This photo is wrong. Wrong.
Hosea? Seriously, Hosea is Top Chef? I didn’t even think he should have made it to the finale. I’m having flashbacks to Season Two, when Ilan won even though it was obvious he could only cook Spanish food, and he could only cook that because he worked in a Spanish restaurant. Throughout the entire competition, Hosea was “fine.” His work was “fine.” I would place him solidly in the upper middle of the pack. But the work of a Top Chef? Give me a break.
There’s been a lot of internet angst unleashed because of Hosea’s win, and while I think that Gawker’s going too far, I agree with other bloggers who are upset that Carla undermined herself. I also agree that this season was really a competition in mediocrity.
The more I think about it, the more I think that Hosea’s win was the result of poor culinary casting. Season Five was cast for personalities, not for cooking skills, which is why it lacked the inspired cooking of seasons past. There was no Richard Blaise, no Harold Dieterle, no Stephanie Izard, who didn’t just turn out good food – they turned out creative, skillful creations that were on a different level from their competitors. Actually, I’m wrong – Jamie was this person for Season Five. She turned out simple, creative, well executed food week after week (with a couple slip ups, like the celery that sent her home. And those scallops). But instead, she didn’t make it to the finale!
Instead, everyone was just “okay,” allowing Hosea to win essentially because he didn’t make any huge screw ups. I also think this is why Stefan was able to win so many challenges – even if his dishes weren’t always the most creative, he was able to execute them consistently.
And poor Carla! I was rooting for her all the way, and I was so disappointed that she didn’t do better. Considering that she was going up against a middling Hosea and an overly-cocky Stefan, she really could have won this thing. On the one hand, I admired that she collaborated with Casey – working well in a team is a good skill in the real world. But great chefs are artists, and artists work to execute their singular vision. Carla had the vision, but she just wasn’t ruthless enough to execute it. It’s a real shame.
Also, before I go into the actual recap, thanks to Elipis and Justice for saving the day last week and doing an excellent recap of part one of the season finale. Please visit her blog and check out her cool posts about health disparities.
Anyway, for their final challenge, the chefs have two days to cook the best three-course meal of their lives. The courses can be anything they choose; i.e., the third course doesn’t have to be a dessert. And for their sous-chefs, Richard Blais (Season Four), Casey Thompson (Season Three), and Marcel Vigneron (Season Two) will be helping them out. Wow, so these people are actually good – maybe that’s why there weren’t better chefs in the Top Chef All-Stars episode?
Carla works with Casey, Stefan works with Marcel, and Hosea works with Richard. Come prep time, Stefan and Hosea are doing the chef equivalent of beating on their bare chests with their fists – Hosea takes all the fois gras and caviar, and Stefan whines that Hosea’s stealing the best ingredients. What is this, third grade? In the background, we see the bright yellow logos of the GLAD Family of Products. I’m calling Product Placement Number One.
I’m also getting worried, because Carla and Casey are working together well – one might say, too well. Casey keeps on making suggestions that steer Carla away from her original vision – like cooking the beef sous-vide, making a cheese souffle instead of a tart for the dessert course. Carla readily goes along, which can’t be good. She said at the beginning of the episode that she needed to cook the food that got her here – but she’s never cooked anything sous-vide in her life.
When the chefs arrive at the restaurant in day two, they’re thrown a curve ball in the form of Tom Colicchio and a large platter of raw proteins: red fish, blue crab, and alligator. The chefs will have to make an appetizer from one of these three classic New Orleans proteins. Though a complicated knife selection process, Hosea gets to pick who cooks what. He chooses red fish for himself, blue crab for Carla, and really sticks it to Stefan with that alligator. Again, it’s like I’m watching eight-year-olds on the playground.
The guests are a veritable who’s-who in the cooking world, but the one I really care about is My Boyfriend Fabio! He gets to taste the last meals!
The first course is the surprise appetizer, which is passed around the room as the culinary luminaries mingle. Stefan was smart – life gave him alligator, and he made alligator soup. The judges and guests love the soup; Rocco thinks it was “fantastic.” Carla made a shisou soup with the blue crab, with a chayote salsa, that everyone absolutely adores. And Hosea makes a corn cake with a creole remoulade and a piece of blackened red fish, that also is well received. No big mess-ups here.
Carla’s excellent crab soup.
The second course is a regular appetizer, but this course doesn’t go a smoothly. Carla has the best dish of the group – her red fish over saffron aioli is truly special. Hosea serves a black bass, tuna and hamachi sashimi that is underseasoned. Stefan also does the raw fish thing, serving a smoked salmon and halibut carpaccio that’s also a little bland. Tom thinks that Stefan’s dish lacks punch because Stefan froze the fish in order to slice it – giving the fish a watery flavor.
The third entree course is where things really start to go downhill for Carla. Her sous-vide beef is way too tough, and the judges are puzzled because this isn’t the soulful, rustic food they were expecting from her. Stefan’s pan-seared squab with braised red cabbage, schupfnudeln and fois gras (I guess Hosea gave him some after all!) goes much better – Gail thinks the squab was cooked perfectly. But Hosea’s dish of scallop and foie gras on pain perdu is the real star of this course. “I can’t stop eating it,” Gail says.
The fourth course is a mixed bag, and disaster for Carla. Her cheese souffles curdle and she decides not to serve them, so she puts out a meager dish of apple-tart coin, cheese, and marmalade. It’s pitiful. Stefan also makes a desert – stracciatella ice cream, chocolate mousse, and a banana lollipop. It looked fine to me but the judges don’t like it – Tom thinks it’s “not a complete thought,” and Gail thinks the dated presentation looks like something out of 1982.
Hosea decides to play it safe. Instead of making a dessert, he makes roasted venison with chestnut, and carbonated blackberries (Richard’s influence again, I see). In one way, it’s a poor choice, because his dish doesn’t really finish the meal. But on the other hand, Hosea’s not good with desserts and avoided a weak area. The venison “is a safe way out,” comments one of the guest judges.
Back in the kitchen, the chefs share a glass of Santa Margarita Pino Grigio. And how do I know that? Because they do a lingering close-up of the label, coming in for a Product Placement Number Two.
The judges table is painful. Poor Carla has to explain the decision-making process that lead her to not really cook her food, and she can’t come up with a good explanation. “It seems you let your sous chef talk you out of cooking the food that got you into the finale,” Tom says. Damn it, it’s just so true. When they ask her why she should win, she’s fighting back tears as she says that when she cooks her food, it’s delicious. But you can tell she knows that she didn’t cook her food tonight. Damn it, now I’m going to start crying.
Hosea obviously fares better under the judges’ examination. Padma addresses the issue of the under seasoned carpaccio, while Gail loved the “earthy components” of the venison dish. They also mention that Hosea’s meal was incomplete – by choosing to not do a dessert, his meal didn’t really end well.
Stefan also receives mixed reviews. Tom thinks that the squab is the best thing he had all evening, but the carpaccio was watered down. And for reasons I don’t quite understand, none of the judges are big fans of Stefan’s dessert.
I actually think here that Hosea and Stefan are pretty equally split. Neither one hit it out of the park, they both had strong and weak dishes, Hosea played it safe on the dessert, Stefan delivered a more complete meal. It’s a toss up between the two.
Still, I can’t quite believe it when they name Hosea Top Chef. Hosea. Middle-of-the-pack Hosea. Hosea, who probably didn’t get kicked off earlier because he and Leah made out. This is so wrong. I can’t even really begin to express just how wrong this is. I just hope that next season they’ll do a better job of casting on the basis of culinary skills, because this is a serious disappointment.
One of the last clips of the show is of Carla, who says that one of her goals for coming on the show was to show the world a different kind of competitor – one who competes with love. And she certainly succeeded in that. Ultimately, she and Stefan are both superior talents to Hosea, and I know that their talent will take them far – probably further than the $100,000 will take Hosea.
Next week: The Reunion! Oh my lord, I don’t want to hear anything more about Leah and Hosea hooking up! I don’t! But I will!