For those who tuned into Wednesday night’s finale of Top Chef: Seattle expecting to see the format that’s been standard throughout the show’s entire run, what you encountered was most likely nothing short of disorienting. Whereas in past seasons the remaining chefs have been asked to tap into their personal histories to develop and serve a three-course meal to the panel of judges, in this finale the format, style, and overall tone were completely different.
The chefs were already cooking as the episode started, in front of a cheering studio audience in a setting that more closely resembled a game show set than a kitchen. The menus were planned ahead of time, and chefs presented their dishes and were judged on the spot, Quickfire-style, without deliberation. The chefs weren’t able to tell a story through their food, as they had in previous finales, they were cooking for several hundred as opposed to only a few, and the "first to win three out of five dishes wins" format made it easy to guess who the winner would be, as the episode only had a few minutes left going into round four.
The new format’s shortcomings rankled quite a few, and even head judge chef Tom Colicchio let his displeasure be known. "I hear you out there," he tweeted Thursday morning. "You didn't like the format. Well neither did I, and I doubt we will do that again."
But what did the two remaining competitors, Brooke Williamson and Kristen Kish, think of the new format? In an exclusive interview with The Daily Meal, they opened up about the change of pace.
"I really enjoyed it," winner Kish said. "I had no problems with it at all. It really added to the energy and pace, and I liked the judging style as well."
"It was a really fun atmosphere," Williamson added. "It was like performing, but without stage fright. I was so involved that I didn’t care that people were watching. I also thought it was cool to allow the audience to see our dishes being made from start to finish."
As to whether or not the new format affected their concentration or dishes, neither felt that it was an issue. "It actually made me feel more at ease," Kish said. "It really felt like I was cooking with Brooke as opposed to against her."
"I’m always really focused in the kitchen, regardless of the atmosphere," Williamson said. "I’ve always been able to tune everything else out and divert my nerves into cooking. The kitchen is one place I never feel anxious."
While plenty of viewers, and even Colicchio, were a bit turned off by the new format, the unflappable final two contestants were apparently able to conquer the challenging new environment by resorting to a skill that most likely played a major part in getting them to the finale in the first place: the ability to ignore everything else going on around them, put their head down, and cook the best food they can.
Dan Myers is the Eat/Dine Editor at The Daily Meal. Follow him on Twitter @sirmyers.