Top Chef Masters: Grand Finale


Wednesday was a good night for food fans. Two and a half hours of chefs killing themselves to put out the best of their abilities and a lot of really amazing food was cooked. Top Chef is back folks, and to open for the Top Chef Masters Finale I can’t think of a better way of giving the audience exactly what they want; dish after dish after dish of exceptional food porn!

If sitting through the Masters series got kinda stale at certain points, and it definitely had its lackluster moments, this finale completely made up for any previous lack of entertainment. Hubert Keller summed up the his final TCM elimination round as “the perfect challenge.” I couldn’t agree more. This is the type of event I tune in for every week. No weird restrictions, no dramatic twists; just cook from your soul, tell a story and put out the best meal of your life. I won’t lie. I took a deep breath and held back on tearing up a little when they announced the challenge.

For the grand finale Keller, Bayless and Chiarello were tasked with creating a four course meal describing their life as a chef.

Each course has to reflect in some way that particular memory, I’ll just go down the list:
1st course: your first food memory
2nd course: realizing you wanted to become a chef
3rd course: opening your first restaurant
4th course: where you are now and where you are going

Bravo, I forgive every reality show, every desperate housewife, every high school asshole, every socialite-fashion-fucktard that graces your network. And I’m sure now that I’ve said this, you’ll come up with a show far worse than anything I can imagine. But until then, well done Bravo.

I think Bayless said it best, “This isn’t something I have to do. This is something I would love to do!” You could just see it on all of the chefs’ faces. They weren’t bothered or upset. Why should they be?! This is the type of cooking they live for—isn’t it?

Needless to say the finalist threw themselves into it. Oh, did the producers mention that their sous chefs would come out to help. I was highly amused by the fact that each sous seemed like an extension of the Master’s personality; Mike’s was a bit of a prick, Rick’s was a nice midwest kid, and Hubert’s Frenchy and possibly a DJ(?). I’d be curious to know exactly how close those guys are with their sous in real life.

So who’s gonna judge?  In a wonderful twist, the last five TC winners are back to judge the last three Masters along with the original Top Chef panel and the regular judges we’ve seen all season.

I shouldn’t even try to break each dish down. It was hard to focus honestly. Taking my eyes off the food to take notes seemed like a physical impossibility. What it comes down to is that each chef absolutely crushed his dinner. Each had one mild slip up in a particular dish, one tiny miscalculation, but each absolutely blew the judges away with their other three dishes.

Bayless grew up in a BBQ joint owned by his parents so he put together a roasted quail with his parents’ original BBQ sauce recipe. His realization that he wanted to learn more about food came from his first trip to Mexico at age 14 when he tried his very first mole. The mole he made for the challenge, consisting of 27 different ingredients, he prefaced by saying, it had taken him 20 years to make correctly. The judges actually agreed to have a moment of grumbles to appreciate how good the mole was. It was the kind of dish that seemed life changing.

Keller also did especially well on his first two courses. His village’s tradition of taking leftover cuts of meat to the pastry baker on wash day so his father could throw them all into a pot and cover with dough for a lunchtime stew was adored by all. He caught a little flack for adding some raw garlic (a minor technical error) to his lamb chops in the 3rd course, but everything else looked and was described to be absolutely delicious.

Finally, Chiarello proved once again that he knows how to put together some damn good food. Pretty much excellent across the board. The high notes being his braised rabbit and wild mushrooms in polenta over a burnt page from Savior and his short ribs in red wine with burnt Cabernet vines. Give this guy some credit, the clever slight at his harshest critic, James Oseland, was pretty damn funny. The short ribs were universally considered to be perfection.

So how did it all play out? I don’t know that I’ve ever seen any Top Chef finale be so close. Hubert Keller took 16.5 stars, Micheal Chiarello squeezes by with 17 stars, but my boy Rick Bayless took it home with 18 stars!! I mean you couldn’t ask for a better finale than that! The soft-spoken, humble midwest boy proves that he is more than a PBS icon. Congrats Professor.

It’s been a great season, and I have to admit my early disappointments have been vastly outweighed by my enjoyment of the four round Masters series. Turns out reality needs two things to really keep an audience entertained (not counting food in my case): repeat characters and assholes. I have a feeling Top Chef 6 should be able to deliver on that expectation nicely. If there’s another Masters series, until then kids. Thanks for reading my weekly rants!

~ Blake

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  • Alex August 21, 2009  

    I enjoyed the show but feel that Chiarello was completely ripped off. His final judge scores were 4 1/2, 3 1/2, and 4 1/2. The explanation for the 3 /12 was that the polenta wasn’t seasoned correctly?!

  • BS August 21, 2009  

    wow, great write-up. who knew all these top chefs were so human?

  • Summer August 21, 2009  

    I hear you, Alex. I’m delighted that Rick Bayless won, and I think he absolutely deserved it, but James Oslund’s score for Michael Chiarello just seemed out of line. And that nasty, nasty smirk on his face when he delivered the blow! He knew what he was doing, he knew he was sinking Chiarello’s hopes, and he really seemed to enjoy it.

    My husband, throughout the whole series, has been talking about producer manipulation of the scores. Do you think a Magical Elf could have been whispering in James’ ear to keep Chiarello’s scores low?

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