The Wednesday night finale of "Top Chef" was like a great comeback kung fu movie. After having been sent home too early in the season, Kristen Kish fought her way back into the competition. The "Last Chance Kitchen" champion beat L.A. girl Brooke Williamson by two rounds to earn the title of Top Chef.
Williamson and Kish each cooked in front of a live audience of more than 300 people, the judges, their former competitors and all nine of the previous "Top Chef" champions. The first chef to win three rounds was named the winner. It turned into an Iron Chef-like competition with the audience counting down the final 10 seconds of each round, but the live audience really bugged me. It was distracting, unnecessary and gave the entire finale a cheese ball game show feel.
It was fun to see a look back at the past winners who collectively run 17 restaurants. They were however the harshest critics. After each bite they shrugged their shoulders and looked at each other like maybe they could have done better.
Back in the kitchen, Williamson had Stefan Richter, Kuniko Yagi and Chris "C.J." Jacobson on her team and Kish had Elizabeth Binder, Sheldon Simeon and Josh Valentine in her corner. Kish took the first round with her chicken liver mousse, frisee, mustard, prune, hazelnuts and pumpernickel, beating Williamson's crispy pig ear and chicory salad with a six-minute egg, apricot jam and candied kumquats. The live judging was tense with each judge voting on the spot for a favorite dish.
Williamson took the second round with her seared scallop with salt cod puree, speck, black currant and mustard seed vinaigrette, over Kish's citrus- and lavender-cured scallop with bitter orange and lemon. But Kish came back swinging. Williamson attempted to redeem herself for her fried chicken debacle by making vadouvan chicken wings, but Kish's celery root puree with bone marrow and mushrooms was the judges' favorite.
The saddest part of the finale was when Williamson admitted "I want to win this because I want to prove that I wasn't winning because Kristen wasn't there."
For the fourth and final round, Williamson went all out with a braised pork cheek with red snapper, collard green slaw, sorrel puree and pine nut cream, but it was no match for Kish's red snapper with leeks, little gem lettuce, tarragon, uni and shellfish nage. Kish was announced the winner and awarded a showcase at Aspen Food and Wine, a feature in Food and Wine magazine and $125,000. She told the camera she plans to travel to Korea for the first time with a portion of her winnings.
I was pulling for Williamson, but Kish really deserved the win. Congrats to both ladies!