'Top Chef' finale recap, The closest last battle in series history

We've been hungry for this all season long.

The "Top Chef" Finale has arrived. After a slow start to the season in New Orleans, the drama has built up to a culinary showdown of Nina versus Nicholas in Hawaii. If you are going to lose a weeks-long competition, at least you will lose in a place as beautiful as Hawaii.


We begin by going back to last week's elimination. Nina and Nicholas are waiting to see what happens now that they know that they are the final contestants. Tom and Padma join them to announce the final competition.

For the finale, each chef will take over a restaurant for the night and will create a four-course menu.  The menu must truly reflect who they are as chefs. The judges will dine at each restaurant in two groups, so consistency in their dishes, as well as service, will be very important to pull out a win.


The following morning starts off with a few gratuitous scenes of Padma walking out of the ocean at the beach in a very fringy/pom-pom-esque bikini. (Very crucial to the plot of this show...) She enters the suite where the rest of the chefs are staying (still bikini-clad) to announce that they will be assisting the finalists for the final service.

Since Nick had an advantage, he is allowed to choose his sous chefs first. For his team, he selects Jason, Louis and Brian. Nina chooses Shirley, Stephanie and Travis.  She jokes that it's a girls vs. guys challenge!

Each team begins to plan their menus. Nina wants to showcase local ingredients as well as mix in two additional surprise courses. Super ambitious. Nick, on the other hand, chooses to focus on putting a contemporary spin on the technique of his preparation.

It's off to Whole Foods for the last time. Nina is on a mission to make an ice cream for her dessert. Nick is planning a revenge panna cotta to make up for his failure at this dish before.

Travis breaks the news to Nina that the kitchen does not have an ice cream machine. She'll have to improvise on her ingredients.

Nick's team heads back to ka'ana kitchen to prep their service. Nina's team is off to Gannon's restaurant to do the same.

Back in Nick's kitchen, things -- some more conventional than others -- are getting underway. Standing on top of a pan of shellfish, Jason exclaims, "That's 200 pounds of effin' pressure on that bitch; 65 pounds is my hair and ego."

Nick and the sous are joined by Tom, who checks in on the dishes and wants to know if there will be a dessert course. Nicholas informs him that he is going to create a panna cotta again, to make up for his previous attempt. It's always tricky when a chef does this, because the judge's hold it under even more scrutiny.


At Nina's restaurant, Emeril shows up to check on things. Again, he is curious if there will be a dessert course for her service or all savory dishes. She explains how she was going to do an ice cream, but will now create zeppoles. "You don't get penalized for not doing a dessert!" Tom shares. But, we all know the judges never like that.

The chefs are taken to dinner later that night and are surprised by some special guests. Nina's husband and brother join her, while Nick's wife and mother have come to see him. They all discuss their journeys as chefs.

The following day is the big show. The first diners head to Nina's restaurant, Canouan, named after the island her father was from. Gail, Tom, Davis Kinch and Takashi Yagihashi are ready to be served. Not to be outdone by Padma's previously mentioned bikini top, Gail is rocking a dress that is a wardrobe malfunction waiting to happen.

At Nicholas’ restaurant, Padma, Emeril, Hugh Acheson, Paul Bartolotta and Masaharu Morimoto are ready for the first course.

Nina serves up an amuse bouche prior to her first course. A breadfruit with whipped foi gras butter, it's a big hit with Tom and Gail. Her true first course is a tuna tartar with tomato water and jalapeno. "You can taste the islands!"

Nick's first course is a hamachi and tuna crudo. The judges like the flavor, but agree it is under-seasoned. Here we go again. Nick's middle name should just be "under-seasoned" at this point.


Nina's second course is a roasted goat. which she keeps referring to as "baby goat" -- which sounds less and less appealing each time she says it. But the judges think it was perfectly cooked.

Nick presents a second course of a sweet shrimp bisque and daikon noodles. The judges give it mixed reviews.

On to the third course. For Nina, it's a swordfish and squash puree. Tom isn't a fan of the kale that accompanies the dish…but honestly, who is a fan of kale?

Nicholas serves a cured duck breast, also with a squash side. Emeril can not eat most of his duck, due to inconsistent cooking. But overall, the judges love the flavors.

For the final dessert courses, Nick's panna cotta comes out with an almond cocoa crumble and tropical fruit. Again, it's not a home run, but still good.

Nina presents her second surprise dish, a compressed dragon fruit and frozen papaya skewer. Mixed feelings on this one.


Her actual dessert is the chocolate zeppole with macadamia nuts and passion fruit. The flavors are fine, but the judges don't believe this is the best way to end the meal.

Now, that they've made it through one service, it's time to do it all over again! The judges head over to the next restaurant to get a taste of the other contestent's menu.

Weekend Watch

Weekend Watch


Plan your weekend with our picks for the best events, restaurant and movie reviews, TV shows and more. Delivered every Thursday.

Off to the Judge's Table. It's the closest finale "ev-ah." Nick had some issues with his service, some missing dessert spoons, an audible break-down in the kitchen and, of course, his lack of seasoning.

Nina added two extra courses, and the judges debate over whether they actually added to her meal, or if they distracted her from focusing on the four courses she needed to present.

After much debate, it pans out that Nina takes the first two courses. Nick wins the second two course. Obviously, things must be this close for the finale.

It's already 11:30 p.m. and the judges are in a lock over this tie. Gail says they could sit there for another 60 hours and still not agree on what they all ate. Emeril says, "Where would you want to go back to dinner tomorrow?


Now it's 12:20 a.m. and the decision is not any closer. They're in the weeds over this. Finally, after 1 a.m., they have chosen the winner. In this incredibly close race to the end, it's finally time to announce the newest winner of "Top Chef."

Padma slowly announces ... "Nick, you are Top Chef."

This came as a surprise to most, including me. Nick, the "villain" of the season, came out on top. We all know his week of immunity and a failed dish saved him, but it also forced him to step his game up for the following weeks.