There’s no time for lackadaisical prawn fishing or worm wrangling after Padma announces who will be making it to the finale of “Top Chef” Season 7. After a tearful goodbye with Kelly, the three remaining chefs, Angelo, Ed and Kevin, are immediately asked to return to the Judges’ Table for another surprise because apparently it’s not really “Top Chef,” it’s “Top Twist.”
Though, based on this season’s stellar cheftestants, we’re kind of wondering if maybe it should be “Top Twit?”
Padma informs the anxious chefs that they will be competing head-to-head for their final challenge (because it wasn’t clear already?), and that they will need to prepare the most amazing 4-course-meal of their life (because it wasn’t clear already?). The first course must be a vegetable course, the second course must be a fish course, the third course must be a meat course, and the final course must be a dessert. For an extra bit of fun, Tom and Eric Ripert will be selecting the proteins that the chefs must use in their dishes. And for an extra bit of fun for us – the starving audience at home who is tired of this season’s contestants, the chefs will have the help of three of the previous “Top Chef” winners – Michael Voltaggio, Ilan and Hung.
Kevin is like a kid seeing Santa Claus when he spies Voltaggio, who he has worked with in the past. “I want Voltaggio,” he says with a sparkle in his eye.
We nod in agreement. Don’t we all, Kevin, don’t we all.
Angelo is foaming at the mouth to be well Hung... err... with Hung so is thrilled when he is paired with him. He says, “We're in Asia, I'm in the finals, and I get Hung. You know this is the trilogy - so it's showtime.” Kevin is randomly paired with Voltaggio, and Ed gets Ilan. He’s sort of “meh” about it, but he’s sort of “meh” about everything and everyone aside from Tiffany and his quest to be a douche bag to Angelo.
Almost as soon as the chefs and their sous chefs get back to the hotel (a Hilton, in case anyone was in a coma the whole season), Angelo starts feeling sick. By the next morning, he can’t get out of bed and can barely keep his eyes open. He moans, “It feels like someone is stabbing me in the stomach,” and all eyes turn to Ed, who is a little too pleased about Angelo’s weakened state. Voodoo doll perhaps? We wouldn’t put it past ole Eddie boy given his self-proclaimed goal to “kick Angelo’s ass.”
It’s not looking good for the passionate chef who we’ve grown to appreciate like the occasional Brussels sprout. We don’t love them, but they have their moments. With Angelo stuck in bed while Kevin and Ed shop and do prep for their meals, however, it kind of makes us wonder if Angelo was mistaken about this so-called “trilogy.” Kind of seems like the Bermuda Triangle to us.
Fortunately, Hung and technology come to the rescue and Angelo is able to dictate what he wants Hung to buy and do while he is in the hurt box. The chefs learn they will be working with red mullet, cuttlefish, cockles (everybody’s favorite), slipper lobster, pork belly, and duck, and are then let loose in the Whole Foods of Singapore – Vivomart. Hung secures some foie for Angelo’s third course, a sautéed duck breast with foie gras, marshmallow and a cherry shooter, and Ed latches on to some corn for his first course, a chilled summer corn veloute with fried black cockles. Three hours of prep goes by fast with only Ilan for Ed to kick in the ass, and at this juncture we begin to realize just how much we are rooting for Angelo to make that amazing comeback.
After receiving an antibiotic injection the night before final prep and service, Angelo awakens the next day feeling decidedly better. Or in his words, “I feel like a rain shower passes through me.”
We aren’t sure either, but it’s good to have the effusiveness back in the kitchen. Especially when he throws us this gem… “Now it’s time to jump into my cape and go and be the chef that I am.”
Ed pretends to be happy to see Angelo “moving around,” but he secretly wishes it were just he and the silent soldier Kevin in the finale. Kevin is going about his business – getting along with his sous chef, making terrine, turning cuttlefish into noodles. You know, typical things that actual chefs do in real kitchens instead of whining or waxing poetic about broths. Meanwhile, Angelo’s still acting a little dazed and confused, saying, “Ed and I were just pushing like animals, but it's time for the fall of his dynasty and it's time for me to reclaim the promised land The story needs to end with me being Top Chef.” Again, we aren’t sure what he’s talking about either, but we think that story is going to need some prodigious foot notes.
After three hours of prep (and mumbo jumbo from Angelo), the chefs present their four courses to an impressive dining party that includes judges, Tom, Gail and Padma, as well as Eric Ripert, Susan Feniger, Seetoh, Paul Bartolatta, to name a few. There’s a lot of yumming, a little bit of hmming, and a wee bit of wry humor from our favorite judge, Gail Simmons. She’s a big fan of the desserts the chefs presented, saying, “All three of these guys just got down and dirty with their desserts.”
We have to admit, we’re kind of excited to see her get down and dirty with the desserts on the new Bravo show, “Top Desserts.”
The judges are impressed with the meals that Ed, Angelo and Kevin prepared for them, but do have minor issues with each chef. While they appreciated Angelo’s hand-made noodles for his pickled royale mushroom dish with char siu bao pork belly, they don’t see how it’s a vegetable course. They also find issue with his sautéed duck breast that he serves with a tart cherry shooter. Padma snarls, “I'm curious about why you would call that cherry puree a palate cleanser because it coated every corner of my mouth.” They are, however, fond of Angelo’s sautéed rouget and poached cuttlefish with Asian-style bouillabase, and his dessert, a Thai Jewel with coconut vanilla cream and crushed ice with exotic fruits.
While tasty, the judges are not as fond of Ed’s dessert, a sticky toffee pudding with fleur de sel crème chantilly that they feel is somewhat of an affront given the location of the finale. They are annoyed when he justifies his choice by saying he didn’t want to do something that might suck. They are also confused by Ed’s stuffed rouget, glazed slipper lobster and cuttlefish with zucchini that seemed to lack focus.
In contrast, they have mostly positive things to say about Kevin’s dishes – particularly his dessert, a frozen Singapore Sling with tropical fruits that developed complexity with each bite. They are also are excited about his sautéed duck breast with duck dumplings and caramelized bok choy, which they feel is the best cooked duck of the three meat courses. The only dish they have issue with is Kevin’s vegetable course – a roasted eggplant, zucchini and pepper terrine that they feel lacked “oomph” and was timid in terms of flavor.
Ultimately, however, the first course does not derail Kevin from his Singaporean destiny – interrupting Angelo’s “Top Chef” story, silencing the smack-talking Ed, and winning the title of “Top Chef.” Not too shabby for a kid from Jersey who doesn’t know how to work a wok.
But to be perfectly honest, we can’t help but wonder if Padma is punking us when she makes the announcement. Really? Kevin’s Top Chef? Even with his strong finish, it’s hard for us to disassociate him from the timid chef who used to follow Kenny around like a puppy. We’ll scratch our heads about this one for a while, but hope it does help him bring home at least some bacon for his wife and son. We are a little stoked that he stole it away from Ed.