It’s Part One of the Top Chef Season 9 Texascouver Finale, entitled Culinary Olympics, and let me just begin by saying, many people have incessantly complained about this season (most notably my mothers’ texts at 11:01 every Wednesday), saying that it’s the worst Top Chef season yet. I haven’t totally agreed, as I believe peoples’ reservations are more a factor of just Top Chef fatigue in the show’s 9th season mixed with a largely uninspiring cast (with one head-and-shoulders favorite who should’ve been named the winner six weeks ago). The challenges, on the contrary, have actually been very good this season, as they’ve mostly bypassed gimmicky themes (Bi-Parti-Sandwich, or “Cook something a penguin would eat!” “I think a penguin would love this braised shortrib”) and arbitrarily-restricting challenges in favor of challenges that showcase the chefs’ actual ability and give them more creative freedom (the “Pee Wee bikes” was a rare gimmicky exception, but at least it wasn’t the Finale).
Last night’s episode, however, was the complete opposite. It was the most gimmicky challenge imaginable, running the chefs through numerous obstacles that 1) Had nothing to do with actual cheffing, 2) Were not the least bit interesting to watch, and 3) Had NO BEARING on the dishes they ended up presenting. It was, in a sense, a betrayal of this season’s most redeeming aspect: Letting the cooks just cook and not having them lose because their sweet pea risotto wasn’t an accurate thematic encapsulation of what The Luxor Hotel is all about.
Anyway, with all that being said, let’s DO SOME RECAPPING! Here are some dumb photos and words:
The Finale opens with the chefs all reconvening in British Columbia at the famous, picturesque Vancouver Park And Ride. They’re not happy that they’re stuck on the first-ever freezing-cold Top Chef Finale destination, but sorry, you kind of deserve it. We’ve sat through this season, so just shut up and mention ‘Toyota Time’ and let’s move on.
The chefs drive to a ski area in Whistler, a prominent location during the Vancouver Winter Games in 2010 (topical already!), where they’re met by Tom, Padma, and Olympic snowboarding silver medalist Gretchen Bleiler (no offense to her, but Bravo clearly tried and failed to book Lindsey Vonn, Shaun White, Apolo Ohno, Bode Miller, Dan Jansen, Michael Phelps, Jessie Owens, or the remaining cast of Snow White And The Hunstmen – snow!)
For the first challenge, the chefs will have to cook in ski gondolas, because a Bravo producer just looked over and saw gondolas and was like “Alright so that’ll be our placeholder challenge til we think of a real idea” then it was time to shoot and he was like “Whoops!” Paul is a very nice sport about having to go through these motions before winning:
The chefs each go into their gondolas, which are set up with ingredients and appliances and it’s not hard for them at all. But it is stupid!
The chefs present their dishes to the judges and snowboard person, and all four dishes are good. Gretchen Bleiler says of Paul’s dish, “I would’ve never known you cooked this in a gondola.” Really? You’re just being modest. I’m sure if you got that in a restaurant you’d be like “I know this sounds specific, but this dish tastes like it was cooked in a skiing gondola” (table instantly nods in agreement).
The chefs write down their scores like Olympic Judges:
Lindsay wins the Regularspeedfire for her Seared Salmon over Red Quinoa “Risotto” with Chorizo. Once again her love of quoted things comes up right. Congrats Lindsay, you’re in the Finals! You may now go play on Rockhenge:
For the second challenge, Padma explains “This…is your pantry” and the chefs look shocked then it goes to commercial! WHAT IS THEIR PANTRY! Hopefully something not stupid! Wrong:
That’s right, for this challenge, the chefs’ ingredients are FROZEN IN GIANT BLOCKS OF ICE, because that happens sometimes when you are a chef. The chefs must crack the ice to get the ingredients out, then cook them outside.
Apparently, IZ TOP SEA OTTER, NOT-AH TOP CHEF!
The chefs chip away at the blocks of ice with icepicks to get their ingredients, and it is some riveting television. As I said above, not only is this part completely random and unnecessary, it also ends up having NO IMPACT on the eventual meals; yes, they struggle to chip through the ice to get a limited number of ingredients, but then they all just prepare those ingredients and it’s fine so what was the point of that first part?
Padma introduces the guest judge for this Second Event:
Actually the second guest judge is Jon Montgomery, the Canadian Gold Medalist in Skeleton. At least they straight-up just introduced him, they didn’t have the chefs go “We walk in and Skeltonist JON MONTGOMERY is standing there! He is THE GURU of Molecular-Fusion Skeletonning. I’m so nervous – this could totally change my Skeltonning career…”
Jon Montgomery says “Through my efforts on the ice, I was able to win my country an Olympic Gold Medal,” and now it’s time for the chefs to use their effort on the ice. That’s great, Jon, but your sport literally requires ice, whereas cheffing literally requires not being on ice, and what are we even doing here at this point?
Paul wins Challenge 2 for his Brown Butter Poached King Crab and Mango Chutney, setting up the predictable Beverly / Sarah showdown – you knew the show wasn’t gonna have Paul and anyone else in the Bottom 2, cause we’d all have known the other person was getting eliminated. Paul earns a spot in the Thrilling Three, making his grandfather proud:
And finally, just when you think things couldn’t get more arbitrary, Padma announces that the Final Elimination will be a “Culinary Biathlon,” where Sarah and Beverly will have to cross-country ski their way to a bunch of targets, and each target has the name of an ingredient on it, and they’ll have 10 rifle shots to shoot the targets for the corresponding ingredients they’ll be able to use. Neither chef has any skiing experience, so THE COMPETITION IS INTENSE:
Like last week’s blindfolded ingredient-grab, the cross country skiing part is basically an excuse to have the chefs flail around wildly and make us laugh at them:
Beverly reaches the rifle range first, and she instantly nails her intended target:
Beverly shoots some ingredient-targets, then Sarah’s like “I’m from Texas, we have guns” and misses a bunch of targets but then hits a bunch of targets so hooray, they both now get to cook with ingredients. Good challenge!
As they head into the final stretch, Sarah says “There is no room for error,” causing my frustrated roommate to yell out, “Except for the six rifle shots you were allowed to miss and it didn’t matter. You had exactly that much room for error.”
Sarah and Beverly prepare their potentially-final dishes and present them to the judges: Beverly makes an Arctic Char with Onion and Beet Compote, Celery Root Truffle Puree and Fennel Salad, which the judges enjoy, but Tom says that the earthiness of the vegetables and other components overwhelmed the underseasoned fish. Sarah counters with a Braised Rabbit Leg, Cherries, Cabbage Puree and Hazelnut Sauce, “With a little rabbit heart on top” for sadness. Tom calls the dish “well thought out” but adds “the rabbit could’ve been cooked more or cooked less,” which is technically true of all dishes and I’m not sure what it means.
Even though Beverly’s dish was criticized more harshly, I thought she’d still ride the “We want to play up the Last Chance Kitchen redemption story another week” wave into the Final Three, but the judges appear to make the fair choice based on the dishes and eliminate Beverly for a second time.
Robert De Niro cries:
Sarah wins $10,000 from Terlato wines for being the third-best chef today, aaaaand WHEW! We’re done. With Part One of the three-part tribute to Paul. Yipeee! Another episode before the Finale!!! Hopefully this time the ingredients are trapped in FIRE.
Top Chef Season 9, I wanna give you a great big passive aggressive hug:
Top Chef Finale Part 1 Thoughts? Feedback on the Culinary Olympics? Favorite / least favorite parts? More Finale predictions? Leave ‘em in the comments.