Because The A.V. Club knows that TV shows keep going even if we’re not writing at length about them, we’re experimenting with discussion posts. For certain shows, one of our TV writers will publish some brief thoughts about the latest episode, and open the comments for readers to share theirs.
- Since probably season nine, Tom and Padma have routinely said that the food of any given finale is the “best we’ve ever had in a finale.” It drives me nuts. It drives me nuts not just in Top Chef, but in life. We mustn’t get into a habit of proclaiming things the “best,” because if everything’s the best then nothing’s the best. We live in a culture of hyperbole and I hate it.
- That said: Banana yuzu! Buttermilk dashi! Burnt wheat pasta! [looks at notes] Fat powder? [crumples notes] Look, every finale is good, but I can’t remember seeing one as creative as this. Were there problems? Plenty. This was, by no means, the least criticized climactic meal of a Top Chef finale, but this time I believed Tom when he said this was the best food of any finale; now, that’s not because I think it was the most perfect food ever, but because it really seemed to catch the judges off guard. How often does that happen?
- Let’s start at the beginning. Joe and Adrienne are given one task: Cook the best meal of your life. Easy! They choose sous chefs, each choosing one chef who aligns with their POV—Adrienne chooses Southern whiz Chris and Chicago Joe chooses Joestachio, the ultimate pasta perfectionist (sorry, Scott Conant)—and one who they just seem to really like having around—that’s Carrie for Adrienne and Fatima for Chicago Joe. They’ll be cooking 11,000 feet above ground at The Little Nell, an Aspen hotspot that drains the bank account of anyone who gazes in its general direction.
- Chicago Joe focuses on “sexy” Italian fare with a strong sense of personality, while Adrienne really embraces her budding vision of elevated Southern by weaving Japanese flavors into her comfort food. What’s neat is that the errors are all centered around execution rather than conception; there’s a genuine feeling of innovation and discovery happening here that transcends a chewy short rib or mashed black-eyed pea. Often, we see chefs melting down in these final hours, but here we see Adrienne grappling with the intricacies of pan-creating a tuile and Joe and Fatima optimistically rebounding from an elevation-hampered “super chewy brown sugar cake.”
- Me when I hear “super chewy brown sugar cake.”
- It’s fun seeing Tom be so impressed. But you know what’s more fun?!
- Sorry. We’ll get there.
- I would’ve been happy with either Adrienne or Chicago Joe winning. Obviously, I’m partial to my hometown hero, who’s emerged from season 15 as one of the most likable and deserving Top Chefs of all time. But Adrienne went out on a limb here, showcasing a vibrant strain of creativity that, for the first time this season, matches her technical acumen. I’m honestly surprised she didn’t win, what with her having the meatier narrative and Tom speaking about watching chefs find their culinary voice over the course of a show.
- It’s also fun that each chef produced one dish that the judges described as “perfect.” For Adrienne, it was spoon bread with sea urchin, ham, caviar, and a buttermilk dashi. For Joe, it was hand-rolled tortellinis—forged from that burnt wheat dough—stuffed with pig head, apple, and black truffle. He described them as “river rocks”; like Gail, I found myself surprised by how appealing that description was in a culinary sense. I want it all. Shove it into my stupid, gaping maw.
- But, yeah, I’m happy Joe won. Everyone is. Fatima sums it up best: “I know for a fact that Joe Sasto is in love with Joe Flamm, but if there is a contest for loving Joe Flamm I win it.”
- Okay, let’s talk about Tom and Graham cooking for Joe and Adrienne. Maybe I’m just forgetting, but there was an intimacy to that dinner that I feel I haven’t seen before on Top Chef. When Tom, Padma, or another judge pops in to cook, it’s usually for a larger gathering of the chefs or the chefs and their families (or it’s to push one of Padma’s branded products). Just seeing the four of them shoot the shit was really lovely, as was Tom reflecting on when in his career he would’ve considered competing on the show (when he was 26, cooking at a 3 Michelin-starred restaurant).
- “There’s probably some bones in there,” Tom says of his fish. “You can send me home if you want to.”
- CHRIST, LOOK AT HIM.
- I also loved watching Joes, like, legit nerd the fuck out over pasta dough. “That color is wild, bro!”
- “You gotta make it taste better. It doesn’t taste good at all.” - Joestachio with the hard-hitting critiques.
- Another reason I love Top Chef: They made the rush to press out ricotta suspenseful.
- Also, where else am I going to hear Graham Elliott call a torta della nonna cake “the Hoobastank of desserts.”
- He’s also auditioning to be the lead singer of The Killers, apparently.
- And, god, it wouldn’t be a Top Chef finale if they weren’t all a little tipsy at the end of it. Tom fumbling his way through that “yuzu banana” knock-knock joke was like watching your drunk friend try to climb over a fence.
- It didn’t help that Gail’s voice was blown to shit. Poor thing, though I’m sure some of you Gail stans found it sensual.
- One commenter on last week’s post guessed that Chicago Joe won due to Padma’s head being tilted up when she announced the winner in the preview. Clever, that.
- This has been a helluva season, a welcome return to form after last year’s misguided Rookies vs. Veterans gimmick. How do you rank it in the Top Chef pantheon? Favorite chefs? Favorite challenges? Sound off in the comments so I can see all your sweet comments one last time (until next season, of course.)
- Seriously, I am such a nerd for this show and it’s so nice to be able to dish on this with all of you, who are so kind to humor my dumb, dumb jokes and relentless use of last season’s screenshots.
- So, because you probably assume I’m going to end this with frowning Amanda, I’m going to throw a curveball (much like Joe and Adrienne did throughout their meals tonight) by reminding you all that this happened.