Top Chef: Miami
Finale Part 2
The chefs know going into the finale that they will be able to make whatever they want, but they don’t know exactly what kind of food they will have access to. I know some of them like to decide what they are going to make spontaneously, but wouldn’t they have some recipes prepared, like desserts, that always seem to impress the judges? The judges love it when someone does a great dessert, so you think they would all have something like that to pull out of their hat for the finale. I am also surprised if they had a break between the third to last episode and going up to Aspen, they would have done some preparation for cooking at high-altitudes. I was amazed when Casey and Dale were yelling at water not boiling, or even thinking a souffle would be a possibility there.
The chefs get lift tickets to go up to the tippy top of Aspen Mountain to find out about their final challenge. They arrive to the Aspen Mountain Club where a year’s membership is $100,000. Wha?!?
The final challenge will be for them to cook the best meal they can, but they will not be cooking one after the other, but all at the same time in the kitchen, with each course being served simultaneously. They have three courses to make. They could choose from a great array of protein and produce laid out before them. They could also use any of the special ingredients they brought with them. Dale commented that tons of ingredients were at their prime, so it was a great time of the year for a cook off. Looking at the fruits that were available, I’m guessing this was shot in late spring/early summer. They had 35 minutes to come up with a menu that they had to hang over to Tom, so they couldn’t change their minds later on.
Modern Vietnamese Fusion Dish
French Style Gnocchi with Lobster
Everyone wanted to use prawns for their second course, so Dale switched his to lobster so they wouldn’t all be the same.
After they were finished with their menus, they went to the knife block. They all expected that their sous chefs would be past contestants that have already been eliminated. Hung was excited that he was first, but when Padma said he would get the chef that arrived in the first gondola, he groaned since he thought he’d be the first to choose. Hung was thinking it was going to be Micah, Howie and Clay. Imagine his surprise when Rocco Dispirito walked off the gondola. Hung looked like he was going to pee his pants. He was excited since Rocco loves Asian flavors and that’s what Hung wants to do. Casey ended up with the other female chef, Michelle Bernstein. They laughed that both the girls ended up together. Casey was excited she was with the “palette queen”. Dale ended up with Todd English, who has more restaurants than anyone in the world. Not sure about that, but it seemed like a lot. The sous chefs could not offer any advice, but just follow the chefs lead. They had three hour prep time.
Rocco was unclear about all the ingredients Hung wanted to use, but he was going to be a good soldier and just follow his lead. Michelle was unsure about Casey’s choice of pork belly. She didn’t think it would have enough time to get tender. She also made a comment about how she is a minimalist and was unsure about all the ingredients Casey was adding. I was confused since Casey had been so minimalist up to this point, why was she adding so many ingredients now? Todd thought it was awesome that he didn’t have to think and just cook. Dale referred to him as his “prep bitch”. Haha, Dale is hilarious. Todd was worried Dale’s menu was very complex and some of the flavors might not meld. He did like that it was regional and seasonal.
The next day, they have two hours before service. With an hour left to go, Tom comes around to see how things are going. He also has a little surprise for them. They all had to add another course to their meal and it could go anywhere during the course of the meal. Hung took it in stride and Dale wanted to punch Tom in the face. haha! The good news was they were also given sous chefs to help them out with the last hour and extra dish. It was Sara, CJ and Howie that would be helping them. Sara went with Hung, Casey was with Howie and CJ was with Dale.
Hung had a idea in mind already. He had a chocolate cake with a recipe already ready. He gave it to Sara for her to make. Casey and Howie came up with the extra dish together. Casey came up with the basic idea and Howie said what he could do with it, and she left it up to Howie to figure out while she finished up everything else. Dale had an idea for a scallop dish as the second course. He told CJ everything he had in mind and how to execute it, and then left it to Casey.
The meal would be served to the judges (Tom, Padma, Ted Allen and Gail Simmons), celebrity sous (Michelle Bernstein, Rocco Dispirito, Todd English) and Brian Malarkey, the last chef to be kicked off, but apparently wasn’t sent home from Aspen yet.
“Fish and Chips” Hamachi, Potatoes, Olive Oil & Tomato Vinaigrette
Ted loved Hung’s sophisticated play on fish and chips. Michelle liked how he thought of the texture with the smooth fattiness of the fish with the crunchy texture of the chips. She wished it had some acid in it though. I still don’t know what that means.
Foie Gras Mousse with Peaches Ras El Hanout Gastrique & Arugula
Rocco said the mousse was very rich. Michelle agreed it was nice and rich, but too heavy. Tom wanted there were beets on it, and not just raw beets. Michelle and Gail did love the flavors.
Cinnamon Scented Scallop with Celery & Foie Gras with Apple
Everyone loved all of it except for the roe. It just upset the entire plate.
Shrimp with Palm Sugar, Cucumber Salad & Coconut Foam
Padma said Hung’s dish lacked acid, but it was so close to being perfect. Gail said Hung was finally bringing Hung flavor that we hadn’t seen before. That is a scary sentence right there. Michelle said it was a great second course, she loved the buttery of the coconut, but it did need more flavor. Todd said it was conceptually good, but he needed more confidence. Hung?
Dale – Surprise Dish
Seared Scallop with Purslane Grapes & Sweet Corn
Rocco said Dale’s dish was pretty amazing. Michelle agreed it was so good. Todd loved the texture. Brian said Dale wasn’t holding back. Todd said after working with him, he knows he isn’t holding anything back. Michelle was really impressed that it was his surprise dish and it was the favorite of everything she had so far.
Poached Prawn with Rice Cake in Lobster Mushroom Broth
Michelle said what she liked about Casey’s dish was she could see how hard she was trying. Todd commented that it was the second dish in a row with the salmon roe. Ted said it was too much stuff. What is up Casey? Were you picking up where Brian left off?
Sous Vide Duck with Mushroom Ragout & Truffle Sauce
Todd said the duck was cooked incredible. It was very tender and delicious. It was his best dish yet and said it was 3-star Michelin in his book. Michelle said it was perfect and she was jealous. Rocco said while he was cutting stuff, he was convinced that Hung was having him do stuff to stay out of his hair and that none of it would end up in the food, but now he is seeing it all in this dish. Brian said he couldn’t find any fault at all
Lobster, Corn, Mushrooms & Gnocchi in Curry Jus
Michelle said the gnocchi was really heavy. The curry overwhelmed everything. Rocco was excited when he said the chanterelle mushrooms, corn and lobster, but then the sauce hit him and it fell flat. What is up Dale? Aren’t you the king of sauces? Tom said it was terrible.
Crispy Pork Belly over Pea Shoots with a Roasted Peach & Creme Fraichee
Tom said the peach was perfectly cooked, but the pork belly was not. Todd was so excited for the dish, but disappointed in how the pork belly turned out. Michelle was worried from conception about it, and thinks she might have left it in the oven and forgotten about it.
Hung – Surprise Dish
Chocolate Cake with Raspberries & Nougatine Tuile
Rocco was happy there was a dessert somewhere in the meal. Gail said it looked really nice. Rocco said it was a great way to end Hung’s meal. It wasn’t Asian-inspired, but it was a perfect chocolate cake with a perfect creme fraichee. Tom said it was disjointed and didn’t follow the rest of Hung’s meal. Todd said the point was to blow them away and it didn’t blow him away. It was nice, but not wow.
Poached Lamb with Eggplant Puree Tomatoes & Squash
Everyone loved this dish. Tom said it had a lot of flavor.
Casey – Surprise Dish
Seared Sirloin with Potatoes, Mushrooms, Ruby Chard & Parsley Puree
Tom said that Casey redeemed herself with this dish. Brian said Casey was back with meat and potatoes. Rocco said it was her best dish. Michelle said Casey was showing herself in the dish by keeping it simple where you could taste all the ingredients.
They brought all the chefs in to talk to them first. They talked with Dale. He said he wanted his first course to be a cannoli, but there was no fryer. He did say that it needed a crunch or some bread, but it wasn’t in the cards for him that day. Tom told him his second course was a triumph. He said the scallops were perfectly cooked. There was a great balance between the sweetness of the grapes and the acid added to the dish. It was a great dish. Tom told him the lobster dish was a mess. The lobster was undercooked, the gnocchi was too heavy and the curry was overpowering. Gail asked if Dale had ever done the lamb dish before. He said he had never done it before, but an adaptation to the altitude. Tom said it was a dish he should keep with him as part of his menu forever. Dale looked overly pleased.
Onto Casey, Padma asked her how she thought it went. Casey said she was rattled. Padma asked why she didn’t come prepared with two or three dishes in her repertoire that could be made with very basic ingredients. Casey said she would get caught up in the moment when she saw the ingredients made available to her. She also wanted to do a sake-poached gala apple for the first course, but Hung took too much sake for his dishes. She wanted to use leeks, but there were no leeks. Tom said there were since he was hoping someone would use them. I guess she missed them. Casey said she used the salmon roe to add color. Gail said it changed the entire dish. Casey said it ruined it all, alright. Tom said it didn’t ruin it all, but it put the dish out of balance. Casey started to blame her second dish on her sous chef and losing control on plating it. What does that have to do with flavors? Then she tried to blame her performance on an added course, yet Tom pointed out that everyone was under the same conditions. Oh Casey, I’m so disappointed. So many excuses. It is like she lost her head in the altitude! Casey was happy with the pork belly, but she didn’t taste it. Tom said it was in the oven for too long and it was dried out. They complimented the beef dish and she admitted it was pretty much all Howie. Her best dish was Howie’s dish. Ouch! She was getting a bit choked up when she admitted that, but at least she admitted it.
Hung said he had so much fun. He said he likes to be spontaneous when he sees ingredients, which could count for his first three courses, but he had the recipe for the chocolate cake, so he planned that course, at least as a back up. The judges talked about the lack of acid in the first course. That surprised Hung. Gail said the rice in the second course was bland and she wanted more acid. Hung loved his duck dish. Tom told Hung about Todd’s 3-star Michelin comment, which blew Hung away. Dale agreed it was incredible. Tom told Hung he needed to keep that dish in his menu like Dale’s lamb dish. The camera panned to Casey who had no dish stand out like that, so she already knew the outcome for her. Hung said he played it safe with the dessert since he wasn’t familiar with it and it was a classic. Tom said the rest of his dishes were modern, but that wasn’t modern.
The chefs were sent out. They picked winners for each course. Hung’s dish won for first course. Dale won the second course. Hung won the third course. Dale won the fourth course. They had a tie between those two. Hung had one outstanding dish while Dale had two of them, but Dale had an inedible course. Would inconsistency ruin it for Dale? Would Hung win by being consistently okay, even though he lacked acid in two dishes, but had one superb dish? Tom said he would eat all of Hung’s dishes again, but Tom said he would never eat that lobster dish again. Gail loved that Dale made that lamb he had never made before and it really showcased his talent as a chef. My choice would have been Dale for the reasons she gave along with his two outstanding dishes that won raves. Hung won one course due to the other two dishes not being all that great.
Many months later, it was the live finale in Chicago where they asked all the chefs what they thought after they were able to watch the entire season, and the last episode. Casey knew she had lost. Tom told her that the next time he is in Texas, he’ll be eating in her restaurant. Tom told Dale he was glad he had found his inner chef again. Tom said Hung had showed everyone the entire season he was a great technical chef, but he finally married it with passion in the finale. Hung was picked as the overall winner.
Photo Source: Top Chef