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'Top Chef: Las Vegas': A winner is served

V is for Voltaggio victory, but not the brother we think a lot of you were rooting for.

Top Chef's finale tonight threw us a curveball -- the winner was Michael Voltaggio, this season's bad boy, beat out his brother, the subtle Bryan Voltaggio, and (we presume) fan favorite Southern charmer Bearded Kevin.

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All three performed outstandingly during the season (collectively, they won the vast majority of quickfires and elimination challenges). They all also had slip-ups during the four-course finale meal (Michael's overcooked chocolate cake, Kevin's undercooked pork belly, Bryan's underseasoning). The judges' decision threw us for a loop, though. In trying to keep the suspense of the show, it seemed like the Bravo editors made Michael's win come out of left field.

But enough mixed emotions about the winner. On to the cooking!

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(The chefs draw knives for the last time; photo from bravotv.com)

'Top Chef: Las Vegas': Bryan Voltaggio wins! (That was Justine's original headline for this blog post, but sadly, it hit the cutting room floor)



The chefs banter in the morning before the finale. After wondering what Jennifer was doing, Michael says it was a shame it wasn't his brother Bryan who had to pack up his knives last time. Oh, sibling rivalry.

Their final challenge is much the same as it's been in seasons past: cook a three-course meal, "the meal of your life," as Tom often describes it. But, in true Top Chef fashion, there are some hurdles. For the first course, they all get an identical box of ingredients and can't leave anything out of their final dish. In the second course, they get to cook whatever they want from what's in the kitchen. And the third and final course is the nail in the coffin for most cheftestants past: a dessert. They get three hours of prep and three hours to cook the next day.

That's a tall order for any chef, reality show contestant or not. So who will be their sous chefs? Between the vines (we are in Napa Valley, after all), ALL this season's former cheftestants walk out. They get to draw knives to decide who the two they'll work with – one will help with prep, and the other will help with service.

Kevin draws Preeti and Ash
Bryan draws Jennifer and Ashley
Michael draws Baltimore's own Jesse (new blond edition!) and Eli (Yeah! Liz squees!)

Kevin's sous chefs are so darn weak. This doesn't bode well for the beard. Kevin uses Preeti during prep, making her cut vegetables, and she's doing a poor job. We haven't seen Kevin get angry about anything all season – Justine guesses his having to prep 18 of the 20 things was the tipping point. Liz thinks Kevin's just sore he didn't get to work with his bromance Eli.

In the mystery box, they have a rockfish, dungeness crab, meyer lemon, squash, mushrooms and some herb. (Viewers at home, what would you even attempt to make from these ingredients? I know it's a rare day when we have both rockfish AND dungeness crab in the fridge....we kid, we kid.)

Bravo's trying to really play up the brotherly competition by having Bryan and Michael talk about the other brother's style. Michael says he's more creative, but Bryan says he's playing it safe and gives his goofy laugh when he says it's not time to try new things.

Kevin says he's lost half of his prep time by being pissed off at Preeti. Bryan's a nerd and draws sketches of how he's going to plate his dishes. Michael has no idea still what he's making with his mystery box. He says he thinks he's there to lose!

The next morning, there's a knock at the door and the cheftestants are nervous about what twist could possibly be thrown at them. But, sigh of relief, their moms walk in! (We hope the moms will be the sous chefs.) Kevin says it's better to see his mom than who he thought it was going to be – I think that means he'd rather hang out with his mom than Padma. Burn!

Maternal pep talks, and a bit of wardrobe help, are just what the guys needed. Bryan's mom is buttoning his coat! She helps Michael with his sleeves! Liz freaks out and tears up over the adorableness! (She's also upset that Kevin's mom isn't dressing him. Guess he's a big boy now.)

After the moms leave, Tom delivers the expected twist. They have to add a fourth course – something inspired by their favorite childhood dish. They're serving that first. As the chefs wax poetic on their childhoods, we're treated to cute and somewhat awkward childhood photos of Bryan and Michael! Kevin in a graduation gown! A picture of Kevin without the beard (until this point, we thought he was born with a full red beard, but we were sadly mistaken)!

Bryan decides to make a play on tuna noodle casserole. Michael makes a play on broccoli because he always hated it as a kid. Kevin's inspired by Southern fried chicken.

For Michael's second course, he wants to create a "scavenger hunt of flavor." Let's hope they are good tasting flavors.

Kevin's making pork belly for his third course. "Pork's my thing, it's my jam."

Bryan says he hunts to "get more in tune" with his ingredients. What? Does that deer you're about to shoot tell you what side dishes would go best with it?

Kevin plans roasted banana and bacon for his dessert. He hopes for an award from the bacon council. Bryan makes a cheesecake. Michael is planning some kind of chocolate cake with caramel.

Dinner is served

Kevin's mother, naturally, loves his fried chicken skin. The squash is interesting and almost like wine, you keep finding flavors of it, Tom says. Bryan calls his mom the queen of one-dish meals, which inspired his casserole-esque dish. They call Bryan's dish the least seasoned. Michael's spot prawn wasn't cooked enough for some of the judges, but they did like his popcorn broccoli.

Padma eggs on Mrs. Voltaggio to get her to say which son's food she liked best. Did they not milk enough drama from the sibling rivalry so they're trying to make their mother make a Sophie's choice?

For the mystery box dish, they all had the same ingredients, but the plates look completely different. Kevin's broth was good, but the mushroom was tough. Michael's dish was great, Tom says. It was well seasoned and had good balance. Bryan's get dinged for being one-note.

Bryan makes venison saddle and everyone loves it. It has great flavor. Michael makes squab breast and the judges called it complex but they called the mushroom puree he formed into the shape of a mushroom gimmicky. Kevin's pork belly wasn't cooked enough for some judges, and Tom suggested that he should've served another cut of pork to make it a complete plate. Kevin looked like he was going to cry over the pork criticism. Poking at his pork is just too close to home for a guy with a pig tattoo. 

And it's the Top Chef curse of dessert!

Kevin makes roasted banana with chocolate and bacon mousse with bacon crunchies. Bryan makes a cheesecake and Michael makes a chocolate caramel coulant (like chocolate lava cake, but more high-brow). Kevin didn't do enough with the banana, Tom says. Michael's was "almost a very good dessert," Tom says. Bryan's cheesecake was "heavenly," Gail says.

Then the cheftestants have to talk about why they deserve to be Top Chef. Bryan feels like he expressed his cuisine and he hopes that it's good enough to win. Michael says he just doesn't want Bryan to be top chef (cue laugh track). Michael expressed how much he loved food and it'll be what he always does. Kevin say he loves bringing people together and that it's soulful – like your eye twinkle, Santa. Kevin seems crushed when Padma tells him he's not the Top Chef. Kicking him out and leaving it down to Bryan and Michael to duke it out seemed unnecessarily cruel to us. 

And Michael wins? Really?

Not that he's a bad chef, but that seemed so out of left field! Michael says he wishes he and his brother could both win … but really, he doesn't. Michael cries! Bryan's a little disappointed, but he's proud to see his brother win. It seemed like the judges wanted to reward Michael with a win for being a creative stand-out all season long. Justine thinks it could be payback for slighting the innovative Richard Blais during his season.

Liz took off her jaunty red Mattin-inspired scarf in protest. The outcome just seemed so unexpected.

Discussion

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While watching the episode, at any point did you expect Michael to win? In homage to Bearded Kevin, would you buy and eat bacon-spiked ice cream from the supermarket? Do you like Jesse's new blonde hair (even though we only got a momentary glimpse of her)? Will you still go to Volt, and when are you taking us?

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