Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Sepinwall on TV: 'Top Chef' finale preview

In today's column, I look ahead to tonight's fifth season finale of "Top Chef." I never did get around to blogging on any of the episodes, for one reason or another, but it's been a mostly enjoyable edition, I've found. And Fabio needs his own show, like, yesterday.


Anonymous said...

I've really enjoyed this season, except for the Hosea/Leah make-out session -- that was just boring. Who cares?

Anyway, the thing I like about Carla is her positive attitude. My 1st impression of her was that she was a sensitive, weak person and that this competition would eat her alive -- boy was I wrong. And I don't think she improved with no explanation -- by h er own admission, she had to stop over thinking everything (which was the root of Jeff's demise) and just do what she knows best. Once she re-focused herself, she's been kicking ass.

Fabio has an adorable personality -- you could tell the judges were just CRAZY about him. I agree that he needs his own show -- I'd rather watch him instead of Rachael ray anyday -- maybe Lidia Bastianich will take him under her wing...she DID love his roast chicken!

Anonymous said...

*Ding* on Toby Young. That guy needs to never be on my TV again. Welcome back, Gail.

Alan, any initital thoughts on what we've heard about "Top Chef Masters"?

Paul Rinkes said...

I think the decision to boot Fabio was to create the Stefan/Hosea drama for the finale.

That sort of manipulation of the contestants usually doesn't annoy me, but this time it did. You are right -- Fabio was fantastic.

Adam said...

I'd truly hate it if the producers used any of the interpersonal stuff in forcing an elimination which the cooking didn't justify.

I do think the question of what constitutes a satisfying reality competition victory is the right one to ask -- when I think about my favorite seasons of Survivor, it's that Fireman Tom/Danni pair in the middle (plus Romber in All-Stars) where we enjoyed a fun story throughout and an ending that tied it all together well. When Christian Sirano won Runway, that was satisfying.

But anyone other than Stefan winning here? It would feel like the rugged-pulled-out compared to what we've seen to date, as though Kim Locke had bested Ruben and Clay in AI2 or any of the unsatisfying under-the-radar wins on Survivor.

I want the most talented folks to win, and they're not necessarily the most likeable.

PatGLex said...

Yes, Stefan may be the most talented, but he's really slipped lately in his dishes. Last season I thought Richard was the clear winner, but he really collapsed in the finale meal and let Stephanie get the victory -- and he admitted it. I see something similar happening tonight -- not that I'm predicting that Carla will win, necessarily.

I think Carla has done well lately because in the past she was, as Sonia said above, trying to overthink her dishes -- trying to meet some sort of artificial "level" she thought the judges were looking for, and not just doing her own thing, which is why she was chosen for the show in the first place. (I think Tom C. has even mentioned that at judges table from time to time in the past two seasons -- I've only been watching it the last two....)

And on Tom C.'s blog at the Bravo website, he did intimate that Fabio has something great ahead of him. Maybe the reunion show will give us some hints.

If Stefan wins tonight, so be it. But I'm not going to be excited about it.

Grunt said...

You can actually see when Carla turned back into a chef. It was in the middle of the season, right after the two-out-of-three elimination where she was saved from the chopping block. I think she knows how absolutely close she came and completely rejiggered her game.

And since then she has done simple, elegant, solid flavor profiles. It's not the kind of flashy stuff that works in the first few rounds, it's the kind of stuff that works when you want to open a restaurant.

So I think Stephan will win, but it wouldn't surprise me if Carla blows both Stephan and Hosea out of the water. And I won't be sorry about it.

Michaelangelo McCullar said...

There was a definite turning point with Carla this season. After the first competition with Toby as the guest judge, Carla was in the bottom three. She had originally planned to do a vegitable risotto but decided to add scallops to the dish, fearing the judges may not get a dish with a lack of protein. After she was nearly eliminated she said she was going to stop cooking what she thought the judges might want and start cooking her own food. And ever since then she's been on a roll. So it's not the out of nowhere turnaround that you thought it was, Alan.

Anonymous said...

Toby Young is a horrible addition to this show - if you read his bio, he is barely even a restaurant critic in the first place. His principal claim to fame is as an author and magazine editor.

One gets the impression from him that he spent weeks prior to filming the show's episodes preparing his awfully-unfunny sayings, and then memorized all of them right before the cameras started to roll. This guy needs to go.

Nicole said...

The only good thing about Toby Young was seeing how much Tom and Padma couldn't stand him by the end of his run. His analogies were always too forced and he was just trying to hard. Tom looked ready to smack him in his last episode.

I am glad that Carla was able to pick it up midway thought the run, but then if she was classically trained, she would have had the skills to do that. I do think that Stefan is ultimately going to win. His near elimination last week was the wake up call to get back on track. I also think the arrogance was more of an act than anything. You can tell that the other contestants seemed to like him in most moments, except for Hosea, who is probably using this rivalry as part of his storyline.

Fabio will probably come back to help the chefs in the finale. He is a definite high point to this year's season.

The low point was the Leah/Hosea makeout... it was irrelevant to the show and I don't watch Top Chef for the potential dating.

Anonymous said...

If the judges deem Carla the best tonight, or even if Hosea somehow takes the prize, I won't be outraged. But I think I'll feel disappointed, because it seems like the show was telling me one thing for several months and is now telling me something else at the end.

I watch America's Next Top Model, so I'm used to that. No one changes her mind like Miss Tyra. :)

I think Carla has earned her position in the top three. (Not that I think you're saying that, Alan. Just putting it out there.) Granted, she didn't do well early on; but as you mentioned, Stefan has been stumbling a bit lately, so I think it evens out.

I am rooting for Carla to win. She seems to be just as skilled as Stefan, and, although they're both passionate about the food they make, I'm more drawn to her kind of passion for cooking. Even though she's classically trained, her cooking is truly intuitive and does come "from the heart". When she cooks something simple, it's "simple" in a way that a home cook understands, not "simple" in a cooking world way. Tom not only acknowledged that, but he praised her for it.

There won't be any grumblings about Stefan not deserving it if he wins, but I'm solidly on Team Carla.

As for Hosea, I liked him just fine in the beginning, but his pettiness has turned me off. It's not just his raging envy of Stefan I don't like. After his make-out session with Leah, he started dissing her like a high schooler who's scored with some random girl and now just wants her to go away.

Besides that, he been inconsistent all season. Instead of getting better, he's been up and down a lot. I don't think he's as skilled as either Stefan or Carla. Oddly enough, I was really happy for him that he did so well the last two weeks.

I love Fabio. You have to love someone who breaks a finger and keeps on cooking. He probably did deserve to go home last week, but I hate that he was eliminated.

Anonymous said...

I never realized how much I missed Gail, until they replaced her with Toby, and then she came back.

Her comments last week revealed to me what the food tasted like. She described the flavor notes in each dish,which is much more productive than the annoying metaphors from Toby. Plus, she is positive and enthusiastic -- a nice counter-point to Tom's grumpiness (which I love) and Padma's lack of input (which I could care less about).

Chickenlady said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I disagree completely about Carla's potential for the win.

She clearly has adapted her approach as she learned the feel for this artificial competition and figured out how to thrive. I also sense that she has a natural gift for cooking that can't really be taught or developed, and that with the opportunities this season, she has grown and shaped her skills. I know nothing about cooking, but I would imagine it's like any skill: modeling, sports, writing... you can make yourself good at just about anything, but in the end some have a natural affinity for something and others, no matter how hard they try, just don't. Carla seems to have that more than anyone here, and while Stephan is clearly a great chef and works hard at it (and talks about it all the live long day), I think Carla still has a quality that he does not.

Someone on another site put it best: I recognize that some of these folks are very talented, but given a choice, I'd take Carla's restaurant every time. I want to eat her food, and I don't care if I eat anyone else's. She seems to understand not only cooking but the AUDIENCE for cooking, and that is a rare combination.

So I'd love it if she won. But I won't be surprised or disappointed if Stephan does.

Josea gives me the creeps, so I certainly don't want to see him win. He seems to have a basic insecurity that makes him VERY unlikable for me. Also, that deal with Leah earlier was ICKY. I wish both of them had gone home a while back.

I do wish Jamie had stayed around longer.

Anonymous said...

"It's Top Chef, it's not top pussy." Just for that comment alone, I think Fabio deserves to have won this season.

Hal Incandenza said...

Re: Toby Young--> never thought anyone would make me miss Gail Simmons, but here we are.

Taleena said...

Re: Toby Young--> never thought anyone would make me miss Gail Simmons, but here we are.

Amen! Oh how I miss Ted Allen and Antony Bourdain. Bourdain may act like an ass but he knows what he is talking about.

Bianca said...

I loved Fabio. He was great. But since he's no longer with us I'm pulling for Carla.

Out of curiosity, does anyone know how far in advance this is filmed? I've never come across spoilers for past seasons or anything. I know the season itself was over the summer and then I heard Hosea say 3 months had passed since he'd seen Leah during last weeks ep. I wonder how long they have to keep the cat in the bag about the winner.

tabernacle said...

I couldn't stomach a Hosea win--dude's too douchey.

Stefan had two things going for him from the beginning: (1) he won a lot; (2) his camaraderie with Fabio. Fabio's liking him vetted Stefan, as it were; it gave us permission to like Stefan.

Similarly (kinda), Carla's recent victories have given us permission to enjoy her warmth, kookiness, and general lovability. All that "Sending the love" nonsense rubbed me the wrong way; but now, when it's backed up by skill, I find it charming.

There's an underlying thing, I'm sure, of being reluctant to invest in someone who has little chance of winning a/o who will reveal himself/herself a fool and embarrass the fans by extension.

Anyway, anyone but Hosea (douche).

tabernacle said...

PS: And I would *die* if an editor had the guts to change, just once, Padma's voiceover intro to "Previously, on _Top Pussy_..."

Anonymous said...

I dig Stefan because he's clearly the best at what he does, he knows food (see the fish episode), and he knows he knows food. I had no sympathy for any of the chefs (Hosea) who started to complain about his frequent winning. If he made anything look easy, it's because he's skilled. And really, all of them should've been making it look easy too.

Anonymous said...

Out of curiosity, does anyone know how far in advance this is filmed? I've never come across spoilers for past seasons or anything. I know the season itself was over the summer and then I heard Hosea say 3 months had passed since he'd seen Leah during last weeks ep. I wonder how long they have to keep the cat in the bag about the winner.

The NY part of the competition was filmed around August-September. The finale in New Orleans was filmed months later-- just a few weeks ago, I assume. So the news about the winner doesn't have all that much time to leak.

It's a shame that Tony Bourdain and Ted Allen were too busy with their own shows (on other cable nets) to judge this season of Top Chef. Toby Young was a poor choice. Maybe they can get other critics into the mix for the next season. Maybe the newspaper restaurant critic for the host city or a critic emiritus?

mosaica said...

I think what irks me the most about Stefan is that it seems as though he is *trying* to be a jerk. It's obvious he's incredibly skilled (his egg quick fire challenge was brilliant) but he decided to be a jerk from the begining and that's just snotty.

There's a part of me rooting for Hosea (even though he's a bit whiny and totally screwy) because he's from my home state.

And Karla, whom I affectionately refer to as "The Fraggle", has really been a breath of fresh air.

And I guess for me it really comes down what kind of food do you like? Do like, and therefore respect, the high class, exceptionally hard to execute food that Stefan does? Or do you like the down home, consistent, simple and just plain tasty food that Karla does?

I just don't know yet. I'm excited to see what they all do this evening.

rb said...

In the immortal words of Billy Joel, it's all about soul. The judges have repeatedly beat this drum throughout the show's life, cook from the heart, show us who you are as a chef, etc. And from what we've seen, on the soulometer:

Carla = lots
Stefan = very little

that's why I think she's the superior candidate. and I think saying she was at any point in the season a "hot mess" is exagerrating - she had a couple of mishaps but she never put out anything so bad as to be deemed 'inedible', as a couple of others did this season.

Anonymous said...

It's a shame that Tony Bourdain and Ted Allen were too busy with their own shows (on other cable nets) to judge this season of Top Chef. Toby Young was a poor choice.

I indulged in a solid five-minute pout when I realized Ted Allen was on another network (one that I don't get in my cable package) and that Top Chef wouldn't feature him as a judge this season. He and Bourdain are always my favorites -- they're funny and passionate about food and they always explain WHY they don't like something instead of just finding random insults for it (ahem, Toby Young).

Funnily, I actually like Toby's blog on the Bravo website -- he's much more coherent and sensible there than he is on the show. Maybe it's bad editing, but I get the sense that he tries way too hard to come up with the cutting bon mot, rather than just saying what he thinks.

Carla and Stefan are both cool with me as winners. I like Carla better but Stefan is clearly a good chef, and Hosea's rampant inferiority complex w/r/t Stefan just makes me think that Stefan probably *is* as good as he thinks he is.

I hope Fabio gets his own Italian cooking show or something. I would love to watch that!

Girl Detective said...

I think the moment that stood out for me re: Carla was when she clarified in the Le Bernardin ep that she was classically trained, and when Ripert quizzed her on how she'd gotten the sauce right even though the menu used the wrong term. She's grown ever more confident since then, and her risotto and sorbet wrecks really seemed to give her the confidence to do her own thing.

As for the comments about "love" and "soul" etc., I'm reminded of Hung, who won. But it comes down to who's on their game, not who is the best chef. Blais choked last season, and Lisa stepped up so much that the judges spent hours to justify Stephanie's win. If Stefan stops coasting and drops his delusions, he'll win, like he bested Carla when the freezers were down. But even Hosea could pull a win if he's on. But I hope it'll be Stefan or Carla. I do wish Jamie were sitll here rather than Hosea.

Anonymous said...

Hope the picture isn't a bit spoilery showing that Stefan gets axed early on?

I lurve him and Carla, but would ultimately pick Carla for the win cuz she's got real heart and humor and the world needs more fem cred in the high culture cooking world.


Anonymous said...

I thought they've been setting up a Hosea-Stefan showdown all season with Hosea's constant complaining/obsessing about Stefan. I really assumed Carla would be the first one to go tonight, but reading everyone's thoughts has me questioning that. I'd be happy if Carla won, understood it if Stefan won, and annoyed if Hosea won.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Okay, I'm going to shut down comments now because I'm going to be tied up for the rest of the night dealing with Lost and maybe American Idol and I don't want to have the ending spoiled. I'll get a separate finale spoiler post up in the morning whenever I've watched it.