Well, readers, it’s time. We’ve made it. Three great chefs; only one Top Chef.
Finale Challenge #1
Wait! Did I say three great chefs? I meant four. Prior to asking Trevor, Jonathan and Carl to get down to business, Lisa brought Trista, Xavier and David back to the kitchen. Of course, we all said, they’ll be acting as sous chefs for the final. Not so! Lisa replied. Instead, the previously eliminated trio was given a last chance to cook their way back into the competition. All each of them had to do was prepare at least two dishes using ingredients from Prince Edward Island—lobster, mussels, oysters, beef, potatoes and more.
Another twist: the already determined “final three” would judge the redemption dishes. Would Carl, Jonathan and Trevor choose the best of the remaining chefs, or would they vote strategically in order to compete against a weaker opponent? What would you have done in their position?
In the kitchen, the chefs seemed a bit discombobulated. David, as usual, was all over the place. He must’ve been very nervous. Being allergic to shellfish, he couldn’t touch many of his ingredients without gloves, and of course he couldn’t taste his dishes either. Oh, and he had so many pots and pans on the go that he lost track of one, picked it up, and promptly burned his hand.
Yet he managed to pull off a beautiful looking seafood chowder plus a not-half-bad steak tartar. The chowder really seemed to impress everyone, but in the end, our existing finalists unanimously preferred Trista’s classical mussel and lobster soup and grilled steak tenderloin with lobster mashed potatoes.
Mark and Shereen, however, were a nonplussed by that decision. Clearly, they told us, the finalists had voted for someone they felt they could beat in the finale. And in a not entirely surprising move, they went with the chef who had proven himself over and over again. They sided with experience, rewarded bold cooking and sent David into this season’s last elimination challenge.
Finale Challenge #2
And what was this much-anticipated test? In a nutshell: travel to Ontario cottage country’s Hockley Valley Resort, cook your pants off and present four of the best courses you’ve ever crafted.
Man, did Carl, Jonathan and Trevor ever seem nervous on the ride up to the resort? David had been cooking up a storm over the course of many challenges. And to know that Mark and Shereen personally vaulted him back into contention? That must’ve been a major confidence booster for David, and a blow to the egos of the three pre-set finalists.
You’ll recall that at the start of the night, everyone figured David, Xavier and Trista would simply be helping Carl, Trevor and Jonathan prepare their respective last meals? That didn’t pan out, but ultimately we did get some sweet sous chef action: Xavier and Trista returned, as did early-season castoffs Jimmy and Elizabeth.
The latter didn’t inspire much confidence in the man with whom she was ultimately paired. Yes, it seemed as though Jonathan would be handicapped for the finale. He also decided to cook a 100 per cent Asian menu, though he admitted not knowing whether Mark would like it, and Elizabeth didn’t have much experience cooking it.
Fortunately, he lucked out with the guest judge: acclaimed Vancouver-based chef Vikram Vij. If anyone would know cuisine from the East, it was going to be him.
After two courses it looked like Jonathan and Carl had the upper hand. Jonathan’s haute Asian was going over very well, while Carl’s dedication to local, farm-fresh fare also scored high points. Trevor was sort of one-for-two: in a puzzling move, he claimed to actually want his first course to be a bit underwhelming. As a one-bite fig concoction, it was underwhelming. So would he have counted that as a success? His follow-up, though—an olive oil¬–poached char—looked gorgeous and apparently had taste to match.
Going into service, it’s difficult to say whether David was a favourite or a dark horse. Either way, he didn’t do himself any favours with the first half of his meal inspired by Toronto’s multicultural neighbourhoods. Unfortunately his third course failed to impress judge Vikram, too. And how could it have? The chef Vij cooks the stuff every single day. David would have had to cook the best darn biryani in his life to win over this tough crowd. He gave it a good shot, but at this point I think we all knew that he was no longer in the running for the Top Chef Canada crown.
Carl, however, was still very much in contention, though he drew Mark’s ire by presenting a palate-cleansing sorbet as his third course—essentially a pre-dessert dessert. But Carl stood up for the dish’s quality, and it seemed to wow everyone. That said, Trevor immediately showed him up by presenting a palate cleanser and a full meat course, and then threw down with a top-level blueberry tart to end his service.
The final judgment really was something of a nail biter. I thought any one of Trevor, Carl or Jonathan had a shot victory. They each cooked exceptionally well; their flaws, if any, were in presentation as opposed to flavour.
Jonathan, for example, displeased Mark by serving his main meat family-style (though Shereen and Vikram appeared to prefer that type of service), and served a North American-style dessert that didn’t really go with his Asian-themed progression. Trevor and Carl both took hits for “wasting a course” with, respectively, a weak amuse-bouche and a third-course sorbet.
Those were shown to be mere quibbles, however, as that pair comprised the last men standing. Would it be Carl, who showed ample skills all the way through the competition, but sometimes lacked flair? Or would Trevor, the corporate cook who just got better with every challenge, take home the grand prize?
The answer—and at this point, it seemed almost inevitable—was Carl. Can we say I called it? The Toronto-based farm-to-table chef demonstrated, overall, just that little extra bit of talent that helps a good chef become a truly great one. I think the judges saw that ineffable quality in him, and couldn’t resist giving him the career boost that being a Top Chef winner entails.
It was the right decision in my books. How about yours?
Craig Moy is an editor at a Toronto-based city magazine. He also writes about all manner of cultural topics, including food culture.