What an awesome way to wrap the first series of Duels! It was nice to finally have all of this incredible talent in the one kitchen at the one time. But there can be just one winner, and the gong for Top Chef Duels goes to Big Ceej--and deservedly so! He really came into his own in this series, more so than ever before, and both CJ and Tiffani just smashed the finale. Smashed it! First up, they propel themselves straight into the finals round with their black dishes and wind up in the winner and runner-up positions. I’m ecstatic for CJ; I mean $100k is no small chunk of change, and what a massive, massive effort by Tiffani, too. Man she fought like a bloody tiger, so determined. It’s a shame she couldn’t walk away with more for her efforts, but in the words of my favorite Swedes, "The winner takes it all."
There were a total of 27 different dishes put up tonight for the judges, so I can't speak on them all, but there were a couple of stand outs that I’ve gotta mention: CJ’s pea dish and Tiffani’s lobster gnocchi. Firstly, I just loved the "love" course challenge with everyone dedicating their dishes to their significant others. All except for CJ who cooked his heart out in honor of the humble pea. I’m with CJ; peas are little powerhouses in both home and restaurant cooking. In April of this year, I dedicated an entire month to this little veggie at my restaurant Maude, where we built a 12-course degustation with peas featured in each course, so CJ definitely got my tick of approval with his pea-centric dish. It was light, bright, herbaceous and was a really smart way to begin his three-course meal. I also enjoyed the fact that he ended with a third course of smoky-sweet halibut. It really showed off his versatility and technique. And like we said tonight, Tiff’s dishes just gave you a big aunty hug each time you took a bite, and there’s nothing more comforting than gnocchi. OMG it was good. Every component was really well done from the tender, fluffy gnocchi to the sweet corn puree to the delicious, luxurious lobster and sauce. I'll have to cook this dish for my wife soon. I think it's a special, romantic kind of dish that she would just love.
I’m really excited to keep watching what these two chefs, CJ and Tiffani, and all the chefs from Duels do in the future, and I’m feeling very lucky that CJ is a Californian guy through and through, so I’ll be able to go and eat his food down the road at Girasol anytime. He is intensely passionate about Californian ingredients, which is plain as day to see from every dish he has presented to us.
Duels was truly such fun for everyone involved I think, even though, as usual, we put the chefs (and let’s not forget they have put each other) through the bloody ringer--"Make an all black dish, make a three-course heavy-metal inspired vegan dish, cook with armadillo (ugh!)"--the list goes on. There was sweat, red faces, tears of relief, love, and emotion, and a fair bit of cursing from the judges and chef-testants alike, and I enjoyed each minute of it! It was an honor to eat all of the chefs' delicious, delicious food and judge alongside Gail and Wolfgang and our guest judges and celebrities. And thank you to all of our loyal viewers! It’s been a ride, guys!