This season of Top Chef has been one for the books. It’s been a joy to watch winners and runners-up of various Top Chefs from around the world compete against one another in London. The quality of the food on the show has been outstanding. Finishing the season off in Paris, the culinary capital of the world, was the cherry on top. We’ve finally made it to the end and a winner will be crowned!
It’s also bittersweet that Padma Lakshmi recently announced her departure from the show to pursue other creative interests. Padma is a food host icon and it will be hard to replace her. Maybe Gail Simmons will take the crown? Either way, we must move on and find out if Buddha Lo, Sara Bradley, or Gabriel Rodriguez win one of the best seasons of Top Chef yet.
Sweetbreads and squirrels
On top of Galeries Lafayette, Padma, and Tom Colicchio instructed the three remaining chefs to cook a four-course progressive meal that showcased their style and who they are as chefs. Prediction: Buddha will use tweezers, Gabriel will do a 100-ingredient dish, and Sara will fry a pound of butter. As Padma listed the fifty judges they would be cooking for, Sara, Buddha, and Gabriel all nodded their heads and mouthed “wow” to each other, but no one knew who she was talking about.
However, they did know who their sous chefs were when Amar Santana, Tom Goetter, and Ali Ghzawi walked out to assist them. The chefs drew knives and Sara picked Amar, Gabriel selected Tom, and Buddha got Ali. There were no bad choices in that group. Buddha informed Ali his dishes would represent his background: Australian, Hong Kong, Malaysian, and American. The trick would be to make them cohesive and feel like they came from the same restaurant.
Gabriel told Tom he was going to do simple, humble, Mexican dishes with strong flavor. And that included some crunchy grasshoppers. Sara was also going the humble route, with a focus on sweetbreads and squirrels. Not sure if they have squirrel meat in Paris. Amar seemed doubtful of her English pea cake for dessert. Sara swore it wouldn’t be chunky like Tom’s dry apple cake. Let’s hope not.
The last lobster in Paris
The chefs got four hours to shop the Parisian markets for gorgeous seafood, veggies, and meat. And just like their last outing in Paris, there were some challenges. Sara couldn’t find her sweetbreads, so she substituted liver instead. She was able to pick up three kilos of butter. Paris will always have butter. Gabriel couldn’t find plantains but was super excited when he found a Mexican market. Buddha could not find any lobster. He pushed the time limits and miraculously found the last lone lobster in a tank waiting just for him.
The chefs then went to cook at Ledoyen restaurant, where Monet and Napoleon once dined. Buddha’s menu was rainbow trout with clam veloute, blue lobster with squash and curry bisque, ngau lam with lamb, roasted eggplant, lamb croquette, and then coconut, raspberry, and chocolate lamington. Gabriel’s plan was esquites with huitlacoche puree and grasshopper tostada, sweet potato empanada with black bean puree, chiles en nogada, and chocolate tamale, hazelnut ice cream, and chocolate pate a bombe. Sara focused on Couvillion with shellfish and trinity, liver and onions with cookie butter and figs, burgoo with beans and cornbread, and pea cake with pistachios and buttermilk sorbet. Shout out to all the chefs for not shying away from making dessert.
Le chat may have been saved by his nine lives at elimination, but his beans have died several times over. Poor Gabriel couldn’t catch a break and burnt his beans again. His only option was to use beans in a can. That does not bode well for winning the competition. Sara had Amar try her tomato water and it was so spicy he had to chug some water. Sounds perfect to me.
Tom then came in to do his usual routine of causing doubt and mass chaos in their decisions. The sous chefs were then sent home, and Sara, Buddha, and Gabriel got in their best outfits to wander the streets of Paris. They met up with Padma, Gail, and Tom at Marsan restaurant for a special meal at the chef’s table. The owner, Helene Darroze, cooked for them and immediately plopped a coconut oyster on their hands to shoot back. Buddha also made sure he snapped another selfie with a world-famous chef.
Raw liver and toasty grasshopper tostadas
The next day was D-day and the chefs were back at Ledoyen to finish their final dishes. Sara’s tomato water wasn’t as spicy, and Amar was impressed by the flavor of her pea cake. Gabriel had to remake his empanadas because the sweet potatoes were too runny. Then came the familiar beep of the timer and the first courses were on! Gabriel served sweet corn esquites with grasshopper tostada and Sara served Couvillion with tomato water. Buddha made rainbow trout, potato, and celery with caviar and clam veloute. The judges didn’t mind the spice in Sara’s dish, and they enjoyed Gabriel’s flavors but thought the tostada was overcooked. They raved about Buddha’s presentation and flavor, but some thought the sauce was a bit too creamy.
The second course was next. Gabriel served his sweet potato empanada with black bean filling and cheese foam, and Sara did veal liver and onions with cookie butter and figs. Buddha served red curry bisque with blue lobster, pickled squash, and ravioli dumpling. Gail couldn’t stomach Sara’s raw liver. Buddha’s curry was deemed too dense but had good spice. Padma loved Gabriel’s empanada and no one noticed the canned beans. Le chat was saved again!
Time for #3!
For the third course, Gabriel served “chiles en nogada,” ground beef sausage, and dehydrated fruit-filled poblano pepper. Sara served burgoo with a roulade of rabbit, boudin blanc, and crepinette with cornbread madeleine, and Buddha made lamb with eggplant, pickled onions, and lo shui. Tom and Gail were fans of Sara’s boudin and cornbread. Tom couldn’t figure out Gabriel’s dish but he really enjoyed it. Buddha’s dish was described as elegant and refined.
Time for dessert! Gabriel served a chocolate tamale with hazelnut filling and hazelnut goat cheese ice cream. Yes, please. Sara made an English pea cake with pistachio butter, lemon curd, and buttermilk sorbet. Buddha busted out another flower mold for his dessert of lamington with raspberries and coconut bavarois. The judges were on board for the goat cheese ice cream, and Gail was a sucker for Buddha’s coconut and chocolate combo. Tom appreciated Sara’s unique spin on using vegetables for dessert. But would that be enough to overcome the raw liver?
Two for two, baby!
At the judges’ table, Padma, Tom, Gail, and Helene showered the contestants with compliments. For the first course, the judges liked that Gabriel served grasshoppers as a final dish but noted the tostada was too toasty. They all liked the punch of flavor in Sara’s tomato water, and they thought Buddha’s dish was very refined but a bit heavy. For the second course, Gail loved the creativity in the empanada but it had too much cheese sauce. And of course, no one liked the raw liver. For Buddha, they liked the cook of the lobster and the mild curry flavor.
Onto the third course, the judges wanted more spice from Gabriel’s dish, and they thought Sara’s burgoo was spot on. Padma thought Buddha’s dish was flavorful and very technical. For dessert, Helene was a big fan of the goat cheese in Gabriel’s ice cream, but Tom said the dish was one note in texture. Padma said Sara’s dessert was the best thing she ate today. Gail loved the classic flavors of Buddha’s dessert and that it was done in a modern way.
As the chefs nervously awaited their decision, Tom told them they inspired him to get back in the kitchen. Then Padma announced the winner was, Buddha! Amar high-fived him and shouted, “Two for two, baby!” Buddha steamrolled everyone in this competition, so it would have been a huge upset if Sara or Gabriel had won. All three rocked amazing dishes in the finale, but no one could take the king of molds crown. Congratulations, Buddha! The next season has a lot to live up to, but if it’s anything like this, it will be worth the wait.
TELL US – WERE YOU SURPRISED THAT BUDDHA WON TOP CHEF? WHO DO YOU THINK SHOULD HAVE WON? SHOULD SARA HAVE WON EVEN THOUGH SHE SERVED RAW LIVER? WERE GABRIEL’S DISHES NOT TECHNICAL ENOUGH? DID YOU ENJOY THIS SEASON OF TOP CHEF?