Two chefs will enter. One will leave crowned Top Chef Masters and win $100K for their charity.
Our finalists? New York's Kerry Heffernan, playing for City Harvest, and San Francisco's Chris Costantino, playing for the Michael J. Fox Foundation. Both chefs have remarkable resumes.
In tonight's intro, Kerry is dubbed the "classically trained maestro of modern American cuisine," while Chris is the "spirited savant of hoof-to-snout gastronomy."
Classic vs. Modern. East Coast vs. West Coast. Long sleeved vs. Short sleeved. Politician hair vs. hipster goatee. It's a battle for the ages!
Let's get it on. Er, going.
This is the finale -- thus there is only one challenge. Curtis explains that each chef is to truly "bare their soul" for this meal. They will each write four letters, and translate each letter to create a four course meal. Both wince in pain.
Quote #1, from Kerry: "I am not much of a letter writer. Um ... does texting count?" LOL, Kerry. LMFAO.
First course: a love letter. Second course: an apology. Third course: a thank you note. Fourth course: a letter to yourself.
[Insert SCREAMS OF JOY from every English major everywhere here, including myself. This is so hot.]
Quote #2 (only two minutes in!) from Chris: "There's a lot of emotion involved -- I think that's what food's about. We put everything we have on the plate, our heart and our soul, to showcase who we are."
The dishes will be enjoyed by 10 of the world's most well-known culinary critics. Tomorrow. To help out, Curtis introduces two guests to help them. In walks Mumford and Sons. No wait. In walks Manfred, Chris' Chef de Cuisine at Incanto, and Nick, Kerry's former colleague and old friend. Each will serve as sous chef to the competitors.
The chefs commence planning with their assistants. Chris acknowledges this challenge is "really personal" and that the only way he going to beat Kerry is to "put his heart on a plate."
Kerry says he has "an idea" for each dish and is going to figure out which letter will go with each course, that he will "create each emotion around the dish." Kind of putting the cart before the horse, or following the letter of the challenge but not the spirit of it. Hrrrm.
Kerry and Nick head to Whole Foods. Kerry explains his "love letter" will be an homage to he and his wife's first date, when he prepared her jjigae, a Korean kimchi soup. On the way to the store he notes that "two lobsters would f---ing save my ass." I'll let you guess whether Whole Foods had any lobster. Hint: No.
Chris and Manfred have an aggressive shopping schedule, planning to hit Whole Foods, 99 Ranch, and a butcher's shop. This is going to suck a lot more time up than Kerry, who is only going to Whole Foods, but Chris feels it's worth it to get the speciality ingredients he needs.
Back to Kerry, who tells us his thank you letter will be to his Mom, who took him clamming in Cape Cod as a kid, afterwards they would make chowder. Gosh that sounds like it would make a terrific Robert McCloskey book. Oh wait! It already is. Thankfully Whole Foods does have clams.
At the butcher's, Chris picks up beef hearts. His love letter is to his wife, and he will be putting his heart on a plate. Rim shot! Such a clever little sass. He paints a really sweet picture of he and his wife's relationship and says he wants to thank her for allowing him to live his dream. Their family photos are adorable. Color me more smitten by the minute.
Kerry is done and heading back in his Lexus RX (we're back to some very heavy-handed sponsor shout outs for the finale).
Chris is in 99 Ranch, picking up pork blood and tripe. He explains his great grandmother used to cook tripe soup, and while he hated it as a kid, he knows it left an impression. As he's now known as the "hoof-to-snout" guy, he wants to acknowledge her with his thank you letter course.
Meanwhile, Kerry has commenced prep while Chris is sitting in Vegas traffic on his way to Whole Foods. He finally makes his way back to the kitchen with 3 1/2 hours left to cook.
Chris immediately announces to Kerry that he should have gone to the butcher's shop where they had beautiful tuna. Kerry is surprised the butcher's shop carried seafood and seems perturbed. Way to ice the kicker, Chris!
Chris commences his tripe soup by pouring several pints of O positive into a pitcher. Quote #3 of the ep:
Chris: Manfred, let's show everybody that we can make pretty guts.
Manfred: Oh, there will be blood.
For his letter to himself, Chris is preparing a sunny side up egg, blood sausage, poached oysters, and a simple salad. He calls it his last supper, and says it's what he would eat if he had only one meal left. He commences making blood sausage.
Reminder to all TV producers everywhere: Most of us don't want to see how the sausage is made. Thanks.
Curtis comes in to check on the chefs' progress. Kerry says he knows what his love letter and his letter to himself will be, but the rest he is "working all out."
The prep montage continues. The chefs wrap it up and head out for a special surprise Curtis has promised. Kerry admits that as they're leaving he still hasn't "worked out" his apology letter.
Their tableside conversation is about how as chefs, it's seemingly unfair that they are judged by food critics, people who do not actually have the experience or knowledge that they do. But all three appreciate that critics, and in particular their judges, have a wealth of food knowledge that makes their opinion so valuable.
Kerry points out, "It's a different art to be able to deduce what happened in a dish, blindly, as a diner." Great point. The boys clink their glasses and head off to bed.
Judgement day. Our chefs have 2 1/2 hours to finalize prep. Kerry has decided, like Chris, that his apology will be to his family for his working too long and too hard. He's creating a flan of peas as his sorry dish.
Meanwhile, Chris' blood sausages are bursting. Manfred says they are "pissing out a little bit. Coming out the ass." Chris watches them cook and shouts, "Some of them are still spooging, huh?" Wow. Just wow. Those sentences just happened.
Our 12 critics file in and engage in some awkward banter about love letters and apologies. Dinner is served, thankfully.
I am disappointed that the chefs didn't actually read any letters during service. I expected there to be more of an actual writing assignment, based on Curtis' description, but it seems they just needed to come up with a concept for what each letter would be. Ah well. English majors can't be choosers.
Kerry's love letter is a scallop & spot prawn Korean jjigae, Chris presents his beef heart tartare, foie gras, & puffed beef tendon. After tasting each dish, Lesley Bargar Suter, of LA Magazine, says that she would pick Kerry's love letter: "This is the guy I'm going to first base with."
Back in kitchen, Chris is plating his second course, which he describes as a "s--- show." He doesn't want to overcook his scallops so he's pushing the clock and nearly runs out of time.
The apologies are up: Kerry's is a flan of sugar snap peas with prosciutto, morels & chevril, which he describes as his "warm embrace" to his patient family. It looks absolutely beautiful.
Chris begins to describe his dish as his apology to his wife for working too much. "I married the kitchen," he begins, and then chokes up. God I love this guy. Be still my beating heart. He pushes through to explain his dish is her favorite things: scallop, pancetta piana & sea urchin.
The critics rave over Kerry's flan. Curtis hold up his licked-clean plate. They also are wowed by Chris' offering and Leslie describes it as "the make up sex." Zing! She's two for two with the food porn analogies.
Third course is thank you notes. Kerry is changing plans mid-service as his mustard greens are overpowering his sauce with their bitterness. He's hoping pureeing them will smooth it out a bit.
Chris' plates are cold so he's running with Manfred to blast each one in the ovens with two minutes left. It's madness! Chris serves his trippa Napolitana, thanking his great grandmother for making him the "gut man" he is today. Kerry's thank you is a branzino with clam ragout & mustard greens. Not quite the Cape Cod chowdah I was expecting, but it sounds delicious.
Our last course is "a letter to yourself." Kerry presents a dry aged cote de boeuf, short ribs with Swiss chard & fennel gratin. Lord! That's a seriously heavy dish to save for last. He says it's what he is currently into, and James throws an incredulous look.
It seems like Kerry just wanted to prepare this dish and formed his "letter" around it to make it work. It smells a little forced. Chris describes his "last supper" creation: blood sausage with poached oysters and a fried egg. As they depart Chris and Kerry realize they are done with service, and high five/bro hug, to the critics' applause.
The judges are all reacting strongly to the breakfast-like simplicity of Chris' dish. After tasting they have truly polar opinions on it, from "embarrassingly bad" to "the best thing I have eaten in maybe the last 30 years of my life."
If we learn nothing from this show, let it be this: no matter how important they are, a critic's opinion is subjective, and their own.
The time has come for our critics to make a decision on a winner. The judges all recognize how different Chris and Kerry are as cooks. Alan Richman summed it up nicely when he said that Kerry's letters were all about him as a cook, whereas Chris' were all about him as a person.
Kerry's dishes worked to "nurture you into a blissful coma," while Chris was saying, "I dare you to eat this bravado." Two very different philosophies.
James, Ruth, Francis, Krista, and Curtis call the chefs to critics' table. They go through each dish, mostly just oohing and aahing. The editing here really plays up the Kerry-as-stoic and Chris-as-passionate storyline.
"When you cook with your heart and soul, it comes through in your food," Chris says. " When you cook just to receive accolades, I think you lose direction and focus on what your goal is." Cue a sideways, anxious glance from Kerry.
In the wine room, Chris is convinced Kerry has won. The critics discuss the philosophical question at hand. Ruth sums it up: "Do we want to be comforted, or thrilled?"
Curtis announces they have arrived at our crowning moment. Chris and Kerry shake hands and smile. The winner of $100K and title of Top Chef Master goes to ... CHRIS! (resulting in a genuine "YES!" from this viewer).
Chef Costantino truly gasps for air when his name is called. He bends over and is clearly overcome. Kerry smiles genuinely and the judges applaud.
Quote # 4 of the ep, and our last for this season, from our winner Chris: "Guts prevailed. Thank God."
He has won a total of $141,000 for the Michael J. Fox Foundation. Chris reminds us that his Uncle John was diagnosed with Parkinsons 35 years ago and he passed away last year. The money is going to help a lot of people, and Chris is overcome with emotion about what a huge donation this is.
Curtis pops the champagne, Kerry declares he has no regrets and is very proud of his work during the competition.
Curtis hands Chris his massively oversized black "Top Chef Master" chef's coat. And with that, we are sated.
Don't fret, "Top Chef" maniacs : only six weeks until "Top Chef Seattle" premieres. Until then!