So the finale of Top Chef Masters was close. Very, very close. Marcus Samuelsson won by a half a star, not that you could tell by the editing. Since the exit of both Jonathan Waxman and Susan Feniger, the finale held little interest to me. There was no excitement, no unexpected twist to look forward to, just 3 men cooking the stories of their lives. The editing led viewers to think one thing (Marcus's third dish sounded like the most criticized of the night) when in fact something else happened. I think I've finally figured out my malaise with the Top Chef franchise - FMF or Fan Manipulation Fatigue. For instance...check out these quotes from Jay Raynor's blog.
"... No, I was nervous because I had absolutely no idea whether the producers and editors had decided to save me from myself or not. There was a lot of very good stuff in that finale. What there wasn’t was the moment, when I lost my temper in a red-faced, eye-bulging, vein-swelling rage, during the critics’ last discussions."
OK, gotta step in here and ask why the hell not? Why wouldn't the producers and editors include that? I want to hear that passion because I'm here to tell you, that finale was a snooze-fest. But it obviously wasn't Jay's decision so back to Jay.
"I will admit that as the competition went on, I became more than a little tired of Moonen’s posturing as both "the fish guy" and "the sustainability guy." The latter struck me as a little odd given that his restaurant is located in Las Vegas, possibly the least sustainable city on the face of the planet. Almost nothing grows there. It all comes from somewhere else, leaving massive carbon footprints as it travels. But all of this was irrelevant to the competition. Our job was to judge their food according to both how they had matched up to the challenge laid before them and the quality of the food placed before us. And that’s what we did, and Moonen went all the way to the finale fairly and squarely."
Again, Jay brings up some interesting points while ignoring the biggest which is next the US Military and BP, television and movie productions are the most un-green and un-sustainable industries in the US. So having Rick Moonen on a TV show talking about Sustainability at his restaurant in Las Vegas is a big nugget of crazy wrapped up in a tender cocoon of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. But after the Toby Young Experiment, all Top Chef crazy is relative. Jay continues.
"But at that finale the game changed, subtly. The challenge was very specific: the food had to tell their story. It had to be about food memories, the food that made them want to be a chef and, finally, and crucially for me, the food that defined them as a chef.
For this course Moonen cooked venison, and a lovely piece of venison it was too, with outrageous pear butter. He made it clear that he wanted to change the way we looked at him. He didn’t want to just be "the fish guy." He was a fully-rounded chef. The problem: that venison came from New Zealand, thousands of miles away. It seems he wasn’t the sustainability guy either."
Uh oh. Fame and Ego crash head on into ethics and morals. Rick picks a piece of meat flown all the way from New Zealand in his drive to win Top Chef Masters. Now, there seems to be some confusion to what Rick's philosophy is when it comes to sustainability. I pulled this from the RM Seafood website.
"When not behind the stove, Moonen can be found throughout the country educating about the dangers of over-fishing and ocean conservation. As an industry leader, he has testified several times for environmental and sustainable policy issues in Washington, DC and New York. He is a founding member of the Seafood Choices Alliances which named him Seafood Champion in 2006 as well as an active member of the Wildlife Conservation Society, Seaweb, and a chef's advisory board member of Ecofish. He also has served as a spokesperson for American caviar, a more environmentally sound alternative to the Caspian Sea varieties, and he is often quoted for his expertise with various indigenous and exotic fish."
Not only that but Rick is unapologetic about picking that protein, "I’m not a tree hugger. I’m a chef. I’m in a cooking competition." Jay seems more upset that Rick picked a protein that had a huge carbon footprint....not something that was ecologically unsustainable as farmed New Zealand venison is not. I would have been more impressed if Rick has used some good ol 'merican white tail but let's not act like he got a facial with gold tin of Almas Caviar. Still Jay wasn't ready to let it go.
"Bloody hell, but I was furious. For weeks he had worn his green credentials on his sleeve, bigged himself up as the savior of the planet. Even under cross examination about his dishes in the finale he declared that "we need to respect the environment you live in." I’m certain his restaurant in Vegas is run according to rigorous sustainability criteria. But, when it came to the last stage of a cooking competition, he shrugged it off. I felt like we’d been had, been spun a line by a shameless opportunist. I expect to see in the comments below this piece the rebuke that it was a cooking competition and we should only have judged him on the food. To which I will respond again, that we were to judge them on the challenge and that dish was meant to show us what defined him as a chef. And after weeks of singing "We are the World" he decided to throw every single one of his self-serving homilies out the window and use a staggeringly unsustainable ingredient, which had been air freighted thousands of miles. God knows what the carbon footprint of that single dish was. Mr Sustainability, Rick? I really don’t think so."
Love the honesty Jay is bringing to the back end of this but again, these are the kind of discussions that I, as a fan, want to see. Did Rick lose because of it?
"I should say here and now that this is not why Marcus Samuelsson won. He won because his cooking was better, especially his duck dish with that fabulous foie gras ganache. But I can definitely tell you that Moonen’s craven attitude to environmental issues is why I scored him as I did."
Half a star Jay, Marcus won by half a star. Jay gave Rick four stars but graded him down because of where the venison came from, not the taste of the dish he was served. Did he give Marcus 5 stars knowing it would be so close and to keep Rick from winning? The Diners (last season's finalists and Tom Colicchio) scored all three chefs the same with 4 stars so no help there. Seems that Jay's anger ruled the day.
Again we, the viewers, are left wondering if the best tasting dishes really won and who else pissed off Jay enough to lose stars in the process?