Originally aired on Wednesday, 01/31/2007
** (2 stars out of 5)
It's all over but the paprika-induced crying. Young bucks Ilan Hall
and Marcel Vigernon
square off to wow the judges with the "best meal" they've ever prepared.
- It's a showdown between Saffron and Space-Age! Will Ilan's Spanish style cuisine and likeability beat out Marcel's molecular gastronomy? Is there anyone who didn't already know the answer to that question due to all the spoilers?
- The eliminated chefs are back to assist in the final meals.
- Nerves get the best of one of the chefs, creating some on-the-spot crises during the final service.
Back when this season of "Top Chef" started, I made the now cringe-worthy statement in my first recap
: "[Ilan Hall is] cute as a button, and so unless he does something egregiously evil, I will be shamelessly supporting him for the remainder of these recaps."
Um. Yeah. So, I guess he hasn't done anything egregiously evil, but I'm just over it. Don't get me wrong, Marcel is obnoxious. But as Ilan is heading into the final challenge as the Golden Boy, with the love and support of most of the other contestants, the fact that he still has such a visceral petty hatred for Marcel seems just…unseemly. Over it, I say!
Despite the bad blood between them, the two chefs take a (highly staged) walk on the beach the morning of the final competition. Marcel finds some sea urchins, which they eat raw on the beach. Marcel gets pricked, and it advised to urinate on the injury to prevent infection. Ilan offers to help, saying in interview that he "would have loved to pee on Marcel." (Confidential to Ilan: you might learn the Hanky Code and be careful in what company you say such sentences unless you want to find some enthusiastic takers for your offer.)
After the peeing and the eating, they head back to the hotel to learn what their final challenge will be. Tom Colicchio informs them that their final challenge will not have the same restrictions as their prior eliminations. Instead, their only limitation is their own imagination as they are directed to "cook the best meal [they] have ever prepared."
They select the order for the meals; Ilan will go first, and Marcel, second. Then some of the previously-eliminated chefs are brought back as possible sous-chefs for the finalists. They are: Sam Talbot
, Michael Midgley
, Elia Aboumrad
, Betty Fraser
, Mia Gaines-Alt
and Frank Terzoli
The eliminated chefs are asked for whom they would like to work. Michael, Elia and Betty choose Ilan. Betty, of course, has to offer a little dig to Marcel. Again, he's totally annoying, but it just seems tacky that the people whom he annoys seem incapable of rising above it.
Despite his lack of popularity, some chefs do select Marcel. Sam thinks he might be able to learn something from Marcel, while if he works for Ilan, it will just be more Spanish cuisine. Frank thinks if he works for Marcel, he can "learn" him some respect. (Maybe someone can "teach" Frank some grammar.) Mia offers her assistance as well, mainly, it seems, out of a generous sort of pity.
Mia's generosity is not repaid, as Marcel rebuffs her and Frank to select Sam and Michael. Michael does not appear thrilled, but tries to put his game face on. Ilan picks Elia and Betty. Elia was a given, but the selection of Betty surprises me a little. She seems to be a solid chef, but she also seemed to have a tendency towards being flustered.
The teams now head to a Farmer's Market set up for the chefs on the grounds of the hotel. Marcel allows his menu to be driven primarily by what fresh food is available at the market. Ilan chooses to stick to his Spanish-cuisine expertise, basing at least one of his dishes on an ingredient he brought from home.
The four hours of prep pass smoothly for both chefs. Even Sam and Michael feel positively about Marcel's organization and leadership through that process. Marcel continues his commitment to whiz-bang food, with one of his featured dishes relying on a fancy delivery system for salad dressing: a vinaigrette enclosed in a clear hard sugar shell teardrop. It's cool-looking, but Tom worries that he might face some difficulties with the humidity.
Ilan's service seems to go as well as his prep. His first course is not that well-received: the judges think his baby eel appetizer is more gimmick than successful flavor. But his second course – fish on a macadamia gazpacho – is a success, as his next course, a surf-and-turf meal combining meat and squab in a lobster sauce. His beef course is not as well-received, but he completely wins back the table with his dessert: a series of fruits in a sauce, with a scoop of a sorbet and topped with a bay leaf fritter. Overall, the judges seem impressed with the meal.
Over in Marcel's kitchen, things are not going as well as they did during the prep. Marcel seems flustered, and it seems his disorganization and poor communication, coupled with his sous chefs' ambivalence, start to sink his efforts. His first course goes over well, but his fancy-pants vinaigrette teardrop fails, and so he sends out the second course without it. The green salad is nearly shocking to the judges in its plainness. Tom mentions the planned teardrop, but the judges agree this would not have been enough to redeem it.
There is another catastrophe with the third course: the fish he had planned to use was left back at the prep kitchen. Sam helps Marcel work out an dish just using the other ingredients, and the judges agree that it's delicious, unique, and they would not have been aware something was missing unless they had been told. The next course, a beef dish, is also a hit. The dessert course – a clever twist on blinis with caviar with a coffee "caviar" – pleases the judges with its inventiveness.
Back at the judges table, the overall consensus seems to be that Ilan was more consistent, but he also took fewer risks through his menu selection and dependence on Spanish cuisine. Marcel took more risks, but he also had more obvious failures. Ilan tells the judges that he believes he is going to be a better leader in the kitchen, while Marcel points out his creativity and innovation.
And the Top Chef is…Ilan. As if we didn't already know from the multiple spoilers that have been floating around cyberspace.
My overall reaction: Meh. I will still probably watch "Top Chef" if they bring it back next season, but hopefully they can dial down the intrer-contestant squabbling and bring the focus back to the food.
- Leslie Seaton, BuddyTV Staff Columnist
(Photos courtesy of Bravo.com)