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Judging from your comments, I think we can safely say that this season of Top Chef was a dud. Whether, it was the lack of any stand-out “personalities” on the cast, or the heavy amount of advertising for Texas, something was off about the show’s ninth season. It lacked the show’s usual addictive quality and there was no one to root for.

On last night’s finale, the reliable Paul and the talented but prickly Sarah went head to head, creating a four-course menu and “restaurant of their dreams” in Vancouver. They were given sous chefs for the task, which both chefs correctly guessed, were their former contestants. It turned out that not only was it their former rivals, but it also included three contestants that didn’t even make it into original sixteen and two master chefs, Barbara Lynch and Marco Canora.

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Before you think these chefs would just be able to pick a James Beard award-winner for their team and coast, Padma luckily announced that the chefs would have to compete in order to cook for the finale. Paul and Sarah would then have to taste dishes and pick their sous chefs based on that, not hoard the master chefs for themselves. Sarah immediately wanted Heather on her team, and chose a scallop in brown sauce, a dish she knew Heather had on her restaurant menu. Instead, this dish ended up being Tyler’s (a contestant who was eliminated at the Alamo and never even competed).

In her extremely classy style, Heather gave a stage-whisper to Grayson and said “That’s unfortunate!” It’s nice to see being eliminated hasn’t changed Heather at all. In the end, Paul ended up with Barbara Lynch on his team, while Sarah passed on Marco’s salmon and created a mostly female team with Grayson, Heather, and Nyesha. If I’d been a producer, I would have added Beverly, just to mess with her head.

Poor Tyler was the true loser of the episode. Not only does he have to live with the humiliation of being eliminated on the very first episode, he also endured a horrible edit on this finale, with the producers honing on his constant questions to Sarah who did nothing to hide her annoyance that he was on her team. Maybe, if she wasn’t busy looking for secret messages from Heather while doing the tasting she would have ended up with a different chef. It would’ve been better to have made the most of it.

Paul was a bit awkward around Chef Lynch, for the most part, his team–consisting of Chris C., Keith, and Ty-Lör–focused and got to work. On his menu, Paul stuck with his Asian-influenced fare with the following:

  • First Course: Chawanmushi, Steamed Egg Custard, Prawns and Pea Shoots
  • Second Course: Grilled Sea Bass with Clam Dashi, Pickled Radishes and Mushrooms
  • Third Course: Congee with Scrambled Eggs, Uni and Kal
  • Dessert: Coconut Ice Cream with Puffed Wild Rice, Mangosteen and Thai Chili Foam.

The judges, joined by Emeril and Hugh Acheson this time around, all seemed to love Paul’s food. His only hiccup was the chawanmushi being overcooked during the second serving to Padma’s group of men. Unlike Sarah, who probably would’ve blamed the failure of the dish on her team-mate, Paul interviewed that it wasn’t entirely Keith’s fault, since he trained him on how to make the dish.

On Sarah’s side, she branched out a bit, but did stay with the Italian cuisine she’s known for. While the editing monkeys made a lot out of her boyfriend telling her there was a bone in her fish, it didn’t seem like any of the other diners got a bone, or one of the judges, one who said that Sarah’s fish was cooked perfectly. The highest praise came for Sarah’s dessert. At judge’s table, even typically stoic Padma heaped Sarah for her roasted white chocolate, which she usually “hates.” Here’s Sarah’s food:

 

  • First Course: Squid Ink Tagliatelle with Spot Prawns and Coconut
  • Second Course: Rye Crusted Steelhead Trout with Pickled Beets, Fennel and Gras Pista
  • Third Course: Braised Veal Cheek with Veal Sweetbread and Polenta
  • Dessert: Hazelnut Cake with Roasted White Chocolate Ganache
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    The judge’s table was very kind, with Tom Collichio telling them this was the best finale food he’d had in all nine seasons of the show. It did honestly seem like it was a very close call, and for a second it looked like Sarah may have crossed the threshold and won. Gail Simmons stood up for her decision to go in a different direction, while Paul had stuck to what he had made all season. Emeril claimed Paul’s congee wasn’t all that, while Hugh insisted it was.

    The problem for Sarah was probably the veal cheeks, which we saw in the kitchen, ended up with an unappetizing polenta. Sarah brushed this off by saying that everything else was great. This kind of sloppiness ended up costing her, because in the end, Paul won the title. As Tom said, Paul was much better with the details.

    The show ended with Sarah crying to the camera about how badly she wanted to win. It was far nicer to see Paul hug his crying mother and father, rather than watch someone upset because they didn’t get it. In the last few seconds, Padma says to Paul “Welcome to being Top Chef!” Yes, Paul, welcome to your tenure. Bravo now owns you!

    TELL US: WHAT DID YOU THINK OF THE FINALE? DID THE RIGHT PERSON WIN?

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