And, we have a winner. I pride myself on guessing the winner, or at least the final two of the season, the first episode. Obviously the first episode was kinda the third this time around with the casting and such, but if I recall, I knew it would be Sarah and Paul. And Paul was sort of my favorite all season, which I'm sure I did a horrible job of hiding. He's just such a silent killer, and although I would describe myself as anything but quiet, I can appreciate it in others. Also, he's adorable. Next year, I'll be sure to write the name of who I think will win on a piece of paper and take a picture so you can all believe me when the finale rolls around! Anyway, let's dive into this insane episode where I cried three times.
First, as always, we carted out chefs from the season to compete to be Sarah and Paul's sous-chefs, but this time we threw in a few surprises. Not only did we include two masters in their own rights, Barbara Lynch and Marco Canora, but we brought back two chefs who were cut in the first rounds -- Ashley and Tyler. Didn't think you'd ever see Tyler again, did you? And i'm sure you didn't think he'd get chosen! But apparently he made a dish that Heather cooks at her restaurant and so Sarah chose him for her team. I honestly don't know if Sarah actually liked the dish or just went by the name of the dish itself. Oh well. She got Heather anyway. She also got fan favorites Grayson and Nyesha. And while no one selected Marco Canora, which i found baffling, Paul got Barbara Lynch. He also picked up Ty-Lor Boring and Chris Crary.
Paul decides to do a Japanese-inspired meal while Sarah mixes it up a little by infusing her Italian cooking with her German heritage.Let's start with Paul's meal:
Paul named his restaurant Qi -- a play on his last name, and I honestly couldn't tell you why he removed the "u." Anyone else have any ideas? Tom liked the simplicity of his menu. He started with Chawanmushi, which was well-received by the first group of judges but was overcooked for the second. When I asked him he said he did "absolutely" consider not serving it, but honestly I think he would've been penalized more for that. What's sort of amusing is that he was originally going to make crab but it went bad overnight. He also almost didn't buy the prawns, but thank G-d he did. At least he was able to satisfy one set of judges rather than zero. He moved on to a grilled sea bass with dashi. Then, the congee. Some of the judges didn't think the congee was a natural progression, but props to Hugh for commenting that the items in the congee provided that "meatiness" and richness of a third course. Final course was coconut ice cream with puffed wild rice, mango, and thai chil foam. Rice was overcooked for some, but I would've ordered this dessert. It just sounded sort of genius.
The only other challenge to Paul -- albeit brief -- was working with Barbara Lynch. We've seen time and time again on Top Chef, especially on Masters, that going from being a head chef to a subordinate can be difficult. Ultimately Barbara was able to curb her style and listen to Paul, who she said she admired. That was a nice compliment.
On to Sarah's meal! I have to be honest, Sarah's menu is the one I would've ordered because I'm a sucker for heavier foods. It's actually something Im trying to train myself to choose lighter foods when given the option. Hey, I bought kale this week -- we can't ask for much more than that. Sarah started with spot prawns and coconut. The judges were wowed by the tartare on the pasta. I've never seen that before and I would've loved to try it. Next up was the rye-crusted steelhead. Unfortunately her beets weren't cooked through. Next was the braised veal cheek and veal sweetbread. Hugh reveals in his blog that her sweetbreads were overdone. And half the judges got bad polenta. So, overall that dish was a miss. And the dessert -- a hazelnut cake -- was universally loved and lauded for its ingenious white chocolate cookery. And, don't worry -- even though Heather helped with dessert, it wasn't' Ed Lee's recipe! As with many of our finales, the judges were genuinely split between the two, and even Sarah and Paul knew it after Judges' Table with Sarah declaring that Tom liked Paul's meal better, but Padma liked hers. Both meals seemed pretty exciting to me, but in the end, I think Paul's meal had less flaws overall. I'll leave it to the judges' blogs and the Extended Judges' Table footage to shed more light on their decision, but I think both chefs deserved to win at this point. They both served amazing meals. I had the pleasure of meeting Sarah at the reunion taping and she was very friendly, and next time I'm in Chicago, Spiaggia is first on my list of restaurants to visit, and hopefully i'll head down to Austin soon to eat Paul's food at Uchicko.
Oh, so why did I cry so much? Well, I cried when both chefs saw who their special diners were, and then, of course, I bawled along with Paul's dad. Hearing both chefs talk about their families and how important it was to have them be proud of them -- for once -- was heartbreaking. But Mr. Qui just lost it. He couldn't stop crying! And neither could I! Paul talk about it more at the reunion next week -- spoiler alert! -- but I think his father was just so overcome with pride, he didn't know what to do. It was beautiful.
Sooo, are you guys happy with the outcome? Judging from your comments all season, I'm going to assume that yes, you are. I'll be back next week recapping the reunion, which I attended, so you're not rid of me yet. Until then, Have a Nosh!