So I’m happy with the result, both because I think Blais showed that he was the best chef there over the course of the regular season (not just the playoffs), but because I like a good redemption story, and I didn’t want to see him implode after another last-second loss. I thought the sous-chefs gave him a pretty good advantage – for all the talk about Spike as a Marcel-esque anchor, he seems to be great on a team and more Machiavellian when it’s an individual challenge – and he showed more leadership than Mike, who listened to what his team proposed and then did what he wanted anyway. (It’s the fake-listening that bugs me; either you’re listening, or you’re not. If you want to be a dictator, that’s fine. Dictators who insist they’re not dictators are in the news enough these days without another one on Top Chef.)
Ultimately, though, it seemed like the better food won out. Both chefs slipped slightly on their desserts, but Richard (with big help from Spike) made the adjustment between serving one and serving two. The editing at Judges’ Table seemed to downplay the problems with Mike’s custard, but the shot of Marcel and Stephen eating it (mostly conveying their dislike through facial expressions) spoke volumes to me, since neither one of them is going to hold back. And Richard’s food seemed much more inventive across the board; even the short rib dish that was “conventional” had a purpose, showing he can do more straightforward cuisine but do it better than anyone else there.
* Loved seeing more Restaurant Wars. And I love how all the chefs involved seem to get so into it, even last night when the sous-chefs had nothing riding on it for themselves but pride. It proved an ideal way to end a great season.
* Carla, who won fan favorite, has to get her own show at this point, right? The villainous Marcel may have technical skills, but likability and accessibility matter as well, and Carla has both to spare, while her style of cooking – kicked-up comfort food – is extremely trendy and yet taps into a fundamental aspect of the American food experience. Blais offers the food I’d most want to travel and pay to eat, but Carla’s food is the kind I’d want to eat night-in and night-out.
* I appreciate knowing that the way to Gail Simmons’ heart is via pepperoni sauce … even though I have to say that it doesn’t sound appealing to me at all. I associate the flavor of pepperoni with how I ate when I was younger and didn’t really know food or the vast array of alternatives available; I’d reach for chorizo or andouille or linguica or about a dozen cured Italian meat products before I’d ever ask for a slice of pepperoni. But I’ll take Gail’s word for it that Mike’s “crazy business” was the real deal.
* How about Padma showing so much emotion in these last few episodes? First she tears up when they send Antonia packing. Then she gets choked up when Hubert Keller points out how hard it’s going to be to choose between Blais and Mike. And the hug she gave Blais at the end had a real “thank God you won” look to it. I’m not complaining, but I’m surprised after seeing her seem so much colder in the last two seasons. New Padma is much better to watch – these are real people competing, after all, and it’s perfectly fair to be emotional as long as your decisions remain objective. I’ve seen the fembot act from Heidi Klum on Project Runway, and it’s tired.
* And credit due to Tom for giving props to Mike after the loss – and the editors for including it. But I could have done without the shot of Mike’s wife looking so downcast after Blais won. It seemed mildly exploitative. Show the contestants; the family never asked be in that position.
* I’ve got an upcoming trip to Atlanta, so if anyone there scouts out Blais’ Flip burger place, I’d love an advance report – including whether the line is a mile long after his big win.