Top Chef: Texas Recap
By David Mumpower and Kim Hollis
March 7, 2012
“We’re gonna jam out with our clams out…” – Grayson making what we presume will be the Bravo t-shirt for the season
Tom and Gail eat at Paul’s restaurant; it is simply named Qi. The judges are immediately impressed by the simplicity of the menu as well as its daring. There are no meat items, possibly a first for a Top Chef finale. Amusingly, one of the judges is the man Paul and Sarah did not choose as a sous chef the previous day, Marco Canora. Cat Cora and Top Chef Canada host Mark McEwan are the others.
Across the city, Padma Lakshmi, Emeril Lagasse and Hugh Acheson sit down at Sarah’s restaurant. Bill Terlato of Terlato Wines and famed chef David Myers join them as judges. All of them note that Sarah has created dishes wholly out of character for her. As we had expected, she continues her carefree, lucky to be here style by going for it with her final meal.
The first course is squid ink tagliatelle, spot prawns & coconut. The second course is rye crusted steelhead trout with fennel sauce, pickled beets & gras pista. Next is a braised veal cheek with crispy veal sweetbreads. Finally, she delivers a dessert of hazelnut cake with kumquat & roasted white chocolate ganache.
Sarah catches a break at one point. Her family arrives. This is a wonderful surprise that should be done every season. More importantly for Sarah, her future husband has been around her enough to recognize major flaws with dishes. He pulls her aside and quietly whispers to her that his fish had a bone in it. Sarah rushes back to the kitchen to check all of the remaining product in case it is in need of de-boning.
The judges are deeply impressed by Sarah’s overall meal. She has the advantage of lowered expectations relative to her opponent and that serves her well. Her flavors pop throughout all four courses. There are a few concerns here and there, particularly with the second course. Lagasse believes the fennel is a bit too overwhelming while Myers is shocked by how raw the beets are. Lagasse quickly agrees that she did not pickle them enough.
Where Sarah’s dish shines is in the dessert. She has turned white chocolate into a flavor mimicking caramel; the judges are in awe of this. It is her best dish of the evening and one of the best ever presented during a finale. Yes, it is up there with the pepperoni sauce Mike Isabella presented last season. Sarah has cooked to the best of her abilities on this evening and possibly even surpassed her previous ceiling as a chef. For this, she is to be commended.
Before we mention the details of Paul’s meal, we should mention a beautiful moment that occurs. Throughout the season, Paul has expressed frustration with the person he used to be. He knows that he made mistakes and those errors in judgment reflected poorly upon himself, which he has accepted. He has always demonstrated frustration that such acts may indicate anything negative of his parents. Paul clearly craves his parents’ approval, particularly that of his father.