Top Chef season 13 finale recap: The winner is...
After a very exciting showdown last week, Jeremy emerged victorious and Amar made a blazing comeback from Last Chance Kitchen. (Am I the only one who felt a tiny bit bad for Jason, winning for so long only to lose LCK so late in the game?) Now that they were the final two, Amar and Jeremy sized each other up over a game of pool, with Amar noting that Jeremy tends to go a little crazy under pressure.
The final two had the pleasure of having Tom cook a private, four-course dinner for them. The most delicious-looking course was the first one, the crab and sea urchin with finger limes. Every season has its disproportionately used odd ingredient, and this season, it’s either finger limes or Dungeness crab.
Tom’s dinner was only an amuse-bouche to the final challenge, which would have Jeremy and Amar make four-course meals of their own, with each course highlighting an ingredient they particularly love to cook with.
When the final two showed up at the kitchen, all the previously eliminated chefs were waiting for them. Amar and Jeremy got a choice of two chefs to help them each. Amar, who got to choose first, picked Kwame because he knew Jeremy wanted him; Jeremy then chose Carl, Amar chose Marjorie to help with breads and desserts, and Jeremy chose Angie for her prep skills and speed. For someone who got eliminated so early, Angie has a great record for being chosen first for challenges.
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The twist of the challenge was that Jeremy and Amar’s mentors — superstar chefs Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Charlie Palmer, respectively — were on hand to help prep and cook. Jean-Georges and Jeremy have the kind of relationship where they can call each other “bro,” but Charlie and Amar have a deep, complicated history. They apparently had a falling out, with Amar becoming arrogant as he struck out on his own, having said things he “regrets to this day.” We didn’t get an exact picture of what happened between these two, but Charlie, despite claiming he wasn’t one to hold a grudge, seemed to display of pride and spite toward Amar, reminding Amar that no one’s too good to wash dishes and telling the camera, “There’s a difference between being confident and being an a-hole.” There’s a story here, and I suspect it resembles that of a young Padawan defying his master.
NEXT: A four-course shootout
At the dinner service at Craftsteak, Jeremy and Amar went head to head in each course. In the First Course, Jeremy served foie gras two ways with chili, passion fruit, and marshmallows. It was such a strange combination, but it seemed to work; unlike Carl earlier in the season, Jeremy figured out how to do a torchon in a limited amount of time. Amar served seared tuna tataki; Gail complimented the brightness of the flavors, but Charlie reacted strongly to the spice of the dressing. From the sounds of it, Jeremy won the first round.
Following that was the Second Course. Jeremy served up bright green bronzini fillets, slathered in lime vinaigrette, squash, and tomatoes. Tom thought the details of the flavors were lost in the sauce, although everyone loved the sweetness of the tomatoes. Amar dared to make a risotto, the dish that sent countless chefs home in the past, but Amar knocked it out of the park. Gail said it was the best risotto they’ve had in many, many seasons, although the undercooked duck was a problem. Even though both dishes had problems, it seems Amar’s risotto won him this course.
They both stumbled in the Third Course: Jeremy for his almost raw duck, and Amar for inconsistently cooked lamb. When Padma said she liked Amar’s lamb jus, Charlie was quick to take some of the credit for that. Tom noted that both of the dishes were actually pretty similar, but there were basic cooking issues in both — it sounded like this round was a draw.
Last came the Fourth Course, and both chefs went all out. Amar’s coconut financier had great flavors, but Charlie noted that the texture of the financier wasn’t right. Jeremy concocted a highly unusual cheese dish, with a ricotta and mozzarella cylinder with spiced fig jam, pumpernickel toast, and what he called a “honey water ball.” This whole dish was a little too molecular gastronomy — Richard complained that the technique drove the dish, not the ingredients, but Jean-Georges stood firmly by his protegee, saying he wanted to put this dish on one of his menus. Perhaps JG’s enthusiasm pushed Jeremy to a slight edge in this round.
At the judges table, Padma gave the familiar spiel of “We don’t know who’s winning this thing!” She said one chef was technique-forward, and one was flavor-forward. Clearly she meant Amar was the flavor-forward chef, which I thought meant he was the winner — judges always go for flavor — but instead, she announced that Jeremy had won, and he reacted in his typical bro-y way: “No f—ing way! Holy s—!”
It’s not a terribly surprising win, since he did win the first Quickfire, which is a pretty solid predictor of the overall winner of Top Chef. It’s worth noting that there wasn’t much of a dominant chef this season, but Jeremy was a solid performer week to week, except for the time he came up with his Taco Dudes concept restaurant. It wasn’t a mind-blowing season, but there were some memorable chefs — I’m thinking of Marjorie, Isaac, and Kwame — and Jeremy is far from the least worthy winner we’ve had. I hope his daughter is indeed proud!