Brooke. Kristen. An all-gal finale taped in front of a live studio audience in Los Angeles. Judges are Hugh, Gail, Tom, Emeril and Padma. The cheftestants must do a four-course meal, plus dessert, for the 300 people in the audience, which includes all nine previous “Top Chef” winners. Brooke’s chosen sous-chefs are Stefan, C.J. and Kuniko. Kristen, who became a finalist after winning Last Chance Kitchen, selected Josh, Lizzie and Sheldon for her team. Wow. I’m completely and totally surprised neither chose the demure, precise, gifted palate that is Josie to help them cross the finish line! (Not.)
Here’s what they served.
Brooke: Crispy pig ear and chicory salad, six-minute egg, apricot jam and candied kumquat;
Kristen: Chicken liver mousse with frisee, mustard, prunes, hazelnut and pumpernickel.
Emeril liked Kristen’s dish, and Tom thought it was well seasoned and had good balance. Gail said the mousse was “absolutely perfect” but criticized the pile of frisee on top for “hiding” the mousse. Tom and Emeril liked Brooke’s salad, but Emeril thought the pig ears were overcooked (because he and Tom watched C.J. burn a batch of them). Padma said her pig ear wasn’t burned and thought it was delicious. Hugh complimented Brooke’s balance in the dressing.
Padma tells us the first chef to win three rounds will be named Top Chef. So, who takes round one? Kristen.
Brooke: Seared scallop with salt cod puree, crispy speck, juniper, Romanesco, black currant and mustard-seed vinaigrette;
Kristen: Citrus and lavender-cured scallop with bitter orange, Meyer lemon and apple.
Tom enjoyed Brooke’s flavor combinations and said the scallop was perfectly cooked. Hugh thought the flavors were earthy, bright and well-balanced. Emeril is a salt cod fan and said the flavor of the dish “just drives it home” for him. Tom told Kristen her dish was “exactly what I expect from you: It’s really flavorful, really delicious.” Padma and Emeril liked the simplicity of Kristen’s dish. Who wins round two? Brooke.
Brooke: Vadouvan fried chicken with sumac-yogurt tahini and pickled kohlrabi fattoush;
Kristen: Celery root puree with bone marrow, mushrooms, bitter greens and radishes.
Hugh and Tom questioned Brooke’s choice of fried chicken for her main course, despite her telling them she wanted to redeem herself from the Fried Chicken Challenge of Episodes Past. Emeril told her he loved it. The table of former “Top Chef” winners? They thought it was gutsy and delicious. Emeril loved Kristen’s dish, but it gave Tom pause; he wondered why she stewed the mushrooms rather than roasting them. Padma wished the dish was hot (and, of course, in her head she finished that sentence with, “like me!”). Who wins round three? Kristen.
While the cheftestants are preparing the fourth course, viewers are treated to a “where are they now” montage about the previous “Top Chef” winners. Some chefs got the big, blow-out “2 stars from the New York Times,” “three renowned restaurants,” “Food & Wine magazine’s Best New Chef” and “James Beard winner” treatment, along with clips of them being named Top Chef. Others got, “Hosea Rosenberg.” [Crickets.] So, that happened.
Brooke: Braised pork cheek and red snapper with collard-green slaw, sorrel puree and pomegranate;
Kristen: Red snapper with leeks, little gem lettuce, tarragon, uni and shellfish nage.
Hugh thought Brooke’s snapper was perfectly cooked and predicted that “collards are the new kale.” I rolled my eyes out of my skull. Tom and Emeril loved the dish, and Emeril praised her use of sorrel. Gail liked the addition of the pomegranate for “just the little bit of tartness you needed in the dish.” Tom thought Kristen’s dish had great depth of flavor, and Gail told her the textures were spot on even though she thought the leeks were oddly stringy and hard to eat. Who wins round four? Kristen. Which means she is Top Chef!
This also means they a) don’t have to do the dessert course as a tie-breaker and b) Kristen wins $125,000, which she says she’ll use to travel to Korea to visit the culture in which she was born. Congratulations, Kristen!
Up Next Week: Here’s hoping you’ll spend these upcoming “Top Chef”-less Wednesday nights cooking something you love for people you like.
More from Food: