I'm going to try to make this recap brief. But then I say that every time and fail miserably.
There's no Quickfire again this week. The cheftestants--Bryan, Melissa, and Stephanie--find a note from Padma that urges them to eat breakfast before meeting her on the very foggy and damp terrace. Tom's there too, and they both compliment the chefs' performances so far before reminding them that their next challenge involves the best four course meal of their lives. Again Padma stresses that it be a progressive meal, which, as I have stated before, normally refers to a meal eaten in various locations rather than at one table. But I think the Top Chef meaning of the word is a meal that goes from appetizer to dessert. Not four courses of soup, or pie, or pate en croute. They want soup to nuts, but not necessarily soup or nuts.
Out of the fog emerge their helpers for the contest: Kevin, Malarkey, and surprisingly, LeeAnne. Gregory has not been feeling well (his back still acting up, I assume) so LeeAnne agreed to take his place. Big of her to agree to travel to Italy, huh? The Final Three draw knives to determine who chooses first. Stephanie is number one and her choice is...Malarkey? She claims she chose him for his skill and enthusiasm. Bryan then chooses his bestie Kevin, leaving Melissa with LeeAnne.
Each pair gets their own SUV and heads off to do meal planning and shopping in Florence. Melissa of course is planning to continue her fusion (though she admits its a dirty word) of Italian and Chinese cuisine. Lee Anne is very opinionated, offering strong advice on how to prepare octopus and suggestions for ingredients Melissa might want to incorporate into her dishes. Melissa, however, is able to say no and shoots down most of Lee Ann's ideas. Stephanie tells Malarkey that she is going to make several things that she's made in the past, dishes that mean something to her. Personally, I think they sound a little done, particularly the kataifi-wrapped shrimp, which was a thing a few years back. Hopefully she doesn't shoot herself in the foot. Or shoot Malarkey for being annoying. Finally, Bryan--who last episode was deeply wounded by criticism that his food has no heart--wants to make dishes that are less his usual modernist tweezerings and more food with soul.
After spending a thousand euros on ingredients (much like my weekly food budget these days), the cheftestants head back to the Renaissance and cook for 5 hours. Everyone seems very enthusiastic about their menus. After the day's cooking is complete, they head off to a farmhouse in the countryside for a dinner promised to them by Tom. In a rather lovely twist, the meal has been prepared entirely by Tom, Padma, and Gail. It's a very nice gesture.
We then see our trio of finalists at home, skyping with their loved ones. Stephanie chats with her BFF Kristin Kish, winner of Top Chef season 10, whom she met in culinary school. (Stephanie also participated in that season, but was eliminated in one of the initial qualifying rounds.) Melissa converses with her excited mama, and Bryan calls Michael Voltaggio for some supportive brotherly love.
The next day, the chefs have another three hours to finish their dishes and serve them to a group of highly regarded chefs including Marcus Samuelsson. Their first courses are well-regarded by the judges, whose only quibble seems to be that Melissa's char siu sauce is a bit sweet. Tom praises Stephanie's kataifi shrimp, saying it's perfectly cooked. (So maybe the judges aren't sick of that particular dish quite yet.) The dish reminds Stephanie of her late brother, and her tears cause Gail to shed a few herself. Each of the three finalists serve pasta for their second course--so appropriate in Italy--and these dishes are also praised. There are a few more issues with the third course, mostly with Stephanie's veal breast dish which is a little dry. Bryan's squid ink foccaccia is also criticized for not being absorbent enough. (By the looks of it, it wasn't foccaccia, either.) Dessert also seems to please the diners, which means the judging will be difficult.
You all know that I've been rooting for Bryan, who was competing on Top Chef for the third and final (so he says) time. You all also know that he didn't win any Quickfire Challenges and few Elimination Challenges this season. So something was off with him this time around. If Bryan couldn't win, I would have loved to see Stephanie get the prize. She was clearly an underdog who came on strong toward the end of the competition. Melissa was strong the whole season and clearly a chef to be reckoned with. And while I liked her just fine, and loved her concept of adding Chinese elements to just about everything she prepared (Chinese cuisine is my very favorite), she was not my choice to win.
So of course she won.
Congratulations to Melissa King for an amazing run. She's the winningest competitor ever, and only the 6th woman in 17 seasons to earn the title of Top Chef. She was also the Fan Favorite.
Sorry, Bryan, you will always be my favorite.
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