By Helin Jung
Updated February 01, 2007 at 10:29 PM EST

I can see it already. Season 3’s Top Chef contestants will have a clause in their contracts that somehow bars them from leaving their regular jobs before the finale airs. That’s basically what started the avalanche of Internet gossip about season 2 winner Ilan Hall (pictured) recently. Ilan left his post at Casa Mono, where he’d stayed on staff as a cook until a few weeks ago. The spoilers wouldn’t stop after that, one was even doled out by Food+Wine magazine itself (might as well join the spoiler party). All that Ilan hoopla made me secretly wish that loomi loomi Marcel would win, which he didn’t do, but last night’s episode proved that he isn’t just the crock most of us have thought he was until now.

Tell me I’m not the only shifting one! Marcel started to grow on all of you, too, right? Right…? Finalist Sam Talbot was quoted in New York magazine’s Daily Intelligencer as saying that Marcel was actually even more annoying than he seemed on television, and “the past couple of episodes they’ve made him seem like some sort of a sweetheart.”

I know I’m being manipulated. It’s reality TV. But it really lookedlike Marcel was busting his sea urchin-stung fingers to attempt avictory. His platings were beautiful, which we’ve come to expect, butthe things I heard from the judges and guest chefs (who lookedexhausted by the time they got to Marcel’s presentation) had me feelinglike this guy truly thinks like an original. The food didn’t taste badeither, if we’re to believe what the judges had to say. MichelleBernstein’s words were, “The food is dancing on my tongue.” And then hegot shafted. Poor Marcel. Poor Wolverine Marcel.

Well, it’s the end of a good run. The kitchen is closed. Ilan now has $100,000, a Kenmore Pro Kitchen, an officially published profile on Food+Wine‘s website, and a lot of press to do. Marcel has the press and a huge scar over his eye. Congratulations to both!

What did you all think? Did all the spoiling turn you off fromwatching last night’s finale? Are you happy about the winner? Do youalready miss Marcel?

UPDATE: Read my post-victory interview with Ilan here.