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Top Chef season finale recap: Lucky Steph

After the three finalists collaborate with star chefs to create a traditional four-course meal, the judges pick the series’ first woman winner

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Top Chef

TV Show
Current Status:
In Season
Tom Colicchio, Padma Lakshmi, Gail Simmons
Reality TV

Compadres, it’s been a long and interesting season of Top Chef, and after today we part. Sniff. If you missed last night’s finale, it was off the hook. With the golden TC trophy in sight, Lisa went completely bonkers, sabotaging Stephanie by tripping her in the kitchen. Stephanie sprained her wrist and thus had to cook the finale meal with one arm in a sling and even knead pasta dough with her feet. Thatwould have been much more exhilarating to watch than what actually happened: a straightforward final competition in which Lisa, Richard, and Stephanie created a four-course meal using the traditional progression — fish to poultry to red meat to dessert. (Read: sort of dull.)

Way before tuning into Bravo last night, I noticed the Chicago Tribune was touting a live chat that would be taking place today with Stephanie, which made me wonder: Do they already know something we don’t? It turns out they might have. (Read our own interview with Stephanie.)

The episode started out with the three finalists having breakfast together, and you could cut the tension at the table with a knife. Richard and Stephanie seemed annoyed by Lisa’s company, perhaps because she had called them out last episode for not congratulating her for winning third place. ”I still can’t get over how Lisa is still here,” Richard said. ”I think a chef has to be a leader, and she’s just got a bad attitude. I don’t think Lisa deserves to win Top Chef.” But the irony of her presence wasn’t lost on Lisa. ”I’m in the finale,” she said, ”and I just kind of managed to get through by the skin of my teeth. But you know what, I don’t care that Stephanie and Richard won a bunch of eliminations and I’ve only won one.”

To be precise, Richard and Stephanie each won 4 of the 13 rounds of competition. So most of them. Which is why, after they drew knives to break the tie, Stephanie got first pick of one of three celebrity chefs who would serve as sous chefs, each of whom came with a different list of proteins to work with for the final dinner. Stephanie picked Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin, and Richard picked Dan Barber of Blue Hill, leaving Lisa with April Bloomfield of the Spotted Pig. The Spotted Pig has become an überly hip place to dine at in New York. Anthony Bourdain has discussed its gastropub mojo on No Reservations, and it actually made an appearance on a season finale of The Office.) Speaking of, this role reversal reminded me of the socially inept awkwardness of Office Space. The cheftestants suddenly became Lumberghs, ordering Miltons around: ”Um, yeaaaah, could you just filet that fish this way. Yeaaaah, thanks.” Except the Miltons were super-respected, award-winning chefs, and fileting fish is like handling the roach problem in the basement. Stephanie joked about ordering Ripert around: ”So I tell Eric how I want him to cut the snapper, and then I just sort of hover over him….I think he got a little, like, offended for a sec. He’s like, ‘I know.’ ”

NEXT: Richard chills out