Warning: In this post, I talk about who won the Top Chef finale.
Another season of Top Chef has come and gone. This was my favorite season right up until the finale. It occurred to me that Season 3 was a lot like Season 1. Both were loaded with talented chefs who did not exactly sparkle on camera. I would rather watch Sam, Marcel, Ilan, or Elia, but I would rather eat a dish prepared by Casey, Brian, Hung, or Dale.
To make matters worse, the finale was a hodge-podge of interesting ideas gone awry. First, the live audience was largely window dressing and it was obvious Padma was uncomfortable. Second, having three contestants did not work for me. I think in terms of building a story line, having three square off was more interesting than having any two compete, but I did not like that the judges picked a winner for each course without taking into account the chefâ€™s overall tasting menu.
Third, the celebrity chef as sous chef motif fell flat. Watching famous chefs chop garlic is not why I watch Top Chef. I wanted to see the collaboration and synthesis that happens when two chefs work together. Instead, I got random musings from Hung and Rocco Dispirito about how Hung had a plan and Dispirito was superfluous. Last, the addition of the fourth course and previous contestants from this season was unnecessary and forced.
Still, antics and story devices do not matter. What matters is what went on the plate.
Overly complicated dishes seemed to rule the day. There was not a plate sent out that had less than six flavors on it. The finalists confused complexity with skill and got so wrapped up in showing off their skills, they almost forgot the basics.
This is what happened to Casey. The desire to produce something complex made her so nervous, she did not taste her dishes, she made some questionable choices, and allowed Howie to take too much control.
Blind devotion to complexity is the only way I can explain how Dale married curry with lobster. Why would one ever pair subtle, sweet lobster with a powerful spice blend? That dish was bad enough to cost him the title of Top Chef.
Then there were Hungâ€™s dishes which were overly complex, though visually stunning. Every plate (with the exception of his cake) was composed off a dizzying amount of ingredients and lacked basic seasoning. How many times did the chefs say â€œThis needs acidâ€?
In the end, the judges chose Hung, who may have been the best technical chef in all three seasons. Also, for perhaps the first time all season, he added a little passion to his cooking. Towards the end, I was pulling for Dale because I thought every dish but the lobster were fantastic, but when they said Hung won the prize, I was happy for him.