Previously on Top Chef, 15 chefs were eliminated, leaving Jeremy Ford, who has at times been the best chef on the show—winning more challenges than anyone else—and at times survived despite being the worst in a given week. Just think about this…the guy who could be crowned Top Chef by the end of this episode was saved after a horrific “gastropub with a rooftop garden and hot chicks serving the food” fast casual taco idea because another cheftestant decided to re-heat frozen waffles.
On this show, you play the game in front of you, and Jeremy has certainly done that, hitting his stride when he needed to.
Jeremy’s story is something of a television reality show competition cliché. Even Padma’s explanation of his journey is a cliché; “this single dad left music to pursue a culinary career, and now has his sights set on the title of Top Chef.”
That’s so soigné, and I don’t mean that in any good way.
His challenger is Amar Santana, who opened his own restaurant at 28 and has worked under some amazing chefs in his time before going out on his own. He was a favorite late in the season—maybe the favorite—but he lost a sudden death Quickfire making…toast.
Amar fought back from Last Chance Kitchen to earn his way to the finale. If there has ever been a style versus substance finale, it seems like this one. But first, a dip in the pool!
As the chefs relax before the finale, the doorbell rings and it’s Tom Colicchio! Tom tells Jeremy and Amar that in 13 seasons on Top Chef, he’s never cooked a meal. The reason Tom is so great is that he’s a bona fide celebrity chef—he’s the head judge on the top cooking competition on television and has restaurants in New York and Las Vegas, with a sandwich chain that’s hugely popular as well. And yet, he’s not Gordon Ramsey, where every single challenge is about him on every one of his shows. He’s not Bobby Flay, where he’s hosting shows cooking against up and coming chefs from around the country.
That’s not to say those two aren’t great at what they do, and many others as well, but that’s not Tom. And that’s awesome. Now, we get to give Tom’s dishes the close up treatment!
While Tom feeds the cheftestants a meal any of us would kill for—literally if I was there working on the crew I would have thrown Jeremy off the balcony of the MGM Grand just to taste some of that food—Amar talked about coming from the Dominican Republic, working hard to honor the passing of his father and how important being in the finale of Top Chef is for him as a Latino chef, and one who wants to become the next great restaurateur in America.
And then Tom shows up at the table with this and I forget what anyone was saying.
Up next, the pasta they were rolling before. Remember he’s doing all this in a Vegas hotel suite kitchen.
I would say the producers are making up for lost time with Tom cooking the last two competitors an entire menu of dishes, but each one looks better than the next.
Here’s the, as Tom calls it, “A5 wagu” which is probably going to melt in their damn mouths. Damn them for being good enough to get to a finale of this show so they can eat this meal. Sure, also the cash for the winner and industry acclaim for both. But this meal…
Amar says “this is like Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquaio all over again” when referencing the “fight” he and Jeremy are about to have in the finale. Which one of them is the guy who hates women and which is the guy who hates gays?
Spoiler alerts abound. If you haven’t watched the Top Chef finale yet, do not read the rest of this until you do.
They arrive at the kitchen with all the previous cheftestants in chefs coats, ready to sous.
The finalist only have/get to pick two of them to help with their meal. Amar gets first pick. See.
Amar goes with Kwame, who everyone has lauded all season for his prep work and creativity. Plus, Jeremy got Kwame in the last challenge and it helped him win a spot in the finale without ever facing elimination. It’s a smart pick by Amar. He seems pleased.
Jeremy is not. But he picks Carl because, “Carl is a finesse king.”
Amar picks Marjorie, the other finalist with them and while it would make sense for Jeremy to go with Isaac—the fourth finalist—he goes instead with Angelina, leaving this lot of losers without a chance to unpack their knives, but getting a day off in Vegas on the Bravo dime. And getting to eat with the judges in the finale. Who’s the loser now, people who have to work all day?
The challenge for the finale, create a four-course meal, highlighting one specific ingredient per course. See (hi Padma.)
They’re cooking head to head, round by round, in Tom’s CraftSteak restaurant in Vegas. But first!
In walk Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Jeremy’s boss and mentor and a superstar chef and Charlie Palmer, Amar’s old boss and mentor who he admits having a falling out with some years ago. When Amar left to open his own restaurant he was admittedly cocky, explaining that “things were said; things I regret to this day.” He called the moment in the kitchen for the finale bittersweet.
The chefs will be helping each cheftestant as a sous chef in the kitchen for this challenge. HOLY CRAP. Amar, your thoughts?
And Jeremy, your thoughts?
The chefs break away to set up their dishes. Amar’s four ingredients are tuna, sea urchin, lamb and coconut. In four separate dishes, not all at once that might be weird.
Jeremy is going foie gras, duck, branzini and cheese. His dessert is going to be a cheese course. It better be great.
The groups go to Whole Foods in Vegas. I’ve been to Vegas five or six times and I can honestly say I haven’t ever been to the Whole Foods. Are the slot machines organic?
Jean-Georges is working on the foie gras for Jeremy and thinks “you guys are crazy” for doing a duo of foie on the dish, one cold and one hot. Jeremy is going with his gut.
He’s doing the sea bass second, with a removed skin, rolled and frozen and turned into a crumble.
Third he’s doing a roasted duck with “different textures and gels” and, while I’m sure it will be delicious, “gels” is not a delicious word.
On Amar’s side, Charlie Palmer is prepping the lamb, and says it’s humbling that when Amar started working for him he washed dishes because he wanted to be in the kitchen, not because he needed a dishwashing job. Now, a decade later, he’s in the finale of Top Chef.
“No one is too good to do anything. Sometimes we forget that, you know, people get big heads and stuff.”
Palmer tells his side of their falling out, flat out saying that at times when he worked for Palmer, Amar crossed the line from being confident to being a complete asshole (his word, bleeped). They haven’t seen each other in a few years, but Palmer thinks their reuinion is a good thing for both of them.
Amar is going tuna tataki with his first course, a sea urchin and lobster risotto for his second course and for his third course, he’s doing lamb two ways, one traditional rack of lamb and one lamb bastilla, which is a meat pie from Morocco. For dessert, it’s a coconut financier with tropical fruits.
In walk Tom and Emeril who joke with Jean-Georges that the last time he was a sous chef was in 1979. The old rich chefs think that’s hilarious.
They talk about Jeremy’s evolution in this competition, and as a chef in his career, and how he makes food that pops. No snap and crackle, eh? Ah well.
Over at Amar’s station, Emeril jokes that Charlie Palmer seems exhausted before Tom brings up the loss of Amar’s dad and how it changed his career path. They did not address the bad blood between chef and mentor.
As time expires for the day, the celebrechefs clock out and it’s just the cheftestants, with one meal before the winner is announced.
Amar points out as the chefs get dressed for the next and final day that the person who wins the first challenge of the season has gone on to win Top Chef several times, and since Jeremy won the first challenge, that makes Amar the underdog. He’s not wrong, in that he’s probably the underdog, but that logic makes absolutely zero sense in a show like this. Yes, being the best chef when you come in may lead to being the best chef at the end, but the entire premise of Top Chef is who can evolve over the weeks on the show and who can survive the pressure of cooking under such scrutinizing circumstances week after week. And yet, not only did Jeremy win the first challenge, but he won the last two. So Amar is right, Jeremy is the favorite.
When the cheftestants enter the kitchen for the last time, Amar prods Jeremy for taking way too long to explain his complicated dishes to the sous chefs who remain. Amar is more about “bold flavors” (another horribly overused cliché in the culinary TV world) and lets the food and his technique say more than gimmicky, confusing dishes.
Right on cue, the producers edit in this shot of Jeremy opening his roll of foie gras they made the day before. That’s a plastic tube rolled in plastic wrap and tape that Jeremy is, well, licking and biting to open! People are going to eat what’s inside of that, man.
Jeremy called his foie gras acetate tubes “sexy” (yet another overused food cliché term) which in this case is doubly bad considering it was just, you know, on his tongue.
The judges arrive at Tom’s restaurant and split into two tables. Tom and Padma are with Richard Blais, Hubert Keller and Charlie Palmer while Gail Simmons and Emeril are with Jean-Georges, Dominique Crenn of Atelier Crenn and someone who I don’t believe they ever identified and who I sadly do not recognize.
The chefs walk out to a packed house and the moment hits them both. Padma welcomes them and Jeremy starts off the meal, explaining his foie gras dish that even Amar called “sexy”.
Amar’s dish is the tuna, and he commented before they left the kitchen that he finds it funny he ripped Jeremy for making a crudo so many times this season—Jeremy even mentioned to Tom he couldn’t do it again in the finale—which left the door open for Amar to do one because, as he reminds us, they always win.
That’s when the chefs see their families there. It’s amazing how shows are able to bring family members in—they flew everyone to Vegas—and the chefs don’t even know they are there. It’s so weird. Like wouldn’t you text your son and be like “hey I’m going to be in Vegas for the finale tomorrow, do a good job?”
Would they eliminate your son if you did that? Come on.
They love Jeremy’s foie gras dish. Love it. That’s a great start for him.
For Amar’s dish, the flavors were very bold, including a habanero cream that punched everyone right in the face. The judges remark about how it’s a tough choice who won the first round, but based on their comments while eating the dishes, it was Jeremy.
Up next is course two, and Jeremy is freaking out because some of his portions aren’t done.
They’re recooking some of the fish, and have seven minutes to do it, which is honestly plenty of time and might just be drama for the sake of drama. Meanwhile, Amar is creating his own drama by doing a risotto in Tom’s restaurant during a Top Chef finale. Dude.
When they present their second courses, Jeremy explains they took the skin off the branzini and uses the term “scraped it” which sounds like one of those words you shouldn’t say to a room of people about to eat a dish you prepared.
Amar calls back to Santa Barbara, giving a little visualization for the sea urchin and lobster risotto.
They love Amar’s dish. Tom said, “everything I think is perfect,” while Padma and Blais politely nod.
Jeremy’s dish wasn’t as well received. It’s called “well balanced” by some, but Tom did not care for it as much, saying everything got lost in the sauce. It’s pretty clear that they are tied, with Jeremy winning round one and Amar round two. As Tom says, “the game is on.”
(No, I didn’t put a Sherlock Holmes hat on Tom. Yes, I should have.)
For the third course, the issues with the fish set Jeremy’s duck back and when he went to cut into the first piece, it was still raw. Bro, your thoughts?
“It’s duck hell right now.” They don’t have time to let the duck rest, which is really going to be an issue when they’re slicing and serving.
On the other side, Marjorie says she thinks the lamb needs another few minutes, but Amar says no, and thinks the lamb is cooked perfectly. We shall see what the judges say to that.
ATTENTION DISH CUSTOMERS. THIS IS AMAR’S DISH.
And here is Jeremy’s duck dish. Just one small, but thick piece of duck. Amar gave the diners a lot of lamb. We’ll see if that is something they address.
As for flavors, some of the chefs think Amar’s lamb is slightly undercooked—dude, listen to your sous chefs—but they love the flavors and the lamb jus. The second judges table finds it undercooked too.
And speaking of undercooked, the duck is under as well and the judges seem underwhelmed with both of them. So it’s really up to dessert.
Jeremy is going with a cheese course and a ton of techniques that are great, but as Amar said, he’s done that “five or six years ago.” Amar points out that he’d rather people say a dish is amazing than interesting, and as a diner, that’s right. You want something to be memorable, but you’d rather remember how delicious it tasted than “did you notice how many different techniques the chef used on the dish?” That’s great, and it can help the presentation for sure, but taste trumps technique every time.
Amar presents his coconut financier dish first, and he isn’t happy with the density of the cake, but as long as it tastes good…
Jeremy’s plate looks amazing, and he made his own ricotta, but it’s certainly not a dessert, so he’s hoping the judges really like his cheese plate to compare with Amar’s more traditional dessert dish.
Blais said he thinks Jeremy’s technique led the dish instead of the ingredients, which didn’t sound like a compliment at all. Palmer says, “I don’t understand the honey ball.” Which is something I don’t think either of us thought he’d ever say. Tom and Padma point out it didn’t taste like honey, it tasted like sugar water.
Emeril called the dish “very intellectual” and Jean-Georges, who helped Jeremy make the dish, said he might put it on his menu in New York. It’s interesting how much more the table with Jean-Georges liked Jeremy’s menu today. Interesting.
Amar’s dish is exactly what we expected; a delicious dish but the texture of the cake was off. Again, none of the judges are wowed by the final dish. Perhaps it’s the pressure or perhaps it’s the standards the judges hold the finalists to. Either way, it seemed like a good meal, not a great one.
That makes the judging harder, because neither did anything wrong, but neither flat out wowed the diners either.
The final judges table of the season and they start with a conversation about their moms being in the restaurant.
The judges then dig in on Amar’s tuna tataki, which Blais asks if it was too safe. They did like the spice on it. They enjoyed Jeremy’s dish more, though, especially the odd combination of marshmallow and foie gras with passion fruit.
The second course, Tom points out that there was a lot going on in Jeremy’s dish, and the other judges seemed to like it more than Tom.
Amar admitted that the risotto was a challenge because of how many people failed making it in the past on this show. They really liked it. Gail called it the best risotto they’ve had on the show in many, many seasons.
Course three starts like this:
Jeremy: I don’t like too rare of a duck because it’s like a chewy texture, so I was going like mid rare to like medium.
Tom: Did you see the ducks when they went out?
Tom: That’s interesting. (Dramatic pause.) Mine was really undercooked.
Jeremy said that he was running around and would have like to give the duck more love (insert image of him liking a foie gras tube here) and Padma shoots back, “this is the main ingredient! This is what you’re highlighting!”
Amar was asked how he likes his lamb and he said “rare to mid rare” which is probably too rare. And it was. Only Gail had a piece that was to the right temperature, so this wasn’t an execution error, it was a decision Amar consciously made and was wrong on. When judging, I’m not sure which will be knocked more, improper technique or poor decisions.
For the final course, they begin with Amar’s dish and they liked the flavors but the cake was too dense. Blais points out that the issue may have been in the presentation of the dish. Calling it a financier left the diner with an expectation he didn’t deliver. If Amar called it a “sticky coconut cake” people would have maybe liked it more.
Gail and Emeril, who sat with Jean-Georges, liked Jeremy’s dish and think it delivered. Tom, Padma and Blais didn’t care for the “honey water ball” as much.
They have no idea who has won yet, Padma tells them. Maybe they can just split the money?
The judges’ deliberation is difficult because one of the chefs was more technique forward and the other is flavor forward. Again, the decision for Tom, Padma, Gail, Emeril and Blais will be to decide amongst the five of them which type of food they put more value in. Is a tasty dish that has a ton of neat tricks but less flavor like gels and honey balls a better dining experience than a rustic, flavorful dish without a ton of bells and whistles but did have a few technical flaws.
Had either of them cook their protein in the third course properly for the judges this contest would be over. Alas, it’s a really hard decision. If I had to guess at this point, I’d say Jeremy is going to win, because if you do something simpler like Amar did, you better nail it. If they’re both diving off the high dive and have a little too much splash, the one with the higher degree of difficulty is always going to win.
The families and sous chefs and celebrity chefs and other cheftestants who were not shown at all during the eating scenes, were they, all await Amar and Jeremy as they come back for final judgment.
Tom talks about their influences in their lives before passing it to Padma, who announces the winner gets $125,000 and the title. The winner is…
Jeremy. He is Top Chef.
“No f**king way,” he yells out. Mom, your thoughts?
This is one of those seasons where it was a great showcase of unknown chefs who have now become known thanks to this show continuing to be the best cooking competition on television. And even though a guy who was at times the best and at times the worst and was totally bro’d out all season won, it was still a good season.
This will undoubtedly boost the careers of both Amar and Jeremy, more so the guy who just won $125,000 for sure, but it was a fine season, albeit another year with a winner who is a very, very good chef but certainly not a fan favorite.
Amar’s consolation was a kiss on the cheek from Gail. His reaction was hilarious.
Jeremy ends with a nice note to his daughter, a sweet way to end the season, as we all pack our knives and go. Congrats, Jeremy, and happy anniversary to Top Chef.