In front of a studio audience, chefs Kristen Kish and Brooke Williamson both assembled their dishes and served then to a group of 160 diners (including all nine previous Top Chef winners) in last night’s very interesting finale of Top Chef: Seattle. For the first time, the two finalists gathered together to duke it out on game-show-style television for the rights to the title. The lights were dim, the music was dramatic, and overall the episode had a very "primetime game show" vibe.
Kristen and Brooke each chose their sous chefs from the season’s contestants (Brooke choose Stefan, CJ, and Kuniko; Kristen chose Lizzie, Sheldon, and Josh), and planned out their courses. They’d each make five, and the first to win three would claim the championship. Similarly, in order to win a round they had to win three of the five judges’ (Tom Colicchio, Padma Lakshmi, Hugh Acheson, Emeril Lagasse, and Gail Simmons) votes. This one was certainly a finale unlike any other, one whose brand new format Colicchio himself wasn't a fan of.
The first course:
Kristen: Chicken liver mousse with frisée, mustard, prune, hazelnuts, and pumpernickel
Brooke: Crispy pig ear and chicory salad, six-minute egg, apricot jam, and candied kumquats
Lagasse loved Kristen’s mousse and chicory, and called it "simple and classic." Colicchio thought it was well-seasoned and well-balanced. He also thought that all the components of Brooke’s dish worked nicely, but Emeril found the cracklings to be overcooked.
After a vote, the chefs agreed that Kristen served the better dish, so she took round one.
The second course:
Brooke: Seared scallop over salt cod purée, speck, black currant, romanesco, and mustard seed vinaigrette
Kristen: Citrus and lavender cured scallop with bitter orange, Meyer lemon, and apple
Colicchio thought that Brooke's scallop was perfectly cooked, and Acheson thought that the flavors were well-balanced. Lagasse, a big salt cod fan, agreed. Kristen’s dish was "exactly" what he expected from her, and the others agreed that it was "absolutely delicious."
The vote was a tie heading to Acheson, and he gave Brooke the win for the round.
The third course:
Brooke: Vadouvan fried chicken with sumac yogurt-tahini and pickled kohlrabi fattoush
Kristen: Celery root purée with bone marrow, mushrooms, bitter greens, and radishes
While none of the judges were expecting chicken wings from Brooke, it worked for Lagasse and Colicchio, who liked the wings but wasn’t a fan of the salad. Lagasse loved "the earthy tones" of Kristen’s dish, but Colicchio wasn’t sure why she stewed the mushrooms instead of roasting them. Lakshmi found the dish cold, though.
Kristen served the judges’ favorite dish, making Brooke’s next round "all or nothing."
The Fourth Course:
Brooke: Braised pork cheek and red snapper with collard green slaw and sorrel purée
Kristen: Red snapper with leeks, little gem lettuce, tarragon, uni, and shellfish nage
Acheson thought Brooke’s snapper was perfectly cooked, and Colicchio and Simmons liked the combination of the fish with pork cheek. Colicchio thought Kristen’s snapper was also perfectly cooked, but Simmons thought that her leeks were stringy and difficult to eat.
With Brooke needing the win here to force a fifth and final round, that was looking a little difficult with only a few minutes left in the episode. Colicchio cast the third and final vote against very dramatic background music, crowning Kristen the Top Chef champion, in an episode that, in our opinion, came across as a bit anticlimactic, in no small part due to the complete change of formula from every other Top Chef episode, ever.
Stay tuned later this afternoon for exclusive Daily Meal interviews with both Brooke and Kristen, along with their personal observations on this strange new finale format.