Keep It Simple

Eli gives his thoughts on the final challenge and sings the praises of the sous-chefs. 

Welcome to the show. You’ve made it to the big game, the one that counts, the last hurrah. All season long the chefs, publicly and privately in their own mind, speak about and focus on this one challenge. For many, from the moment you get asked to be on the show, you will start planning and considering what you may cook at this meal, the best dishes, the ones that really will blow them away. With all this hype and focus on it, you will be as about as prepared and ready to go as you possibly can be once the challenge is presented to you. All three of the chefs had been adamant about their expectations and goals of reaching the end.

Seeing the three previous winners must have come as a relief to the chefs. As opposed to getting a previous cheftestant from your own season, some of which might be terribly detrimental to you if you were to draw poorly, you get a competent, Top Chef proven cook. To be totally honest, getting any of the three past winners as a sous chef would go down as a win in my column. They all have their strengths, but they are all really solid cooks who know how the game is played.

Of all three of the sous chefs, I think it's obvious Hung had the hardest job. Whether or not he had Angelo on the phone the whole time, he had to make many decisions blindly without knowing the exact vision of Angelo. Regardless of similarities in their cooking style, this sure isn’t easy. With that being said, I was pretty surprised to see that Angelo wasn’t able to get out of bed on the first day of cooking to work with Hung. No one will ever really know how sick he was except for himself, but I find it difficult to believe that most people, chef or not, wouldn’t be able to get up and cook for three hours with $125k on the line, unless you were stricken to a hospital. I have been apprehensive in the past to bring up my previous season, but I feel as if this is pertinent to this situation. The day of the Bocuse d’Or challenge, Michael Voltaggio had a fever of 104 degrees. He woke up that morning in a pretty brutal condition. During Judges' Table Tom was even putting cold compresses on his neck. It was strongly suggested he not cook, the idea of calling him an ambulance was even suggested, but for a short period of time he was able to push through. Everyone is different, and everyone’s resolve is different, and in no way am I trying to speak poorly of Angelo. I was just very surprised.

I was a bit disappointed by some of the requirements of the final meal. This challenge really should be about cooking the best meal you can without having to qualify it. You should just say, “Cook the meal of your life”, and be done with it. The winner of Top Chef should be a strong all around cook, but with certain ingredients a chef might be stronger or have a more experience using it. While I do think that requiring a dessert as well as vegetable course is fair (those are both components of a well rounded meal) inflicting the same ingredients on them seems a bit pedantic and forced.

All three of the chefs really did a great job. Angelo’s strong point was his grasp of the kinds of flavors and the kinds of techniques he wanted to show off. He really was able to show himself and who he is as a chef. It just felt like all of his dishes lacked the final touch. This probably really did boil down to his lack of time in the kitchen, it's a shame that we really couldn’t see him in his full stride. Ed also did a terrific job of showing himself on the plate. He presented a tour de force showing of modern, refined, Franco-American cuisine. It felt like his real downfall was in the dessert category. He did plan for it, and expect to do one, but it seems like he held his punch at the last second. It also seemed like he just passed the task off onto Ilan. This really surprised me after he was so articulate about how he wanted to be in control and call all the shots in his dishes. Kevin just had the most complete package. He produced a solid showing on both technical and flavor levels. His strong suit really seemed to be his vision and refinement on every course.

This has been a really fun season to watch and Kevin is a great guy. He is a great example of the kind of chef who deserves to win, humble, focused, and an overall great cook.

Follow me on Twitter @elikirshtein

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