Saturday, May 27, 2006


Stick a Fork in It

Previously on Top Chef: My tape missed it. You'll have to read the recap.

Palatial hotel suite. Pregame pep rally time. Tiffani deserves to be in the competition. The title is important to her, especially since she doesn't have formal training. She's here to win and take the prize money home. Harold is ready to go finish the job. He definitely wants to win.

Katie Lee and Chef Tom await them in the Las Vegas Craftsteak. Katie provides a generic spiel, and Chef Tom introduces the challenge as something they've been waiting for. No kids (Tiffani looks abashed), no microwaves, no carts, no gimmicks, just "straight up cooking." They have to prepare a five course meal for eight diners. The guest judge is Lorraine Bracco, who has also provided a selection of wines for the meal. The other guests will be major players in the food business. One chef will cook at Nob Hill, the other at Craftsteak. Naturally, they'll draw knives to see who gets what. Harold goes first and gets Nob Hill. There's not much suspense when Tiffani pulls the Craftsteak knife.

Katie provides them with some assistance in the form of the last four bootees -- Dave, Lee Anne, Stephen and Miguel. Harold is pleased and Tiffani claps. They compliment Stephen on his tie. I know it's traditional to bring back former contestants for the finale, but I would rather have seen brand-new sous chefs. I think that would be a better test of their ability to motivate others, because it completely avoids the whole peer/subordinate issue that fellow competitors bring to the table. Also, you usually don't spend a month sharing a house with your future coworkers, so anonymous sous chefs are just more realistic. But reality show producers just can't resist making their hamsters run through yet another maze.

Chef Tom announces that a top chef inspires others to work with them. Cut to Tiffani looking concerned. Chef Tom goes down the line and asks who they want to work for and why. Dave says he has worked with them both and would like to work for Harold. No reason given; I appreciate his restraint. Lee Anne enjoys working with Harold. Stephen is pondering. He would like to work with both of them, but he'll choose Tiffani to "keep it interesting." She smiles and thanks him. Stephen is really having some moments of grace lately; I was also impressed with his work as a guest judge. Miguel wonders if he should even it up, and Tiffani is looking a little pensive. Chef Tom says that if Miguel chooses Harold, then Harold will have to decide who he'll give up. Miguel chooses Harold because he thinks they have a good connection. Harold swears because he has to choose now. I like Harold, but he's a little too much of a nice guy. When push comes to shove, sometimes the guy in charge needs to be a boss instead of a pal. Harold picks Lee Anne; for the others, he opts to leave it to the luck of the draw and puts the knives to work again. Tiffani likes the way he's turning the tables. Dave swears and looks stressed; cut to Tiffani looking anxious. Dave grabs a knife and says "It's all good." Miguel grins as he clasps the other knife. Miguel lands on Harold's team. Tiffani smiles and easily tells Dave, "Happy to have you." Which I suspect is not entirely true, but I prefer gracious fakery to honest screaming and crying. Chef Tom diplomatically frames the teams as East Coast versus West Coast. Katie lays out some logistics: they'll have the afternoon to prep and meet with the hotel staff to order anything they need; the service will happen the next day. As she and Tom leave, I finally notice she's wearing a seriously ugly lava-lamp print dress. Maybe the next Project Runway could devote a challenge to helping her out.

Harold summons his fellow New Yorkers and they head off to Nob Hill. Back at Craftsteak, Tiffani tells her helpers that she's "really happy to have you both." Dave interviews that it's ironic to be working for Tiffani. Only if you're Alanis Morrisette. But he'll keep it together because he's not going to -- he fails to mention what he's not going to do. Tiffani still looks nervous. I can't say I blame her. Dave is a potential disaster for her, and Stephen can be slow and hard to manage. I like that she's saying the right things about working with them, but I just don't think it will make a real difference. Their opinions are just too firmly ingrained at this point.

Lee Anne is happy that she can help Harold out. Harold interviews that they got an hour to taste the wines and assemble the menu. They all sit and drink and plan. Lee Anne says Harold invited their input and made it a team effort. He remembers Miguel's duo of beef from the first elimination challenge; it's a strong dish and he knows Miguel can do it. He thinks people will take more pride if they've contributed their ideas. Over at Craftsteak, Tiffani explains that she's dealing with duality in her life, so she's going to do two preparations for each course. Dave looks at Stephen in alarm. She acknowledges that it's risky and will be harder to pull off. Stephen interviews that this is the sort of thing he would do. However, putting the menu together with the wine was the most difficult thing he has done, since Tiffani came in with a planned menu. Except for dessert. This makes me think she didn't come up with the menu during the break between Napa and the finale. They've all been nervous about desserts since day one, so if she planned the whole thing out, she would have dealt with the dessert issue. Dave offers a panna cotta recipe and Stephen probes if that's the style she wants. Tiffani asks Dave if he wants to handle the dessert course. Dave says he came back prepared to tackle desserts, and Tiffani is relieved at her good luck. Dave interviews that he and Stephen and Tiffani are working as a team, even though he and Stephen would both probably prefer working for Harold. Tiffani asks them what they think about the menu, and they're both fine with it. I'm not sure I believe them; they have an "I'm not going to rock the boat" kind of vibe going on.

Next comes prep. They have four hours to get things ready. The chefs pick out table stuff from the commissary and request ingredients. As they're working, Chef Tom drops in. Tiffani explains that they're doing two tasting menus, with different preparations of the same ingredients. They're starting with scallops, then artichokes, fish, veal and desserts. Chef Tom interviews that the key right now is food and execution. Tiffani might wow the judges, but if something goes wrong, it could drag down both dishes. Tiffani and Dave taste something. Chef Tom checks in with Harold. He's also starting with scallops, then poached bass, roasted quail, and beef duo. Chef Tom recognizes the beef duo; Harold nods to Miguel and says he has the champ. Chef Tom tells Miguel he thought it was the strongest dish he did. So it was all downhill for Miguel? The last course is three cheeses with a fig tart to show off Harold's "fabulous pastry skills." Chef Tom interviews that the menu is interesting and intricate, but safe. Since Harold has a solid team, he doesn't have any excuses not to pull it off. Dave is glad he memorized his dessert recipes; he won't get the benefit, but they'll "benefit Tiff." Tiffani urges someone to "go quick" at the one minute mark. She high-fives Dave as the time runs out. Harold's feeling good about the next day; he worked well with his team and he knows they have his back. Tiffani thinks it's all about the next day; Stephen and Dave are working really well and "executing [her] vision." Dave interviews that this is Tiffani's "thing" so he's just letting her say whatever she wants and he'll just execute as best he can. America, don't be mad at him if she wins because he's just being a good sport. Yes, if Tiffani wins, it will still be all about Dave. Well, it's nice to see everyone getting along and being professional...

The next day, Harold gets ready. His adrenaline is taking off. He's happy with his menu. Lee Anne is really happy to help Harold; she wants him to win. Lee Anne and Miguel keep calling him "chef" and it kinda freaks him out. He'd rather they just call him Harold, since he considers them peers. The waitstaff comes in. Flashback to Chef Tom advising him to stay in the back of the house. Harold decides to write out his menu. The servers read through it. Harold goes over things with them; he'll come out of the kitchen only at the beginning and end. The cooking gets underway, and Harold is nervous. Things are going too well. Miguel is getting "eerie" about the smooth sailing. Fortunately, he clangs some pots, so I guess that helps unjinx them. Harold has to point him to the white pepper instead of the black a couple of times before he gets it.

The guests arrive. It looks like they each have a copy of Harold's menu; he listed the chefs with his name at the bottom. Chef Tom interviews that Harold doesn't know who the diners are; they have some heavyweights. As Harold comes out, he observes that there are some tough judges in the room and he's in trouble. Harold has a very self-deprecating humor that works because he's really not insecure about his limitations. Katie performs the introductions: Lorraine Bracco; Dana Cowin, editor in chief of Food & Wine; previous guest judge Hubert Keller; Michael Mina, chef/owner of Nob Hill; Drew Nierporent, owner of Myriad Restaurant Group, which Harold describes as a "culinary empire." He knows everyone but Ms. Bracco. (I just feel like calling her Ms. Bracco.) Harold explains that they all tasted the wines, which he thought were "fantastic," and put a menu together. Back in the kitchen, he tells the other it's a bunch of heavy hitters. He takes a swig from a mini-bar booze bottle to settle his nerves; with that kind of judging panel, he needs a kevlar vest. Time to start.

  1. Seared diver scallop with blood orange and fennel salad: Chef Hubert compliments his presentation. Ms. Bracco likes the wine pairing. Harold asks the waitstaff to eavesdrop for him. Chef Mina appreciates the light hand with the vinaigrette. Gail thinks the salad might have been dressed a little early, so it's a little bit wilted. The server repeats Gail's comment; Harold says it wasn't a "home run."
  2. Bass poached in olive oil: Katie's piece of fish is mostly the bloodline, so it's basically inedible. Harold paces. Lee Anne asks how it's going, but he has no idea. Chef Mina thinks the seasoning is off; you have to season again after poaching. Ms. Bracco doesn't think it was the right dish for the Brunello. Chef Hubert thinks the fish is upside-down. Miguel tells Harold the judges are just nitpicking.
  3. Pan-roasted quail with herb spaetzle, cherries and foie gras: Drew asks Chef Hubert about cooking quail; he's seeing undercooked quail as a trend now. Chef Hubert thinks it's a little overcooked. Dana likes the classic combination. Harold worries about letting down his team, but Miguel gives him a pep talk. Harold takes another swig from his mini-bottle. Chef Tom thinks the dishes have all worked well with the wines. Chef Mina likes the progression of dishes.
  4. Duo of beef with Kobe beef and braised short ribs: It's served in an enormous bowl -- like family-sized pasta bowl -- for each guest, which is striking but I find it too much. Harold feels good about it. Chef Hubert thinks it's the best, especially with the wine. Ms. Bracco loves it. Chef Tom has no criticisms. Gail thinks it's great. The server reports it's a home run.
  5. Fig tart with cheeses -- Lee Anne hopes the judges like the pairing with the Amarone. Chef Hubert loves the plating. Chef Tom likes the combination of the tart and the cheeses. Ms. Bracco finds the cheese delicious. Drew thinks they were well-chosen.

Harold comes out to receive his feedback. He tells the judges he's ready with his bulletproof vest and they laugh. Chef Hubert thinks the quail was overcooked, but thought the beef was a standout. Ms. Bracco's favorite pairing was the Amarone with the cheeses. Dana liked the progression but felt the bass dish had too much happening. Drew asks if he cooks to please the guest or himself. I think the question comes down to, cooking as art or cooking as commerce? Harold answers that he likes to address both. It's a safe answer, but I think it's true for him. He likes people to enjoy their food, but he wants to make food he can be proud of. I do think his sensibility is more high-end rather than populist; this is the guy who tried to peddle seared tuna from a street cart, after all. But since he's in the process of opening a restaurant, he has to be thinking about making food that's attractive to diners.

Tiffani arrives at the hotel commissary to pick up her supplies. No Dave or Stephen, so the director of stewarding helps her ferry everything over to the restaurant. She hopes being late will inspire them to work harder. When they show up, she asks if they're okay. Dave interviews that he and Stephen had a "great evening" on the town. We see them drinking, drinking, drinking. They're wearing the same clothes. Dave thinks they should start tasting the wines now. Tiffani interviews that she was happy to have them in whatever state -- sober, hungover, still drunk. But I'm sure she would have been happiest with sober. Tiffani tells Stephen that he needs to "get a move on." She interviews that she had to keep repeating herself to him, and we see her ask for a low oven with plates. She says "please" a lot, too.

The guests arrive and Tiffani comes out. Katie is going to introduce them, but Tiffani says, "These people don't need introductions." The guests chuckle. Tiffani explains that she doesn't think the cook can be separated from the food. Since she's dealing with duality in her life -- some good things, some bad -- they're doing two preparations of the same ingredient. She leaves to get things going. The duality idea creates a stir. I think it's Dana who asks if they know more about what she means by duality. Ms. Bracco wonders if she needs to suit up as Dr. Melfi. Back in the kitchen, Tiffani says, "I don't wanna talk at all until we're completely done with this. I'm sorry." Stephen says, "Call it." She wants plates; time to go. She interviews that she needed them to flow with her. She warns Stephen not to disappear on her. Dave plates one scallop dish while she does the other.

  1. Seared diver scallop wrapped in charred ramp with squid ink emulsion/scallop crudo with grapefruit, lemon and kumquat: Chef Hubert thinks the citrus overpowered the scallop a little. Chef Mina thinks his scallop was beautifully prepared. Dana found the squid ink emulsion delicious. Chef Tom thinks Tiffani might run into trouble with the comparisons between her two dishes. Ms. Bracco liked them both.

    Dave tells Stephen they shouldn't be socializing when Tiffani comes back because -- gesture of some sort. I dare not try to interpret what Dave means; I don't want to get that much into his head. Stephen reports that artichokes are the hardest food to pair with wine. (Apparently there's a chemical reaction in the tastebuds that makes wines taste sweeter.) Tiffani reseasons the fried artichokes after Dave already seasoned them. Stephen interviews that she didn't taste them before doing it. Tiffani interviews that she trusts Dave when it comes to sauces, but "your palate's not there" when you're hung over. Dave says the bossing is "already starting." It's in Tiffani's interest to "keep it low," but if she pushes it, he'll "push off." So much for letting her say what she wants and executing as best he can. I liked these guys better before they went out drinking. Tiffani moves Dave's glass of wine off the prep area, saying she doesn't care if he drinks, but not on the line. Dave makes a bitchy face behind her back. Geez, the risk of spilled wine is bad enough, but a broken glass could ruin everything. Dave interviews that drinking is the only way he can get through the ordeal of helping someone he doesn't respect. Which makes me wonder how he managed four hours of prep the day before without getting plastered. He thanks "Lorraine" for the wine. Hey, that's Ms. Bracco to you, bub.

  2. Artichoke risotto with porchetta/crispy braised artichoke with lemon, parsley and garlic dipping sauce: Dana wonders why you would serve an artichoke dish with a wine pairing. Chef Tom asks if anyone thinks the wine suffered. Ms. Bracco says, "Not at all." Gail liked the risotto better; Chef Tom agrees that it "completely outshone" the other dish. Gail says Tiffani's not playing it safe.

    Dave interviews that with all the dishes in a limited amount of time, "You have resources. You can use them." If you want to be considered a trustworthy resource, perhaps you should try showing up on time and ready to bring your "A" game. Dave thinks she did too much herself and dishes sat too long.

  3. Steamed branzino with ratatouille (seared tomato, red pepper emulsion)/crispy branzino with black olive papprdelle: Tiffani likes to keep fish lightly sauced or no sauce at all. Katie complains that she talks too much; Chef Tom and Ms. Bracco agree. Chef Tom calls the dish an "absolute disaster."

    Tiffani tells Dave and Stephen, "You guys have been fantastic. Thank you." Dave warns they still have time to screw things up. He asks, "What number are we on?" Tiffani says it's the meat course, number four. Dave drinks some more. As the servers start bringing out plates, Katie decides they should just eat while Tiffani talks. So they do.

  4. Saltimbocca with Primitivo glace/veal with minted peas and spinach crema: Dana thinks the wine service is perverse. Ms. Bracco thinks they could have used a sommelier. Katie tells her the team has a sommelier. Chef Tom thinks both dishes are good but not great. Ms. Bracco laments, "I'm not needing to lick my plate, and that makes me sad."

    Tiffani and Dave work on a set of dessert plates. Stephen pours out a tumbler of liquor while Tiffani places giant ice cubes in glasses. Dave rejoices that the dessert will be "yum" as he watches Tiffani arrange a layer of gooey stuff on the panna cotta. It would have been so fun to do this. Although he did actually do it. Tiffani says, "I'm glad you got to help." That sounds strangely unlike, "Shut up, I'm trying to concentrate." Dave says Tiffani let him run with the desserts and didn't overpower him. Stephen commends Dave for giving Tiffani his recipe.

  5. Golden raisin bread pudding with rum cocktail/vanilla panna cotta and passion fruit reduction with amaretto cocktail: The judges all make rapturous noises. Katie annouces that it's the best bread pudding and Ms. Bracco doesn't want to share hers.

Back in the kitchen, the cooks share a toast. Tiffani says she "cannot begin" to thank them enough. Dave says he's happy he got to cook in the finale, although he doesn't look all that happy when he says it. Tiffani heads out to take her medicine. Ms. Bracco says, "I think you have a lot of balls." Tiffani appreciates the compliment more given the source. Drew poses his "who do you cook for" question and Tiffani answers, "I cook the way I want to eat. That's really important to me. Cooking to please other people to me just falls short." Which puts Tiffani pretty squarely in the "cooking as art" camp -- she has a vision and she wants to follow it. I think that's a fine attitude in an artist, although it tends to make one's life a lot harder. But any art form needs people who aren't hewing to the tried-and-true; if people never followed their vision, we wouldn't have Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. Dana says that she appreciates the risks Tiffani took, but she has some questions about the wines. Chef Hubert loved the dessert.

Judges' table: Katie starts with Chef Tom. Hey, what happened to starting with the guest judge? Manners, people. Chef Tom thinks they both did great work. Harold played it safe but was solid. Gail says that Tiffani took more risks and pushed some dishes "to the next level." Chef Tom says he has to consider some risk/reward, and Ms. Bracco and Gail agree. Chef Tom's favorite was Tiffani's artichoke risotto. That and Harold's beef. Katie raves some more about Tiffani's dessert. Chef Tom wonders who made the desserts, so Katie brings in the sous chefs for their input. Considering that Chef Tom's blog said the desserts were very much in Tiffani's style, I have to wonder if his wondering was a scripted lead-in to bringing in the sous chefs.

Chef Tom asks Stephen about his role in the wine pairings. Stephen says he definitely brought his input, but it was a very difficult pairing with such a complex menu. Chef Tom asks how they felt when they heard it would be ten dishes. Stephen says that as much as he'd like to "hose" Tiffani, he thinks it was cool. Lee Anne laughs. Stephen gives Tiffani props for going for it, as does Lee Anne. Gail says they do, too. Katie asks the other two what they thought of Harold. Miguel says he really made sure they were taken care of. Lee Anne says he knows he couldn't have gotten to this point without the support of his castmates. Which sounds nice, but it seems Tiffani was able to get to the finals without the support of her castmates, so we need a little clarification on which point "this point" is.

Chef Tom asks Dave how he felt ending up on Tiffani's team. Dave says he's a professional and he puts forth his best effort for anyone. So if he weren't putting forth his best effort, how late would he have been? Katie asks if she was good to them. Dave says she was as good as she could be. There was still "snappy" stuff, like "Get the wine off the line." I wonder how snappy Chef Hubert would sound saying that. Dave mimics Tiffani telling them to stop talking. Too bad we never actually saw her doing it. If only someone had thought to put a camera in the kitchen to capture these moments... Stephen thinks she should have let them get away with anything, since she needed them so much. And then she could get criticized for not knowing how to run a kitchen. Dave thinks when you're competing for money, it's time to be cool and considerate. I really don't think there's enough consideration in the world to make Dave think well of Tiffani at this point. Chef Tom asks what role he played. Dave says he did the dessert. Chef Tom asks, "Start to finish?" and Dave says it was all him. So the part where we saw Tiffani adding the passionfruit reduction to the panna cotta, Dave was manipulating Tiffani's hands by telekinesis? Katie raves about the dessert some more. She polls them for their votes. Miguel says he loves them both, but chooses Harold; the rest just pick Harold. Katie thanks them and sends them out. Dave wants to find a bar.

The judges find that all very interesting. They bring in the chefs. Katie asks Harold why he took a relatively conservative road. He didn't want to trip himself up and he likes simple food. He's sorry if they didn't find it "extravagant" enough. Katie brings up Tiffani's talking. She mentions that Harold wrote out a menu, and Tiffani is surprised that he didn't talk. Given that all the chefs talked at the Napa challenge, I wonder if she figured it was a requirement. Tiffani assumed the guests would just start eating, and says, "That was my misstep, for sure." So if anyone says that Tiffani never accepts criticism from the judges -- well, you're not going to change their minds, so don't even bother trying. Chef Tom elaborates that with the dual menu, she had to explain two dishes, which took longer. Chef Tom asks Harold what he would have changed. He brings up Katie's fish; she wasn't happy and he wasn't happy with it either. Chef Tom asks about the well-done quail. Harold made it, but it's not his habit to make it well-done. Ms. Bracco was not happy with Tiffani's pairing of the Amarone with the bass (the branzino). Tiffani says if they missed once in ten dishes, she's sorry. Chef Tom asks Tiffani what her favorite dish was. She's proud of all her food, so she doesn't really have a favorite. She calls the panna cotta with passionfruit a "firecracker." Katie says everyone loved it. Tiffani says she gave Dave a directive of "exactly" what she wanted and he really came through. Chef Tom reports that Dave said he worked on the recipe prior to the competition. Tiffani says that they discussed it at length; Dave brought something to it, and she brought something to it. We didn't see them discussing it at length, but there was a lot we didn't see. One thing we did see was Tiffani working on the bread pudding plates with Dave, and then Dave watching her add the passionfruit reduction. So clearly the dessert wasn't "all" Dave. I'm inclined to believe there was at least some discussion, even if it didn't happen at the menu planning stage. Tiffani says she was "blessed" with the people she worked with, and they were "tremendous" assets. Chef Tom finds that "admirable" but reports they both voted for Harold. Tiffani doesn't know what to say; she finds it "heartbreaking" in multiple ways. Katie asks why she should be Top Chef. Tiffani says she takes risks, and if people didn't take risks, it would be to everyone's detriment. Gail nods in agreement. Harold gets the same question. His food is consistent. Also, a chef needs people who want to work by his side. Katie thanks them both and sends them out.

Chef Tom says Harold played it safe. Tiffani's high points were higher, but her lows were lower. Gail thinks the quail was overcooked but the concept was good. Ms. Bracco loved the cherries and foie gras. Chef Tom thinks Harold's beef beat out Tiffani's two veal dishes. Ms. Bracco thinks it could have been served in any top restaurant; it was "magnificent." Chef Tom thinks a Top Chef should be able to inspire others to work with them, and Harold won that.

Back in the kitchen, Tiffani says it was tough to hear all the sous chefs wanted Harold to win. "My back just ran into your knife." Harold's face reflects a universal puzzlement about what she means, but he apologizes. Tiffani says, "It's fair enough." Hello, editing? Interview? Anybody? Bueller?

Ms. Bracco enjoyed Tiffani's boldness. Chef Tom thinks the artichoke risotto was possibly the high point of both meals. "On the other hand," Gail criticizes the fish with the fennel (not sure which), for the color and plating. Ms. Bracco loved the desserts, and she doesn't care about the drama and who doesn't get along with whom; it's just about the food. Chef Tom checks that everyone is ready to vote.

The chefs are summoned back to the table. Chef Tom proclaims them both worthy. Tiffani did some great food and some not-so-great food. She has shown growth through the competition, and they love her passion, but her ambition has gotten in the way of relationships. She's working on it, but she needs to work it out. Harold played it safe, but his food was consistently good. He had a strong team, but in the end, it's not a popularity contest. Tiffani looks hopeful. Katie announces that it was a very difficult decision. They drag it out, and Katie gives the win to Harold. Tiffani and Harold shake hands and she kisses his cheek. Harold is ready for a cocktail. Katie apologetically delivers the kicker line to Tiffani.

Tiffani finds it tough to get this close and not win. She starts to tear up thinking about what she could have done with the money, and walks off.

The sous chefs come in and congratulate Harold. The win is overwhelming. The money will come in handy with his restaurant, and he'll be calling on some of the great people he's met in the competition, because he's going to need help.

Results: A good competition should be close, with everyone putting forth their best efforts. So I'm happy with both the contestants. Let's check the scorecard:

  1. If Tiffani's citrusy crudo didn't beat Harold's slightly wilted salad, her seared scallop with squid ink did.
  2. Tiffani's high point artichokes beat Harold's underseasoned fish (with an inedible piece for Katie).
  3. Harold's overcooked but well-conceived quail beat Tiffani's low-point fish dishes.
  4. Harold's "magnificent" duo of beef beat Tiffani's "good, not great" veal dishes.
  5. While Harold's cheese selection was universally praised, he wasn't getting spontaneous raves from the judges hours afterwards, so I'm giving this to Tiffani's desserts.

Yes, I said Tiffani's desserts, just as I said Harold's duo of beef. If you're the chef, you get credit for what comes out of your kitchen. That's the way it works. In terms of menu design, I think Harold did a better job of pairing with the wine, while Tiffani's menu was more difficult. In the "inspiring others" category, Harold clearly won. However, Tiffani inspired admiration (grudging or not) in Lee Anne and Stephen. Anonymous sous chefs would have made this evaluation far more realistic. Kitchen staff doesn't generally feel entitled to keep a wine glass in the prep area or have the chef fawn over them. If Tiffani is really impossible to work for (which I don't believe, but let's go with the premise), we'd see that just as easily -- perhaps more convincingly -- with total strangers. And if Harold really is such a great guy (which I do believe), he wouldn't have any trouble winning over his team. Have them pitch their menus and philosophies to a handful of hotel sous chefs and see who wants to sign on. But what's realism to a reality show when there's drama to be generated? Part of being a top chef that wasn't touched on (because they couldn't come up with a challenge?) was fostering new talent. The kitchen of a top chef is a breeding ground for the next generations. I think a young chef would learn good habits in Tiffani's kitchen, but Tiffani doesn't have the mindset to nurture other people's sense of vision. Harold is more collegial in his approach, which makes him a more complete teacher. So overall, I think Harold is a fine choice for Top Chef.

I'm trying to remember when this stopped being fun. The reunion show was definitely a sour exercise, but the Napa episode didn't have much lightness, so I think that's when the tide turned. I'm just tired of all the energy devoted to Tiffani-bashing. So many people have said they tuned into Project Runway and Top Chef because these shows are a refreshing change from the usual reality shows; they're about people who have skills and who take pride in creating things, instead of the usual backstabbing and bitchery. And then Top Chef turns into a show that's all about backstabbing and bitchery.

Clearly Harold and Tiffani have different styles. I happen to think both styles have their place. The thing is, there's no one right way to lead and manage people. There can't be -- people are different. They want different things. Some people just want to work without any nonsense or distractions. These people might well prefer working for Tiffani, and that preference doesn't make them crazy or masochistic. Tiffani works perfectly well with people who are all about food, like Harold in the restaurant challenge. She is a deep focus person -- she concentrates deeply on the cooking, which means she doesn't easily spare thought for other things. She can congratulate her team between tasks, but she probably won't think of it during a task. She works well with other people who share that same deep focus, and who find fooling around distracting. Think of scientists and artists and other single-minded people. It's very hard to lead them if you're not one of them, because you don't have their respect. Tiffani might not be liked, but her skills are definitely respected. Harold clearly has a stronger social orientation. He just automatically connects with people. That serves him well when he connects with skilled people -- but what if he were stuck managing a bad team? His attempt to manage Stephen during the wedding challenge was hardly impressive. Had Harold been working with Tiffani's team, I think we'd have seen him be pretty cranky with them (we saw him getting cranky with Miguel over the white pepper). And people would have placed it in the proper context, as a guy who gets cranky sometimes, as opposed to "Harold is a horrible cranky old codger" and everything he says is cranky.

So, in summary, it's nice that Harold won, and I'm glad it's all over now.

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