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Hugh: What's Black, White, and Tall All Over?

Hugh discusses the finale and the crucial mistake Tiffani made with her final dish.

By Hugh Acheson

This will be a whirlwind of cheffery, because the way this Duels worked out we have a round robin tournament with the first round covering nine episodes and the second, third, fourth, and fifth round happening NOW. . .in one episode. 

"Black is back; all in we’re gonna win." -Chuck D. 

Tiffani has won the Knockout to come back to the kitchen. The first cull is based around making a dish that is black. They run around in a frantic way and we get some idea of how to use black chicken. We learn that Jen's bedroom was all black, except for the Iron Maiden velvet posters and the mango vodka spritzers. Dale Talde is running around in fancy trainers, yelling "Behind, behind," which is what he does when you eat at his places in Brooklyn. It means people eat there really quickly, resulting in massive cover counts (restaurant-speak for how many people we feed in a service). CJ is foraging and Blais is taking this whole thing more seriously than he should, but then again, that concentration won him All Stars back in the day. His hair is in a swooshy phase. Dale talks about Blais being the molecular Rain Man character, which is pretty hilarious. Talde, 1; everyone else, 0. Dale also gets high praise from Wolfgang for dressing like his parrot, when he presents his totally not-black dish. Which makes one think: Wolfgang Puck has a parrot? Weirdo.


They present their black dishes. The chefs who are commended are Kevin with his "Black Balls," Tiffani with a black chicken and forbidden black rice, CJ with a bass with corn smut (huitlacoche), and Takashi with black chicken with truffles and figs. CJ and Tiffani get spots in the finale final. Blais, Jen Carroll, Shirley, Stephanie, Antonia, and Dale get no edge. 

So it's white plate time, and the chefs get busy with that. Blais says that they are getting into Jordan and Lebron territory. I don't know what this means, but it is some type of chef chest puffery. I am more a Muggsy Bogues guy myself. 

Kevin excels with his chowder, Takashi with his spring roll, Antonia with her halibut, and Blais with his scallop with snow. Kevin and Takashi advance and the rest of them get all frowny. They all leave, and we are left with CJ, Tiffani, Takashi, and Kevin. Blais puts it well: "Losing on Top Chef is like breaking up with your first love." I just cried into my Calming Mist tisane. 

The final finale is thus: The four chefs will cook three courses. After course one, a chef gets booted. Then another chef is jettisoned after the next course. Then two remain and the final course decides the victor. Love, honor, and pride are the guiding principles of the three courses. 

Tiffani was once a tadpole, CJ has brought a spruce tree and towels, Kevin is using skills learned in high school drama class, while Takashi has brought a very calm and quiet disposition. I would say Zen-like, but that'd be walking into the murky waters of profiling. 

Kevin is making scallops. Tiffani is making scallops. Takashi is making something with tuna. CJ is foraging for a career extension and finds peas.  

We take the table and talk about the competitive spirits of the contenders. I say that CJ is a sadist, yet I meant masochist. Opposites attract stuff. Yogi Berra has nothing on me. Kevin talks about Tom's scowl, but with Tom's new glasses, the scowl looks far more introspective than usual. The other diners are Jonathan Waxman, Francis Lam, Michelle Berstein, Gail, and me. My hair is pasted down for aerodynamics. 

Takashi's dish is first, and it is a busy crudo. It is a platonic love letter to his father, but a long letter, with tomato, radish, uni, jalapeño, and an onion dressing. CJ presents peas, with chrysanthemum and some other things. Very simple. Very good. Tiffani has made herself cry, with a dish of scallops, ginger and yuzu. The tears only enhance the dish. Wolfgang falls for this drama and gives it high marks. 

Kevin will attempt to cry, as well, knowing that he is in the last spot of presentation and he will have to emotionally out-manoeuver the others. Grits, scallop, bacon. . . "Messy love" is how Waxman describes it. 

Tiffani and CJ are safe. One cried literally like a moment ago, and one has never cried, except when he hits his head on beams, door frames, car doors, and ceiling sprinkler heads.

Takashi loses out. He is immediately cut and leaves the kitchen. Second course is based on honor, and this obviously means that CJ will stir a pot with a spruce limb. The amazing thing is that the guy is so large that it is an actual redwood. 

CJ has made crispy duck with orange and manzanita berries. Waxman likes the "frivolity" of the dish. Rarely is this a compliment, but it is meant as one this time. It means a lack of seriousness. CJ is very serious about this lack of seriousness. I originally wrote this in Comic Sans MS to convey the same feeling. 

Kevin is paying homage to his mentor Michael Tuohy. Tuohy is in a chef in Sacramento now but was a very important chef in ATL back in the day. The ode is a duck with a pea pistou and mushrooms. It is a toothsome plate but takes some sharp incisors to really enjoy. Wolfgang says that the duck didn't taste like "big duck flavor." He’s Austrian. 

Tiffani has honored the city of Boston, the place she calls home. Lobster, gnocchi, corn puree, and lobster sauce is the dish. The dish was good but did not punch Francis Lam in that way that he likes to get punched. I think we have found our masochist. 

Mini deliberation has Gail liking CJ's jerky duck. Wolfie loves the cooking on Tiffani's lobster. Waxman is sorry, but he just did not like Kevin's duck, and Curtis confirms that it was "rubber ducky." Kevin is done. He says that the worst thing that could possibly have happened has just happened. C'mon, Kevin. It’s just a competitive cooking show. Save that ferocity for The Price Is Right

Finale final is Tiffani and CJ. They get on it. Pride is the focus of the course. Tiffani is making a dessert biscuit. CJ is making woodfired Cali halibut.  

SHE MADE A BISCUIT. That shows a lot of pride and chutzpah. CJ's fish was a continuation of his foraged world view, a prideful moment on what he has learned, and the chef he has matured into in the past few years. 

So it came down to what they showed us. And the central point of contention was that maybe Tiffani played it safe while CJ took risks. Anyhow, the chips fell in CJs lap, and he is the winner of Top Chef Duels. Sometimes money can't buy lichen or success, two things that you just have to find for yourself. CJ is a testament to that. Well done, Big Ceej. 

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