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All About the Ingredientses

Kerry Heffernan made a decision that may have cost him the title.

By Monica A. Reyhani

Well, my little blood sausages, the day finally arrived -- finale day. And oh was it glorious. Ironically, it's Yom Kippur and I'm fasting, so a) please don't tell my rabbi I'm doing work, and b) please excuse my stomach grumbles. Let's dive right in!

Love, Apology, Thanks, and Self

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There was obviously no Quickfire Challenge for this challenge, so our two chefs -- Chris and Kerry --  headed straight in to a truly inspired challenge: to create four courses based on letters. These letters were: a love letter, apology, thank you note, and a letter to yourself. These two chefs happily embraced the challenge, and I wondered if we were actually going to make them write letters. We didn't hear any, so I'm going to assume they didn't. Some chefs are great writers -- if you don't believe me, just read Hugh Acheson's blog, while other chefs prefer to only write menus.

The two chefs get a surprise -- they get sous-chefs! And not just any sous-chefs, but their usual sous-chefs -- or in Kerry's case, a longtime colleague. This is usually my favorite moment and I think truly adds a special element to these challenges -- the viewer gets an even bigger taste of what these cheftestants are like in their professional kitchens. I have to say this season's sous-chef surprise also brought a fun extra element in the form of Manfred. I'm obsessed with that name. I would never call him Manny. It would be Manfred all day, every day. And although his name is Manfred and not Alfred, whenever Chris said it, I considered him Batman. He's certainly got the voice for it.So the two teams start menu-planning. Predictably, they both dedicated their love letters to their wives. and perhaps somewhat predictably their 'I'm sorrys" rang very similar -- both wish they didn't spend so much time away from their families in pursuit of culinary excellence. This isn't the firs time I've heard a chef lament this, but it's never any less sad to hear.

After the chefs have their dishes somewhat in mind -- Kerry will formulate it as he shops. In a crucial decision, Kerry decides only to shop at Whole Foods, while Chris and Manfred decide to hit up two other shops-- a butcher and an Asian specialty shop. In the immortal words of Real Housewife of New Jersey Teresa Giudice, ingredientses are everything. I actually don't know if she said that, but we'll pretend for now. It was this decision that may have really sealed Kerry's fate.

Because of the extra shopping and the L.A. traffic Chris and Manfred suffered, Kerry and Nick had a major time advantage in prepping, but Chris caught up by the end of Day One. And so they were on an even playing field for service. Or were they? Now Chris had the ingredients he wanted while Kerry made multiple compromises to his dishes. For example, in Kerry's first dish, he wanted to make a lobster jjigae, but Whole Foods sold out of lobster, so he made shrimp. Was it still delicious? Yes. Was it what he wanted to make? Not really. One of the diners makes a comment that Kerry's dish was too subtle, and I have to wonder whether his broth would seem more powerful next to a piece of delicate lobster rather thn a hearty prawn. Kerry finds out from Chris that the butcher had seafood -- he hadn't thought of that. That moment of realization was a bummer to watch. But before we breakdown the entire meal, let's not forget that the two chefs were treated to a meal cooked by none other than host and accomplished chef in his own right, Curtis Stone. I really didn't think this man could get any sexier but watching him cook, well.... He got to finally speak to Chris and Kerry on a chef-to-chef level, and this was a really nice moment.

But don't relax, guys! It's showtime! We already discussed Kerry's first course, but let's talk about Chris' beef heart tartare. My best friend actually traveled to Canada recently where I believe she ate this for the first time, so this dish wasn't too shocking to me, and the concept was literal and lovely. The next course, Kerry created a delicate snap pea flan, while Chris made something with uni. I say it like that because anything with uni will be greeted well by fellow chefs and food critics. They just love uni! (This is of course an overgeneralization, but test it out. See for yourself!) There's a reason Ruth said it was one of the sexiest dishes she's ever had -- that is truly saying a lot.

For the third course, Chris whips out the tripe, an ode to his grandmother. It gets OK reviews, and a large brown streak on a dish is always going to get the side-eye. Kerry "thanks" his parents for taking him clamming on the Cape when he was younger. 

And the final dish -- a note to one's self. Chris made a dish that made me think of Wylie Dufresne, a fellow egg-lover. Chris served his diners blood sausage and eggs. As we saw, blood sausage is not easy to make. In fact, it apparently "spooges," a term I never need to hear on Bravo again. Some scoffed at the dish's simplicity, but there was nothing simple about that dish. Making blood sausage and a perfectly-cooked egg for that many people is hard. On the other hand, Kerry finally let himself indulge -- in a perfect piece of steak. He's such a New Yorker.In the end, a really interesting question came up: with two great meals, which is better? Kerry's classic cuisine or Chris' "I dare you to eat this" style? This is something I've actually thought about myself. When I used to go out to dinner, my friends knew exactly what I would order, not only because it probably had corn or bacon in it, but because it was probably the weirdest thing on the menu. But I don't really do that anymore because a) many chefs aren't as skilled as Chris, and though I'm all for trying new things, I'm also for eating delicious food, and b) really, what am I proving by eating these foods if I don't enjoy them as much as something maybe a little bit more "safe"?

Kerry's critique reminded me a lot of similar things said in past seasons of Top Chef about the subtlety and restraint of Hung Huynh and Bryan Voltggio's food, and you now what? Their food is what I love to eat, so maybe I need to let go a little too! I do still think about a lamb heart cubano Chris served at a BBQ this summer, though, and so...

Ultimately, Chris wins! And maybe it's cliche, but they are truly both winners. I don't think Chris' win necessarily says anything about risky foods vs. classic cuisine, I think at the end of the day Chris provided a better meal and really let himself go. 

Well, as always, I want to thank you you for reading my recaps this season, a season I really think to be the best one yet! Don't forget to watch Life After Top Chef next week at 10/9c. And until then, Have a Nosh!

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