Now that we've settled down into our post Season calm, it's time to poke at the season finale. The Top Chef Season 4 Reunion was, well, just ok. Let's face it, nothing will ever beat the drunken, angry mess of Season 1's Reunion with Tiffani puking off stage and Ken prodding Stephen into climbing over his chair to give Ken a personal demonstration of his sabering technique.
The Accursed Season Two saw no reunion at all and I know I will be forever grateful. Season Three was polite and friendly much like Season 4's. Really no new info was gleaned, no insights into the chefs was learned except that Antonia was the Black Hammer and participating in Top Chef will give you nightmares. However there was one answer that intrigued me. In response to Andy's question of "Do you consider this the most talented group of chefs yet?" Tom, of course, answered yes. What did you expect, that he'd turn to the group and say, no, there was too much under seasoning and scaly fish for this to be the most talented ever. I don't necessarily agree they were the most talented ever. Which only means one thing. My own personal Smackdown.
Who to compare them to? Season 1 only had 12 contestants and was the prototype. The method of choosing chefs would change for Season 2, younger chefs with more personality than cooking chops plus they upped the number of contestants to 15. Season 3 premiered with another set of 15 chefs and it seemed that they were chosen more for their cooking skills, not that they could do one handed cartwheels through their restaurant. Yes I think we've found our winner for our head to head match-up although Season 4 has a one chef advantage.
We'll go down the rosters working from first elimination to the Finale.
This is tough since we know so little about how they cooked. Clay butchered an apple into his version of Amuse Bouche that really didn't work. Nimma's Chicago styled Pizza was undersalted. The elimination round found Clay's boar chops under Tony Bourdain's snarky microscope and not coming out unscathed. Nimma had to go head to head with the Black Hammer to produce Shrimp Scampi and failed miserably. I think I'm going to have to give it to Clay just for the fact that he had to work with a much more difficult protein and Nimma having it fairly easy with the Scampi and over salting it to death. Score: Season3 1 Season4 0
Sandee in her Quickfire had to create a dish using Florida citrus but she gets called out for having a non-edible flower in her drink. Valerie's Quickfire Challenge was only to use 5 ingredients and her steak and peaches is well liked. The Elimination Challenge found Sandee thrown under the barbecue/grilling fiasco bus with her vanilla poached lobster. I never really got a good indication of how Sandee's dish tasted. Valerie's rutabaga blini came out on the short end of the stick at a judge's table ripe with multiple eliminations (can anyone say Pooshrooms?). This is also tough but I have to give it to Sandee just because lobster poached in vanilla butter sounds good, grilled or not. Score: Season3 2 Season4 0
Ah Micah. Her conch salad is called out for not having enough conch, flavor or seasoning. There was the added bonus of watching her try and extricate conch from their shells using the point of scissors and banging the scissors with a pan. Classic. Eric, on the other hand, was tasked with up-scaling the classic taco for chef Rick Bayless. Not only does he ignore the Quickfire Challenge, he bad mouthes the guest judge. Does the Elimination Challenge get any better? Not really. Micah has to update meatloaf and Erik gets to make Block Party Food using the Scavenger Hunt Pantry. Micah should have been able to at least made an interesting meatloaf but couldn't. Erik chose mini-corn dogs but they got stuck in heat cart too long due to weather screwing with the production schedule. I have to give this to Erik because despite soggy corn dogs, they started out decently. Micah had no chance with that meatloaf. Score: Season3 2 Season4 1Sadly Camille was the invisible woman for her last Quickfire of Bombay Sapphire pairing. Her chocolate and mint Martini only got a screen title, no mention good or bad by the guest judge nor did she even get any screen time describing her dish. Manuel had to display his techniques for Daniel Boloud but didn't exactly blow away the competition but at least got some screen time. Camille was on a team to produce a trio using the same ingredient that sadly chose to make desserts. Not being a pastry chef she gets buzzed for her Pineapple Upside Down cake. Manuel, also on a team with Spike Asshat, cedes all control to said Asshat and goes down in a sputtering whimper having helped produce Asshat's bad Vietnamese food. I give this one to Manuel. Score: Season 3 2 Season 4 2.Lia I thought would do a lot better than exiting on Episode 5. For Frozen piecrust Quickfire she gives us an Artichoke and Chorizo that doesn't hit it off with the guest judge. Zoi didn't have to cook anything since it was the Blind Taste Test. No points for her. Lia's Smoked Trout with Polenta cake didn't exactly wow the Latin Lunch crowd. Zoi was part of another team catering challenge making an Earth inspired dish for 80. Their underseasoned Beef Carpaccio with a Wild Mushroom Salad and squabbling fails to impress anyone. I give this one to Lia. Score: Season3 3 Season4 2
Oh please. Joey. Score: Season3 4 Season4 2
Another case of a chef going home too soon. Jen's chocolate Quickfire dessert falls in the middle of the pack and Sara's ice cream mix in dessert was not seen, heard or, for all we know, tasted. Sara did get seen a lot in the roach coach challenge. While I enjoyed her deep cut clubbing dress, her milkshakes and sliders did not make much of an impression on the judges. Jen's giant cheesy crouton overpowers the rest of her dish and even the lack of polish sausage in Lisa and The Black Hammer's dish. This round goes to Jen. Score: Season3 4 Season4 3
This one is also pretty easy. Tre's elimination was fairly shocking. He had done well until he was felled by cooking a bread pudding in his sleep. Mark was entertaining but not very dynamic compared to Tre. Score: Season3 5 Season4 3
The Prince of Pork vs. The Italian She-Stallion. He could finesse the fat off a pork chop but people flummoxed him. He put forth nothing for his last Quickfire, claiming the dish he was trying to make was worse than putting no dish up. For her last Quickfire, Nikki drew whisking duties but was left in the dust in preparation for Restaurant Wars. Howie's Mushroom Duxelle for the Beautiful People gave us Pooshrooms, Season Three Style. Nikki shrunk from the leadership role for Wedding Wars when it could have been an opportunity to shine. This one goes to Howie. Score: Season3 6 Season4 3
CJ seems to be on cloud nine to be awakened by Padma AND gets to cook her crepes and blueberry shake for breakfast which she likes. Andrew tries his hand at "bringing the sexy back to salad" (gurk) and puts up a Thai fruit salad that's just not sexy enough to warrant a top or bottom comment. For CJ's airplane food challenge give us Halibut which is totally overpowered by the legendary Broccolini of Death. Andrew tries to feed Chicago cops healthy but bad tasting sushi. This one was actually tougher than I expected. Andrew did some interesting things early on while CJ did better when paired with better chefs. I think I have to give this to Andrew. Season3 6 Season4 4
My favorite cheese monger vs. this season's Angry Dude. Sara falls way short on creating the classic dish at Le Cirque while Dale pulls his weight as a short order breakfast cook. Sara tries to bring her Jamaican style to the Classic French dish of chicken, potato and onion but falls short. Dale drives his train right off the tracks into the river of butterscotch disaster. They both have their strengths, hers Latin food, his Asian. However it's their respective performances in Restaurant Wars that makes me feel like Sara has a slight edge. Dale is way too easily thrown off his game especially if he's working with someone he doesn't respect. Sara got Bulldog Howie to work as part of a team while Dale just hurled obscenities at Lisa, Spike and the waiters. I say Sara wins this one. Score: Season3 7 Season4 4
Hung's Monkey in a landslide. HE would have never failed to look at the beef tips he bought at the farmer's market only to later proclaim them dog food. HE would have never made such bad Vietnamese food. HE would have avoided frozen scallops like the plague. And last but not least HE would have backed his asshatery with awesome cooking chops not a closet full of silly hats.
Score: Season3 8 Season4 4Brian the Master of Fish, is undone by a simple trout and further compounds his failure by claiming trout isn't really a seafood (must be a hat thing). Antonia's plantain dish falls into the slimy category. Brian throws everything but his hat into his final dish of elk. Antonia feels her own Hammer with her very flat whole pig performance. Antonia surprised me getting as far as she did. I think she had some very timely Quickfire wins but I can't remember one of her dishes that really stood out. Brian on the other hand, while being extremely verbose and annoying, at least could bring the seafood. Brian takes this round. Score: Season3 9 Season4 4
This was actually a very easy round for me. I thought Casey did a much better job overall. Plus I still can't get Richard's scaly mushy salmon out of my head. Score: Season3 10 Season4 4
Again, very easy. While I love her "Never give in, never give up!" attitude, there's no way I think Dale is a lesser chef than Lisa. His IS my Big Gay Boyfriend and I am one loyal lesbian girlfriend. Score: Season3 11 Season4 4
The big Kahunas. Our last two Top Chefs. I love Stephanie's style and creativity. I love Hung's passion and confidence. I think Hung had better competition, not that it mattered, it always seemed like Hung only competed within himself. Stephanie never fell too deep in the weeds but it seemed like to me her competition was really weak. Plus Hung's final challenge was to cook the meal of his life ---- in the high altitude. Sorry Steph, you had twists but nothing like that. Hung adapted and conquered. The final round goes to Hung, which leaves us with a final score of Season3 12 Season4 4.
Season 3 wins this head to head in a landslide. But I'd love to hear what the judges would say if they had to compare the two side by side. They at least got to eat the food. In the end, that's what it's all about. Great food made with great passion.