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Top Chef crowns a deserving winner after a strong, if confused, season

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Because The A.V. Club knows that TV shows keep going even if we’re not writing at length about them, we’re experimenting with discussion posts. For certain shows, one of our TV writers will publish some brief thoughts about the latest episode, and open the comments for readers to share theirs.

  • I started this season rooting for Brooke. Like, seriously rooting for her. I thought she got screwed by the Seattle season’s disastrous live finale, one the show has never attempted to recreate, and saw this season as a deserved second chance for her. Yet, tonight she wins, and I greeted it with a shrug. “Figured.” Though Shirley tells better stories with her food, Brooke’sTop Chef journey lent itself to her victory, namely in her winning after returning via Last Chance Kitchen, which was the same journey of the woman who beat her in her season. Still, though her food looked amazing and, based on the collective feedback, was stronger top to bottom than Shirley’s, something still felt off. Maybe it was because Brooke’s desire for winning didn’t feel rooted in passion or a dedication to craft, but rather in the righting of what was in her mind a wrong. ”I haven’t gotten that stale feeling of losing out of my head,” she said at the beginning of the episode. And when she won? “I feel validated,” sounding not as if she’d won but as if she’d dodged a bullet. It was relief in her voice, not excitement. Honestly, it reminded me of Richard Blais from Top Chef: All Stars, who carried a similar sense of entitlement with him to that season’s finale. He treated Mike Isabella with the same wary passive-aggressiveness that Brooke doled out to Shirley, carrying with him the sense that his own sense of self-worth rode entirely on this decision. I’m happy for Brooke, and she obviously deserved the win, but, as with Blais, the latter episodes revealed a pettiness in her that was hard to root for.
  • Who else forgot this season started as a battle between the veterans and rookies? I didn’t because I harp on it every week, but the casual viewer would be forgiven for forgetting that this wasn’t actually an all-stars season. No rookies beyond Sylva and Jamie came off looking all that great, though it’s hard for me to even recall a single dish either of them made. That’s not a knock on them, necessarily, it’s just that the deck was stacked against them from moment one. As we’ve discussed ad nauseum here and in the comments, Top Chef made a huge mistake in casting “veterans” that were finalists and/or frontrunners in their season. Instead, they should’ve brought on more chefs like Amanda, who were memorable and talented but not quite ready at that stage in their careers to stack up against the heavy hitters. As much I’ve loved seeing Shirley, Brooke, John, and Sheldon, their next-level skill and Top Chef savvy didn’t leave much of a chance for chefs who’ve never done a TV cooking competition. All of this was hit home that much more when none of them made it through Last Chance Kitchen or was picked as a sous chef during the finals. They should’ve had to pick one vet and one rookie or something. I dunno. At least they got a free vacation.
  • Man, I wish this had just been an all-stars season.
  • The Challenge: Classic finale challenge: Cook a four-course meal and make it good, goddammit. No restrictions, no gimmicks, no bullshit. I love it. Brooke and Shirley’s interpretations differed, too, with Brooke opting for a focus on local ingredients as Shirley used the meal as a means to tell stories of her childhood and family. While both chefs killed their first and third courses, Shirley botched the second by serving overly chewy ramen noodles and Brooke miffed dessert with an overdone flan. It was pretty obvious from the judges’ critiques that Shirley’s sins were worse, despite her serving a dessert that was Padma’s favorite dish of the entire meal (how often does that happen?). It makes one think of how things might’ve panned out had Brooke had to use that short rib instead of the pork belly Shirley so generously offered.
  • That was quite a judging panel, with Graham “I’m Too Famous For This” Elliott and Gail Simmons joining Padma and Tom alongside chefs Jonathan “Obi-Wan” Waxman, Daniel Boulud, Martha Ortiz, Not Dana Cowin, Old Paul Giamatti, and a Doobie Brother.
Old Giamatti
  • I can’t remember who said it, but it’s certainly notable that this is only the second Top Chef finale in 14 seasons to feature two women. Brooke was in the last one, too.
  • Y’all must’ve been happy to see Katsuji get brought on as one of Shirley’s sous chefs. Notice how he didn’t stir any shit, though. Shirley ain’t putting up with that.
  • Speaking of, Brooke’s pettiness really seemed to manifest in her constant criticism of the loudness of Shirley’s voice. That Shirley ignored every one made me love her even more.
  • Based on some of your comments, I bet plenty of you were stirred by Gail rather sensuously describing Shirley’s dessert as “seductive.” Hubba, hubba.
  • My biggest laugh of the night came right before the announcement of who would be Top Chef, when John was hovering behind Brooke’s family like some drunk uncle.
  • Shirley may have lost the competition, but she absolutely won our hearts in this episode. Has there ever been a moment so moving on this series than when her mother asked her sister how to say “I’m proud of you” in English? And then this:
  • Jesus Christ, I was genuinely misty. I’m still misty, especially once I remember Shirley’s talk from New Orleans about how difficult it was for her parents to come to terms with her desired profession. This effort on her mother’s part clearly meant so, so much to her. Really beautiful stuff.
  • Because I love you guys so much, I subjected myself to the “Live Quickfire” Bravo decided to stream online before the episode and holy shit it was a glorious goddamn train wreck. Padma hosted with Art Smith, a former Top Chef Master, and Casey squared off against Sam “Poochie” Talbot to make a dish inspired by something I missed because I popped in late. Anyways, they had 15 minutes to make a dish, which was way too much time for Padma and Art to fill with any kind of meaningful commentary. There’s only so much you can say, after all, about olive oil and blue cheese. It really makes you appreciate editing. Anyways, it becomes clearer and clearer throughout that Padma’s at least two Pinot Grigios in, as her product placement lacks its usual grace.
  • Then she brings out an iPad.
  • My reaction to all of this.
  • Poochie wins, by the way, showing off his horrible Brooklyn facial hair in the process.
  • Speaking of Poochie, he wore a dumb hat to the finale.
  • Jesus, I’m sorry, Sam. I actually really like you. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.
  • Guess what? I also watched Watch What Happens Live, despite my harboring such a deep, throbbing dislike for Andy Cohen. Andy asked Brooke what was the first thing she did as Top Chef, to which she replied: “I went back to my room and drank by myself.” I’m officially onboard with Brooke again.
  • Thanks for reading along with me all season, guys. You’ve been an amazing force in the comments, sharing your opinions, food knowledge, and Gail love in ways both amusing and articulate. Thanks for indulging my weird obsession with Sam and my healthy obsession with this food show, which, as we can all hopefully agree, is the best of its kind.

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