Top Chef: Season 3 Live Finale Live Thoughts
It all comes down to tonight.  In a live finale aired from Chicago, we will learn who truly is the Top Chef for Season 3.

The three Top Chef finalists will have their last chance to impress the judges.  Will Hung Huynh's strong technique come out on top?  Can Casey Thompson continue the momentum she started mid-season?  Can Dale Levitski come from behind and win the whole thing?  I'll be here with live thoughts throughout the episode.  Don't read this if you don't want to know who won.

Padma Lakshmi introduces the live finale from Chicago. She mentions the location twice…maybe she's already started celebrating.

Padma and Tom Colicchio meet the chefs on a mountain top at an expensive and exclusive club called the Mountain Club. Tom gives them their marching orders for the episode: “Cook the best meal you've ever cooked in your life.”

They're going to have to all cook at the same time in the same kitchen, and serve everything simultaneously. They can use all the ingredients and the ones they brought with them.

The chefs get to work planning the menus, and have to coordinate when some courses seem similar. After 35 minutes, pencils down! Tom shows up to take their menus

They meet with Padma, draw knives for their sous chef who will be arriving in the gondolas. They expect the previous contestants. Hung is apprehensive – the other chefs, like many viewers are “haters.” So who will he get?

None of them! It's celeb chefs! Rocco diSpirito for Hung, Michelle Bernstein for Casey and Todd English for Dale. They get three hours to prep. Their celeb chef cannot assist with ideas, just grunt work.

Back to Live in Chicago before the commercial…Marcel is there as a Hung supporter.

The chefs and their sous's get to work.

Hung is super-excited, but Rocco was confused by the number of ingredients, but wants to be a “good soldier.” Hung sends him for towels, I admire the ballsiness. I don't think I could do it.

Dale struggles at first as I would with adjusting to ordering around his sous chef, but eventually he gets plenty comfortable.

Michelle is concerned about Casey's pork belly. Casey is concerned too, and is having trouble delegating.

All of the celebrity chefs have the same concerns about the cheftestants: they might be doing too much.

Water doesn't boil the same at a high altitude. The chefs are all feeling challenged by this.

Of all the celebrity chefs, only Rocco doesn't seem entirely won over by his chetestant. Michelle says she's really starting to like Casey and wants her to win.

Back to Live…this time, it's Casey supporters, want her to be first female Top Chef.

The next day, they're on their own. Tom makes the rounds. He is complimentary to Dale's ideas and slightly concerned about Casey's pork belly.

Hung is cooking in the back on some portable burners. Tom looks at Hung like he's crazy when he explains his dishes. Hung finds this funny.

Suddenly Tom makes the chefs leave the kitchen. It's another knife block.

They need to prepare a fourth course! Use anything in the kitchen, serve at any time. Dale wants to punch Tom in the face. I don't blame him.

And now…it's the former cheftestants! They're back. (CJ), , .

Hung doesn't want CJ (he hates Hung) or Howie (he's messy). Luckily he gets Sara,

Casey gets Howie and is okay with it. Dale is happy to be with CJ.

Hung has a chocolate cake with raspberries. He is looking to prove he is well-rounded. Sara likes that he's focused and finds it a pleasure to work with him.

Casey decides to do some lamb…no beef, the lamb won't work. She's glad for Howie's extra help.

Dale “is going a million miles an hour” says CJ, but he catches up. Dale doesn't want to do a dessert since he got slammed for it before. He's doing scallops for a sort of “garden freshness.” CJ gets to take the dish and run with it.

Howie is being a good team player…actually they all are.

Time time time…harried chefs…rush rush rush. Casey is freaking out.

And back to Padma! Dale's supporters are on pins and needles!

Dinner time! Brian is joining them at dinner.

The first course is served. Everybody's dish has like 700 ingredients.

Hung's goes over okay, flavorings not as good as seasoning. Dale's flavors are good, but too heavy foie gras. Casey's foie gras was well cooked.

Second course. Dale is serving his on-the-fly dish. They love it. Hung's is good, but once again, missing acid. Casey's is not successful.

Third course. Hung's dish is called three-star Michelin by Todd, goes over really really well. Dale's gnocchi are too heavy. Tom calls it terrible. Casey's pork belly is not cooked properly. It is not looking good for her.

Fourth course. Dale's lamb chop is good. Casey “redeems” herself with her extra dish. Hung's dessert is perfectly executed but it's disjointed in that it's not conceptually consistent.

People are voting and picking Casey as Top Chef. I like her best, but her performance in the finale so far doesn't warrant it looking at just this meal.

Judging table.

The judges review with Dale. They ask him who created the scallop dish, and he says it was “100% 50/50” with CJ. His lamb dish wins a lot of praise.

Casey admits she was rattled and distracted from her ingredients and the altitude. Hung took half of her sake. She claims she didn’t have leeks, but Tom says they did. She gets called out for adding the roe, which was the wrong element. The roe on the next course she says was a plating error by Howie. Tom cannot believe she didn’t taste her dried out pork belly. She gives Howie the credit for her fourth course.

Hung says he was inspired by the ingredients. The judges think he needed more acid for his first two courses. Gail tries to pin him down on not wowing the judges with his dessert.

The judges deliberate. Gail thinks Hung’s first course was the best. Casey’s second course really disappointed the judges. Dale’s scallop dish was better than any of his others and he wins the second. Third course. Tom liked Hung's duck dish which was secretly complex. He takes the third course. Dale’s lamb was fantastic and hands-down won the last course. Two for each of the dudes. Again, not looking for Casey. Sad face for me; I liked her.

Tom pushes for Hung because one of Dale’s dishes was really weak as opposed to Hung, who might not have had every stand-out, but all were good enough to have again. Gail and Padma think Dale’s innovation should count for something, almost as much as Hung’s consistency.

Now back to Chicago! Padma has a mint in her cheek or something. The winner after the commercial...can you stand it??

Another tally of the viewer votes, Casey is still in the top spot. Once again, I think people are voting on personality/likability and not on the rules of the show and the performance in this final competition.

Back to Chicago. Gail Simmons and Ted Allen compliment the chefs, and Tom asks how they feel about the episode. Dale talks about bring happy with the show and feels he “cooked [his] heart out.” Casey admits that it wasn’t my challenge, but reminds the other chefs she kicked their asses for a while. Hung says they are all in a better position than they were six months ago and that he’s proud.

Tom now compliments the chefs as well. And now to Padma who looks quite quite pretty tonight, for the announcement. 

It’s Hung! Oh, we are going to have a LOT of unhappy readers! I am bracing myself for the onslaught.

Padma asks him how he feels and he says it’s great (obvs) and then says he “has a lot of support from America.”   Padma reminds us to tune in next week for the reunion.

Okay, there you have it! Hung is the Top Chef, like it or not!

- Leslie Seaton, BuddyTV Staff Columnist
(Image courtesy of Bravo)