[8 December 2009]
On the first part of the Top Chef finale, which aired on Bravo on Wednesday, December 2 (and which will re-air about fifty times between now and next Wednesday), the final four chef-testants (love it) were narrowed to three, and I for one was sad to see Jennifer depart. Like many viewers (the show is achieving record-high ratings for the network), I have been captivated by the current season, and I was sorry to see, in an otherwise male-dominated season, the last female contestant eliminated, especially given the misogynist comments of several cast members (Eli and Michael, particularly).
So now it’s time to place your bets… who will take the title of Top Chef? Who will win the 125K and the… kitchen equipment? A bunch of stuff from Macy’s? A photo spread in Glamour? I usually fast-forward the part where they explain the prizes.
Anyway, here is where I will be putting my money:
Third place: Sadly, Kevin.
You can usually count on a contestant’s fatal flaw being revealed in the episode before he/she is eliminated because of it. While head-judge Tom Colicchio himself espouses the beauty of cooking simple food, he is clearly infatuated with the brothers Voltaggio, and the criticisms of Kevin’s food as being perhaps too simple have increased in the past few weeks. So I think that this will be the note on which he is eliminated. He will have to make due with the obvious Fan-Favorite award during the reunion show.
The tension between simple and complex food is an important one in nearly every season of Top Chef, and it regularly provides the terminology by which the judges differentiate between the styles of various chefs. Think the technical brilliance of Hung vs. the “cooking from the heart” styles of Dale and Casey in Season 3. The problem for Kevin in the current season is that the Shakespearean drama unfolding between the brothers is clearly too compelling for the producers and judges to allow the season to end with anything other than the two of them facing off.
Second place: Michael (the mean one)
Despite the fact that it took many weeks for me to be able to tell the difference between the brothers (let’s face it, they are not inherently compelling TV characters), I now am on board with the distinctions drawn between them. Michael is brash, Bryan is reserved. Michael is experimental, Bryan is traditional. Michael criticizes the other chefs, Bryan thinks about how much he misses his son.
The Next Top Chef?
Top Chef: Bryan (the boring one)
I love Top Chef. It is easily my favorite reality show, and that’s a pretty big statement for me given that I watch a LOT of reality television. As I said at the top, I was disappointed when Jennifer was eliminated, and it strikes me as odd and a bit remarkable that Top Chef is so successful. Unlike Project Runway, or shows like Top Design or Shear Genius, where we can see the results and judge for ourselves the success or failure of the contestants, there is none of that with Top Chef. No matter how delicious the food looks or how much Padma raves or complains about it, we can never taste the food. So, instead we are forced to root for the contestants who best reflect our personalities: Jennifer is better than she thinks she is; Kevin is quiet, kind, and cooks simple and delicious food; Michael is bold, experimental, and loudly confident; Bryan is a reserved, technically-brilliant, classically-trained family man. It is in the manifestation of these differences onscreen – in its creation of these distinct (yet familiar) characters in each season of the show – that Top Chef succeeds season after season.
Ultimately, it is obviously guesswork on my part as to who will win Top Chef. While I am rooting for Kevin, it is hard to imagine these judges dismissing one of the brothers, which is why I predict that the final showdown will be between them.
Who ya got?