all the contests plus of course the finale!So therefore Kevin won.Hated Padma calling Kevins name first and telling him he was not the winner. All was done for drama so the V. brothers would be left standing together.Cruel and unecessary and not a way to treat a kind and gracious man.Also drawing knives to pick sous chefs was so unfair and only added more stress to a totally stressful situation.Let the final chefs write two sous chefs name on a piece of paper, put them in a bowl, toss around and let the chefs then draw out two each from the bowl.Also bryan should be given some sort of a prize for being one of the final three.

obxman
obxman

Kevin was head and shoulders above the Voltaggios. The format set him up for failure. If I had the choice of whose restaurant I would dine at, Kevin's restaurant would be the obvious choice.

Narci
Narci

I think it would be more accurate to consider all the prior contests & performance similar to Top Master Chef. Kevin should have won or Brian per their performance through out the series. It seems so unfair and goofy to give it to someone who got lucky. Also good tasting food will never go out of style, who cares if Michael does unusual things-bottom line good food does not need to be fancy. Thomas Keller made it because he produces excellent food.

cca
cca

While I am averse to your verbage of "choked" sadly, I cannot disagree with you. However, I believe the most prominent reason for Kevin's "bad night" was the fact that his wife left him during the break between Vegas and Napa. That fact coupled with his mother being in attendance, I believe, was weighing on him tremendously.

abd10025
abd10025

Re: Less than qualified sous chefs.. Tiffany in season 1 had to contend with 2 who were hung over and drinking sontinuously while prepping. She somehow still managed an amazing meal

SilO
SilO

Bryan's Squab.Do u mean Michael's Squab?

IcyAll
IcyAll

Toby, Thanks for your contributions to making TOP CHEF so much fun to watch. I felt that you were the judge with the least ego -- it was more about the food for you than for the others. So I valued what you had to say. It seemed to me that you thought the sardine dish was better than others at the table, which plays into Kevin's failure ... he says in an interview that the pork belly turned out just as he wanted it to and how he likes to eat it. Being English, your palate is used to different tastes, different things please you than perhaps for the Americans at the table. Did you find your opinion as being decidedly different than the others often? (I know you can't answer here, just perhaps you can add a note about the affect of your nationality and personal taste history into how you judge for TOP CHEF?) Thanks, again -- I hope they have you back from the next season!

Gb
Gb

I agree with Larry B. It was inappropriate (to put it mildly) to dismiss Kevin. It was cruel and tacky.

I'm also in agreement with the condemnation of the random sous-chef drawing. If you're going to do that, you should at least have only chefs that were in the top 10 be brought in.

The mystery box is another bad choice. I have gathered from reading Q&A with Michael V. *and* Kevin that the ingredients weren't the best or freshest. That is not worthy of Top Chef.

AGreen
AGreen

@ Larry B: "the producers definitely stacked the cards against Kevin"?? No one decided on their sous chefs, they drew knives! It was completely by chance and who they drew had nothing to do with the producers.

I love Kevin and had been rooting for him since about the 3rd or 4th challenge. But part of what made this such a great finale was the parity among the 3 (well, 4 including Jennifer) finalists. All of them are extremely talented with very diverse styles and strengths. The Brothers V brought their game, and I felt like it could have gone to either one of them.

ReKP
ReKP

I wish people would not be so hard on the V-brothers. I don't think their personalities are truly the way they are portrayed to be by editing. Its true that they don't express a lot of emotion, but frankly, I think this is because they are probably shy, reserved men who have difficulty showing their feelings in public. They are obviously not your typical "reality TV personalities" and clearly entered this competition to further their careers and not to get some silly "15 minutes of fame". Not everybody finds it easy to mingle with strangers or be followed by a camera constantly but they clearly were willing to go against their natures and go on the show in hopes of winning the key to a better future. I don't think Michael is cocky at all - he is confident and self-assured, yet his introvert personality disguises it as arrogance.

Bryan, in my opinion, is even the shyer of the two and seems like a very well-mannered gentleman who is probably not comfortable in front of the camera. As a shy person myself, I know what it feels like to have my shyness misinterpreted and I feel bad that so many comments have been made about Bryan's "stiff" personality. He just looks like a very nice, SHY person who did his best to overcome that obstacle to compete on Top Chef.

Danska66
Danska66

Kevin choked???. No, Toby. I did when Michael won. Based on what we saw (sitting on our Lazy Boys) Bryan was the winner, even if I wanted Kevin to win.

Arlington Viewer
Arlington Viewer

Kevin didn't choke. He finally showed what he was made of: not as good as the Voltaggios.

John S
John S

If creativity and the willingness to take chances,then Marcel should have won in season 2, Richard should have won in season 4 and even Tiffany should have won season 1. It doesn't make sense. Brian made better dishes, period.

toni mtl
toni mtl

Toby, I think your comments and critiques are brilliant, witty and off-the-cuff. You're a great addition to the show, and hope you'll be around next season!

Thanks for the great blogs. Happy Holidays!

Porky Spudster
Porky Spudster

A furlong is 1/8 of a mile.

So sad to see Kevin choke. All the last four were great this year.

maureen leibovitz
maureen leibovitz

Toby your right. He started out right out of the box choking. For the B'couse Door he wasn't even quailified. Tell me how he gets such an honor over Jennifer, Bryan and Eli. I understand Michael due to his bone in salmon. But come on he didn't even know how to su vie and Bryan gave him instructions. This was totally off base in the middle of a challenge. A

kimll
kimll

Is there ANY possible way that the show can change it's parameters next season? I mean, from the viewer's standpoint, it did appear unfair to have less competent chefs working for Kevin vs the brothers. (No offense to the helpers but speed, dexterity and experience does make a huge difference). There really should be a level playing field for all finale contestants. Also, why not determine the finale winner, BUT consider the over-all performance through each episode in determining the ultimate winner?

In my book, had these parameters been in place, Kevin would have won.

CR
CR

Hey Zet! Regarding the sous chefs... Michael had Jesse who was eliminated in week 4 and Eli who was eliminated in week 12 Bryan had Ashley who was eliminated in week 7 and Jennifer who was eliminated in pt 1 of the finale Kevin had Preeti who was eliminated in week 3 and Ash who was eliminated in week 8

I don't like the way the sous chefs were chosen, but any leader of a kitchen should be able to direct their sous chefs to get done what needs to get done. Even Tom said that Kevin wasn't hampered by Preeti.

Donna A
Donna A

Toby, thanks for your insights. You and Gail are my favorite TC judges. I truly believe that all chefs in the finale are the best. They are equally talented in my view. The way you explained how Michael was chosen as Top Chef makes sense (although I am with Padma wanting to give the title to Bryan). Now, I am not confused why Michael won. Last night's show gave a totally different impression.

CR
CR

Great season! All of the final four are excellent chefs and I would love to eat at each of their restaurants.

A few statistics to share with other readers: Kevin: Won 3 QF and 5 Elim Michael V: Won 2 QF and 3 Elim Byran: Won 0 QF and 4 Elim Jennifer: Won 3 QF and 1 Elim Eli: Won 2 QF Mike I: Won 1 QF Robin: Won 1 QF

As for being in the top or the bottom of challenges they did NOT win: Quick Fires Top: Bryan - 4; Kevin - 3; Michael V - 2; Jennifer - 2 Quick Fires Bottom: Bryan - 4; Jennifer - 3; Michael V - 3; Kevin 1 Elim Challenge Top: Michael V - 7; Bryan - 4; Jennifer - 4; Kevin - 3 Elim Challenge Bottom: Jennifer - 4; Kevin - 1; Michael V - 1; Bryan - 0

For the money prizes: Michael V: $15K + $10K (share w/team) + Prius + $125K Kevin: $15K + $30K Jennifer: $15K Mike I: $15K

In conclusion - results if you add wins plus top finishes: Michael V: 4 QF and 10 Elim Bryan: 4 QF and 8 Elim Kevin: 6 QF and 8 Elim Jennifer: 5 QF and 5 Elim

vhw
vhw

I'm dining at Kevin's restaurant tonight. I was hoping to be celebrating a Top Chef victory, but I'm happy to be celebrating a tv season of inspriring work and cooking. And hey, if he's serving pork bellies tonight, I won't hesitate to go "whole hog" for it!

MylaBaby
MylaBaby

If Kevin was "all that" he should've been able to cook even if he had Stevie Wonder as his sous chef. Stop making excuse and just enjoy a truly wonderful competition between top notch chefs! Sheesh! Did you complain when Team Revolt was saddled with Robin? It's not like Kevin didn't come away with some amazing prizes and much cash. If anyone should be felt badly for its Bryan, who won numerous EC but was rewarded nada. Now, THAT is unfair!

renomommy
renomommy

I agree with Toby. Kevin was my favorite right from the start. He choked much like Carla did in the season 5 finale. She was my favorite from the get go as well. Both are so talented and will go so far. Congrats to Michael and to Bryan and Kevin as well. Can't wait for season 7! Jena

Mary W.
Mary W.

Toby, you are the best,the fairest, the most interesting on the show. Each year (other than the first), the most talented chef was robbed. Kevin was consistently the best....just as Richard was previously. The producers' gimmick this year was so obvious. No more "Top Chef" for me. My one consolation was Kevin winning the $30,000 prize.

wc
wc

I think it's rigged. I always felt like we were being pushed into a brothers' showdown. I completely agree with zet re the sous chefs.....there was nothing Kevin could do that would have been good enough.

DaveS
DaveS

Toby, you said...

In the end, it came down to a combination of technique and creativity. While Bryan’s technical expertise is slightly ahead of Michael’s, Michael’s boldness — his willingness to take risks — gave him the edge. But make no mistake: both the Voltaggio brothers are great chefs and it was a pleasure to have them cooking for us this season.

Explain something to me then....So Bryan plows through and with great technique and skill creates something that may not break any new ground, but is very very good. Michael relies on flair and risk to either make something truly inventive, or fall flat on his face (which we saw him do numerous times in the entire season).

And thats what wins TC? That doesn't make sense. Its supposed to be about "WHAT DID YOU COOK TONIGHT!" Not...hey, you have real potential.

Ann W
Ann W

It is interesting to hear where the judges stood as you all went into deliberations. I also thought you added a zesty presence to judges table this season and hope we see you some more. However, each blog I read just makes me more convinced that Bryan got hosed. I don't see why Michael is rewarded for risks if he doesn't fully execute. This is the second finale round where he missed on his execution, yet he is now Top Chef. If he were a surgeon taking those risks to save a patient, he'd have a few corpses on his hands, no matter how close he may have come to a brilliant save.

Bryan may not have aimed quite so high, but he seemed to deliver far more consistantly, his only real mistakes being a slightly underseasoned first course and a texturally one note second course. The two biggest mistakes of the night seemed like Kevin's mushroom and Michael's cake. I sensed from watching the episode that Michael was rewarded somehow for his different style as a chef and not just on what he delivered and you just confirmed it. I know all four of the finalists will go on to huge careers and I truly look forward to trying all their cooking someday, but I feally feel like Bryan got short-changed. He's so classy though he's probably glad his brother won.

jrfridge
jrfridge

toby, we know what you meant. we know michael cooked the squab. although, i was on team michael i still appreciate the explanation of the decision. this was a great season and finally the best of the best were in the top 3 and 4.

LarryB
LarryB

I totally agree with "zet". Kevin started the competition with a handicap ... a sous chef that gave him pause. On the biggest day of their lives it was unfair to everyone to add randomness. The result may not have been any different, but now we'll never know.

And to add insult to injury, it was inappropriate to dismiss Kevin from the room.

I'm happy for Michael, but this finale left a lot to be desired.

Angel2211
Angel2211

I was rooting for Kevin as well and I believe he DID have an off night. As one of the judges said, "anyone of the 4 could win, it was just a matter of who was on that night" (paraphrasing). And I agree. No disrespect towards Preeti, but I think she was a "handicap" to Kevin with her sub-par skills compared to Jen C and Eli. I'll respectfully disagree with Top Chef and say they shouldn't have brought everyone back to act at Sous Chef's for the finalists - it was the wrong call.

Huh?
Huh?

What's a "furlong"?

LarryB
LarryB

Totally agree with "zet". If the pressure of competing wasn't enough, Kevin had it cranked up with the randomness of the sous chef selections. You could tell that Bryan and Michael were pleased to draw the likes of Eli and Jennifer. To add a wild card like this to the most important competition was needlessly cruel.

Perhaps Michael would have prevailed anyway, but the producers definitely stacked the cards against Kevin.

BeaAnn
BeaAnn

Toby - Thanks for the insight. I was rooting for Kevin myself but I agree he had an off day. I think all three of these guys have great careers ahead of them. I appreciate your perspective and hope we see you again next season!

BV
BV

What we would really like to see is the judges final deliberation. That is the special I want to see not the reunion show. Do they film/record the entire deliberation? To me that would make a great after the finale show. It is also good to know they are being judged on what they did that night and not what they did over the course of the season.

JosephSh
JosephSh

@jared1234: That's great you're a fan of Kevin's; I am too. I would like to eat in all three contestants' restaurants but if I had to choose I would eat at Kevin's first. However, your comment is just plain ignorant. If you are unable to recognize the level of talent both Voltaggio brothers possess you haven't been watching the show.

wyocook
wyocook

I have been viewing these blogs/comments for some time and am a big fan of the show, especially this season. I am moved this morning to write about the finale because it "seems" everyone wanted either Kevin or Bryan to win. Not that it matters who the viewers wanted to win anyway, but i was completely amazed by Michael through the entire season. Tom commented that it wasn't really very close and that even Kevin said that any one of those three could win it on any given night. All three of these finalists were very talented in their own way and that was clear from about the 2nd episode! In further defense of Michael, last night he really didn't seem to be as cocky as the producers made him out to be with relentless repetitions of "cooking like Kevin on my weekend." I've never thought that he was over cocky - simply a VERY dedicated professional that takes his craft seriously. More people should strive for this in every profession....

lilo808
lilo808

Toby, I think you have a typo. "the third round belonged to Bryan, whose venison was marginally better than Bryan’s squab"

Coquine
Coquine

Hi Toby, My teenage son calls you the 'metaphor' guy. If Michael is Picasso, then Bryan is Manet, and Kevin is Norman Rockwell. Thanks for explaining your take on the finale. In the past, Richard Blais did not win, and he clearly dominated throughout the season. Previous wins don't count, as you say, yet it continues to annoy people. The rules have been the same for years. Hope you are included in future seasons. Happy holidays!

MylaBaby
MylaBaby

Thank you so much for your blog. It does fill in the gaps at what takes place at the judges' table, although Tom's explanation of who won what dish is slightly different from yours. What a fabulous season this was.

Per Said
Per Said

Forget about Kevin's choke. Here's your scoop, Toby. From your account (and their own blogs) the four judges were deadlocked: Padma and Gail for Bryan, Tom and you for Michael. What's the tiebreaker? Gender. Chalk up another big win for Team Testicles (since you like that word so well.)

LISN
LISN

Hello Toby,

Thank you for your candor here. It sounds as though Michael was rewarded more for his intentions than the what actually hit the plate. Being bold but failing doesn't make you bold. It makes you a failure. That disappoints me greatly. From the editing, the viewers (sitting in their Lazy Boys), were shown flaws in 3 out of 4 courses of Michael's menu. Bryan had only missed the mark in the first course (except you liked his sardines). Michael's win is a head scratcher.

kg
kg

I enjoy your blog a lot, Toby, and think you add so much as a judge on TC. Your commentary on the show and on the blog is always very insightful. I am with the others in wishing Kevin had won. I wish the big winner wasn't chosen based on one meal but on the accumulation of the whole season's work. That would really mean they were the overall best chef not just best chef of the night. Thanks, Toby!