Since I wrote a column about it yesterday, might as well way in on the actual results of the "Top Chef" finale, just as soon as I get a golden baby...
Talk about leaving a bad taste in your mouth.
Though my column was largely about how I'd feel unsatisfied if Carla beat Stefan, I still think that result would have been infinitely preferable to what we got with a Hosea victory -- and with the way that Carla lost.
Based on what we were told about the dishes, and on the show's insistence of judging meal-by-meal and not cumulatively, Hosea won fair and square. (When even Fabio is admitting he was better than Stefan, you know he deserved it.) But he was such a smarmy tool in the way he did it -- it takes a real gift to out-smug Stefan(*), you know? -- and he was so mediocre, relative to Carla and Stefan, throughout the season, that it really displeased me to see him get the win.
(*) As sad as Carla's breakdown in front of the judges was, it was nice to see how badly Stefan felt for her, and maybe a sign that a lot of his jerkiness was a persona he created, either to survive in the kitchen or to stand out on the show. Whatever the reason, he showed me something there.
Stefan made some bad choices in conception, letting his ego be his own downfall in the same way that Richard Blais' ambition tripped him up at the end of last season, when he had a million different ideas but couldn't focus on getting a few of them just right (especially once he lost his sous-chef). And that's okay. That feels consistent with his character as portrayed to date, and with the way the show is set up. You're supposed to succeed or fail on your own merits.
Carla, on the other hand, was inadvertently sabotaged by her sous-chef. The two dishes she conceived on her own were adored by the judges. The two that Casey had big input on were flops, and ultimately doomed her. I know it's Carla's fault for listening to her -- especially on the sous vide, since Casey in her season not only had no experience at the technique but didn't seem to like it (it was Hung's deal) -- but in past seasons, the finale sous-chefs were just there to help execute the chef's plan, and it appeared they weren't even allowed to offer their own suggestions. (Casey's sous-chef at the time did a talking head where she claimed she had reservations about Casey's ideas but wasn't supposed to say that to her.)
Either they changed that rule, or it was never a rule but more of an unspoken philosophical thing that Casey simply didn't abide by. Either way, even if Carla let herself be talked into that stuff, it still feels like outside forces played too big a role in her loss, and that leaves me feeling cheated.
Or maybe this gets back to what we were discussing last year, when Lisa went on that cockroach-like streak of being the second-worst chef nearly every single week, that maybe the non-cumulative judging is becoming a problem. I know Colicchio argues that if you go to a restaurant with a great reputation and eat a bad meal there your first time, you're not going to go back, but the judges (the regular ones, anyway) aren't really in the role of first-time diners, and they shouldn't be forced to act like they are. If you go to a restaurant you've previously loved and they serve you something inedible, you're not going to boycott the place; you're just going to assume the kitchen had a bad night, or that one item on the menu isn't for you, but you're probably going to go back for other things on the menu, right?
Maybe Hosea's dishes were so much better than Stefan and Carla's -- or, at least, maybe his mistakes were so much more minor -- that he would have been able to overcome going into the finale at some kind of deficit to the two superior chefs. Maybe not. But seeing the win come down entirely to a slightly above-average chef having a good night at exactly the right time frustrates me.
What did everybody else think?