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March 01, 2009


Top Chef Finale

Season 5 is over , and I am nursing my food porn hangover and crying into my glass of Pinot Gris. And while I am as in love with Top Chef as ever (Tom Colicchio’s undauntable fairness! Padma Laksmi’s undimmable hotness! Gail Simmons’ irrepressible stackedness!) I have to say this was the most disappointing finale in the show’s history.

Having been a guest on the show during Season 4, I could tell from the very beginning that this was an extraordinary group of cooks. As always, there were a few hotshots who established themselves as contenders early in the competition (cocksure Stefan, charming Fabio, “my contempt for you is palpable” Jamie). But what was most exciting was that as the season progressed, the sleepers started to emerge — Hosea, Jeff and Carla, all of whom seemed only fair-to-middling cooks early on — and they made the show a real horse race. As a result, this season was, for the most part, a real nail-biter, with each challenge anybody’s game to win, and upsets at most every turn.

And that was why the finale sucked Rocky Mountain Oysters so unbelievably hard: because it wasn’t a real competition. Stefan, who sauntered through the season — and his final meal — like his ‘bistro fare circa 2001’ was really heavenly manna with a side of nectar, could not have been more brash and boring at the same time. Hosea, who I think is a real talent, if a bit timid and risk-averse, needed to totally destroy that night, and he didn’t. He delivered a fine meal, but not a transcendent one (that is my favorite word to use on Top Chef — transcendent — I used it in Season 4 because I wanted to sound foodie and thinky at the same time). And Carla, who seemed unstoppable in the episodes leading up to the finale (the judges could not find ONE bad thing to say about her in the penultimate episode) shot herself in the foot with a sous-vide bullet and added salt to the wound in the form of a ruined cheese soufflé. By that time the underdog had become the front-runner, and we were all rooting for her; so to see her trip and fall almost right out of the blocks was heartbreaking and took all of the fire and excitement out of the final competition. It was like Hosea won by default. It’s usually at that point in a track meet — when the underdog’s fallen and some random guy’s humping it towards the tape — that I change the channel to that Law&Order marathon that, let’s face it, is always on.)

I’m not a Hosea-hater, by the way. I like the guy. But I imagine even he would say he’d rather have won with all three runners in the race, rather than one getting DQ’d on a technicality. Nonetheless, congratulations to Hosea. That show is hard as hell to stay alive on, let alone win. Throw in two babbling self-congratulatory European knuckleheads and an inappropriate makeout session with a emotionally needy, undisciplined fellow chef, and it’s amazing Hosea didn’t get drunk on Absinthe and stumble off into the Manhattan night the first chance he got. So I don’t want to take anything away from Hosea. He’s Top Chef, and that’s a very, very big deal.

But it was still a lame finale.

P.S. Toby Young is a bespectacled babbling butthead with no respect for how difficult it is to be a chef, let alone a good one. If he comes up with one more mouldy (English spelling) food metaphor likening cooking to jumping out of a plane or diving into a pool I will shoot my television.

P.P.S. Not every tv show needs a braying British jackass to make it compelling. We have plenty of braying American jackasses right here in the good ol’ U.S. of A, thank you very much. Dear television industry: Take the state of our economy into consideration. Buy American.