You’ve got to hand it to the folks at Bravo. Not only did they give us the worst Top Chef season in recent memory, they also ruined what little incentive we had to tune in to the finale by revealing the winner hours before the show. Thanks for absolutely nothing, guys!
Part 2 of the finale kicks off right where Part 1 left off, with Angelo, Kevin, and Ed sitting in the Singapore version of a broom closet after Kelly has been eliminated. In comes Padma, who tells them, in her best Angry Mom voice, that “I need to see you all NOW.” So back they go to the judges’ table, where they learn that the final Elimination Challenge starts immediately. That challenge: Create a “four-course meal of the most amazing food you’ve ever done in your lives,” with vegetables for the first course, fish for the second, meat for the third, and dessert for the fourth. The meats will come courtesy of Tom and Eric’s early-morning shopping expedition.
And that’s it. No bad puns, no weirdo twists, no nothing. Except that — surprise! — here’s Michael Voltaggio, Ilan Hall, and Hung Huynh, shipped to Singapore to act as the finalists’ sous chefs. It’s less reunion than frat party without the water bongs, and all of the dudes stand there grinning at each other warily. The finalists determine by knife pull who their sous will be: Ed gets Ilan, Angelo gets Hung, and Kevin gets Michael, whom he knows from way back. When Angelo gets Hung, he gives us another of his empty thought-bubble pronouncements: “We’re in Asia, I’m in the finals, and I get Hung. It’s a trilogy!”
All of the chefs go back to their hotel rooms to drink beer and strategize. And then Angelo starts feeling like crap and retires to his bedroom. There he stays, his misery mounting, until a doctor shows up to give him a “20 percent chance” of being able to cook the next day. The episode assumes momentary tension. And then it recedes as the rest of the chefs go shopping and Angelo communicates with Hung by phone, telling him which ingredients to buy. It’s actually fairly entertaining because we get to watch Hung display the superhuman capability that made him so much fun to watch in Season 3.
Reflecting on Angelo’s delicate state, Ed takes a predictably unsympathetic view: “It’s $125,000. It’s a pretty good incentive to tell your body to say ‘fuck you’ and get out of bed.” Man, we’d love to see his version of the health care bill. Also, to digress for a moment: We finally realized that Ed has sounded drunk for this entire season. The constantly slurred speech, the droopy eyelids — all of this time we assumed it was deadpan sarcasm, but in retrospect, it now seems more like garden-variety inebriation. Just saying.
After the chefs go shopping and Hung annoys everyone by hogging a big lobe of foie gras for himself, the doctor goes back to see Angelo and gives him a massive shot in the ass that will provide him with a “3 percent chance” of feeling good enough to cook. “Three percent” in reality TV land means “100 percent,” and, of course, Angelo is quickly resurrected, back to enlighten us all. “It’s time to jump into my cape!” he beams, and starts plotting things to do with marshmallows and foie gras.
Finally, it’s time for the tasting. Tom, Padma, Gail, and Eric put on fancy clothes and sit down to eat with a roomful of people including Seetoh, Susan Feniger, Dana Cowin, Paul Bartolotta, and David Chang, who looks like he’s passing a kidney stone.
Things in the kitchen are drama-free. The food that comes out of it is described in such a convoluted fashion that it’s best to just dwell on the best and the worst. In the latter category, the judges are bewildered and a bit annoyed by Angelo’s sautéed duck breast and foie gras with marshmallow and a cherry shooter. Angelo claims the shooter was a palate cleanser, but the judges aren’t convinced, in part because it has the consistency of NyQuil. And Ed’s dessert, an uninspired sticky toffee date pudding with fleur de sel chantilly, leads Chang to observe that it’s “sort of like a fuck-you.” Did you really think David Chang could make it through a reality show guest stint without dropping at least one F-bomb? We didn’t, either.
At the other end of the spectrum, the judges love Kevin’s dessert, a take on the Singapore Sling that contains tropical fruits and a “coconut surprise” and also looks really pretty. They also praise the broth in Angelo’s rouget bouillabaise and have props for Kevin’s pan-seared rouget with cuttlefish noodles and braised pork belly. Pondering the various merits of everybody’s work, Tom observes that “Kevin stayed very focused and paid homage to every ingredient.”
Which means that … Kevin is Top Chef. When Padma tells him this, Kevin responds, “I am??!!” Which is kind of sweet and also makes us feel, for the first time this season, greater satisfaction than disgust. Kevin seems like a decent guy. His m.o. all season has been to keep his head down and do solid work, and while that wasn’t as, ahem, thought-provoking to watch as Ed cross-dressing or Angelo being … Angelo, it’s gratifying, in a low-key way. And also an appropriately anticlimactic ending for a completely anticlimactic season. Angelo didn’t even cry. But we almost did, because the longest season in Top Chef history has finally crawled into the sunset.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 16, 2010