It’s the Top Chef Texas Finale, entitled “Finale,” because it is actually, seriously the very last episode of Top Chef Season 9 – no more snowy nonsense, no more Last Chance Redemption Island Of Temptation The Benefactor All-Stars, it’s just Sarah Grueneberg and Paul Qui competing to see who is the better chef: Paul, or Paul and also Bravo made a giant mistake.
Sarah kicks things off by declaring “This is the goal I’ve had this entire competition.” She is LOCKED IN. That is also the goal of literally everyone who has ever gone on Top Chef or any competition show. No one’s ever been like, “My goal is to make some friends, cook other peoples’ food, then get eliminated in Week 3 cooking a risotto that represents Daniel Boone’s courage then release a sex tape.”
Tom explains that for the final challenge, each chef will design a four-course tasting menu at their own Vancouver restaurant and serve it to 100 people with the aid of some past concheftants. Awesome! No fuss, no extraneous time-wasting hoops to jump through, just the two final competitors and an extra Quickfire to determine who their final helper chefs are. And to sweeten the pot, making a cameooh-god-is-she-awful appearance is none other than Heather ‘Fan Fave’ Terhune:
Before we go Reelin’ In The Chef Years with a no-stakes competition between loser chefs we don’t care about, Bravo gives us a highlight reel of the Top Chef Texas season thusfar:
The returning chefs are a mishmash of ok eliminated chefs (Grayson, Chris C, Beardo Keith), two established restauranteurs (Barbara Lynch and Marco Canora), and chefs who have no business being there (two guys who didn’t even make the ‘Bubble’ in the premiere, Colin Patterson and the instantly-insufferable Tyler Stone).
The challenge is simple:
The chefs each prepare a dish for this Lowstakes Quickfire – can we even call this a ‘Quickfire?’ It’s more like, a ‘gradual being near a sunbeam’ – and Paul and Sarah arrive to assemble their teams by picking their favorite dishes without knowing who cooked them.
Paul picks Barbara L, Ty-Lor, Chris C, and Keith. Sarah ends up with Nyesha, Heather, and Grayson, but with her second pick, she ends up taking Tyler Stone…
Padma thanks the three remaining chefs for allowing themselves to be embarrassed, and the bank instantly forecloses on Marco Canora’s restaurants:
The heat is on! Paul says he wants to prove to his parents that he can “follow through and actually succeed with something,” though if they’ve seen like ten minutes of any episode this season, they already know this. Sarah also reaches to her roots, saying that her menu plan is to “combine her German and Italian sides,” to form an Axis Of DELICIOUSNESS.
The prepping scenes are standardly uneventful, with the exception of numerous shots of Tyler just being absolutely awful. Not only is he clearly in way over his head this late in the competition and has no business being here other than as a wacky, “Wrong Door In Let’s Make A Deal” accidental gag-choice, he also constantly and needlessly argues with Sarah’s instructions. Fortunately for any veteran TC-watcher, she shrewdly rejects most of his suggestions, thus mercifully sparing us the predictable “I should’ve done it my way” Judges’ Table controversy.
I’m sure Bravo specifically cut the Tyler scenes to make him look max-awful, but that being said, he really looked max-awful. The editors definitely laughed at themselves when they left in that close-up clip of Tyler chopping celery really slowly like a kid helping his mom:
After a day of prepping, Sarah and Paul sit down with Tom and Emeril to sample some wines, because apparently escaping to Canada still wasn’t enough for Top Chef to lose that Terlato CEO guy. Paul gets drunk, yells at Emeril, you know, the yooje:
The chefs each head to their respective restaurants with their teams for the final preparation. Sarah sets up her restaurant “Monte Verde” (Spanish for “Green Three-Card-Monte”) inside Vancouver’s “Black & Blue” (too many colors in the title-kitchen!), while Paul preps his restaurant “Qi” inside “Coast,” which is on fire:
The chefs will serve 100 guests and two teams of judges, who’ll take turns eating at each place. One judging team consists of Emeril, Gail, Hugh Acheson, David Myers, and Bill Terlato (a late sub for John Healthychoice), while the other consists of Tom, Padma, Marco “Lost To Tyler Stone Seconds Ago And Now Judging The FInale” Canora, Mark McEwan of Top Chef Canada (Canada has that?? Next you’ll tell me they have pizza and a government), and good ol’ Cat Cora:
You better believe I’m gettin’ my mileage out of that Cat Cora picture. If anything, I’m exercising extreme restraint by not making that every photo.
If you want to read the chefs’ exact dishes, check them out here. Their menus are both very crazy and complicated and risky, but also extremely unique and seemingly worthy of a Top Chef final challenge:
As the chefs start churning out plates to the diners, they’re treated to another surprise: Their families are in the crowd. Cuuuuute! CRANK THE WATERWORKS, MOTHERF***ERS!
Paul says hi to his girlfriend, mom and dad:
Sarah also greets her family, but her boyfriend pulls her in closely to whisper some secret advice:
The judges begin tasting the food, and the reviews are almost unanimously positive, with a few minor exceptions – the ‘pickled beets’ in Sarah’s trout dish fall flat, the prawns in Paul’s ‘Chawanmushi’ are overcooked for one of the judges’ groups, and Sarah’s sweetbreads lack some crunch, but all in all, the judges are extremely happy. It almost looks as if it is going to be a tough choice and they will keep indicating this.
Both desserts are a huge hit too; Padma raves about Sarah’s Hazelnut Cake even though she “hates white chocolate” (and Heather kind of made the cake, which no one really mentions), and Tom loves Paul’s Coconut Ice Cream with Puffed Wild Rice, Mangosteen and Thai Chili Foam because he “hates sweet desserts” and this was part savory. So, these culinary experts hate ‘white chocolate’ and ‘sweet desserts?’ Gotcha. For the record, the judges are only allowed to hate those things because they’re easy things to like and thus by not liking them it seems like the judges are culinarily ‘beyond’ them somehow; if any judge was like “I hate yuzu” or “I hate sweetbreads,” they’d seem unadventurous or unappreciative, even if they just genuinely didn’t like those things. But I digress.
Hey, look at that!
The judges switch restaurants, giving the chefs a slight opportunity to retool their dishes, which Sarah uses to even out her persimmon sauce (“Thanks for the sour persimmons, cousin!” is what I would’ve said in a Daffy Duck voice if I had been dining in that first group and was in any way aware that I was eating persimmons.) The judges love the second restaurants just as much, which Tom makes very evident through his consumption of Sarah’s squid ink pasta:
We head to the Final Judges’ Table of the Season to see who’s gonna take home the $125,000 defrosted by Healthy Choice:
Remember, Hea! Thy Choice is a proud sponsor of Top Che Funiversity. Beowulf is their CEO.
The Judges’ panel of Tom, Padma, Gail, Emeril, and Hugh take turns praising the Finalists, with Tom dubbing their efforts “The best food we’ve had in 9 seasons, including All-Stars.” Hugh asks Sarah how she treated the beets, and she admits that she didn’t cook them after pickling them, giving Hugh a chance to squeeze one last distorted face into a season that’s been full of them:
Even though Sarah’s dishes seemed to garner more initial praise from the judges at the restaurants, Paul’s dishes get praised slightly more at Judges’ Table, with Emeril again raving about the broth in Paul’s opening course, saying “That broth took that dish to the moon”, which is a good place for food to be (as any kid who’s ever eaten astronaut ice cream very much knows):
At this point, it’s pretty clear our prediction is holding true: Paul is going to win, but the show is pulling a ‘Mike Isabella‘ with Sarah and being sure to make it clear that she’s caught fire these last two weeks and is on equal footing with Paul, which may be true for these individual dishes, but Paul has clearly been the best chef all season and has dominated by a bigger margin than any chef in Top Chef history, so even if Sarah’s run is legit, Bravo is also doing its best to make Paul’s inevitable win not seem anticlimactic. Tom does note that the chefs “Both peaked at the right time,” because cheffing is just like March Madness, even though the first episode of this season was shot like 3 days before this.
That said, the viewers at home weren’t exactly on the fence (that tiny prop fence behind computer-holding Cowboy Tom in every Bravotv.com promo):
Paul and Sarah head to the final stew room of the season, which is actually more of a rum couch:
During the commercial, Top Chef runs this promo:
Wait – is that a promo for the Top Chef replay after this episode? Or was Bravo actually afraid we might’ve thought this episode ended at 10:53 with no winner named? “Wow, arty decision by Top Chef this season – I guess it’s like a ‘the ambiguity IS the knowing’ kind of thing, like that movie Doubt. Come to think of it, this season may have molested us…”
The chefs enter for the final verdict. Their families and the eliminated chefs are all present, and everyone applauds for a solid ‘Al Bundy’ amount of time when they come in, and it’s a nice moment. Everyone is tense but super excited, especially Nyesha:
And the winner is………………… Paul!
Yaaaaay Paul!!! Way to close out the biggest bloodbath in Top Chef history. As much as many of us have complained about the cast and the challenges this season (and been mostly correct), I think we can all agree that Paul would’ve been an extremely worthy Top Chef winner in any season, and I was genuinely happy for his very obvious win to be made official. I just wish it could’ve happened like eight weeks ago.
So that’s it – another Top Chef season packed up in a knife bag and going. Already??? It seems like only three weeks ago we were saying “There’s three more weeks of this sh*t?”
Top Chef Texas Finale thoughts? Thoughts on the Season as a whole? Reactions to Paul’s win? Complaints about pretty much everything else this season outside of Paul’s win? Leave ‘em all in the comments, cause this’ll be your last chance to vent until the next season starts in like an hour.
Also, I’d like to offer a sincere thanks to the people who’ve spent time reading these posts all season and leaving always-entertaining comments and often very nice feedback. These Recaps are one of, like, four things in my life I still put serious effort into, so to know there’s actually some people caring about them in this cold dark wasteland we call intra-net is very reassuring. We made it!!!