Last night season 15 of Bravo’s Top Chef came to a close. For those watching from the beginning you no doubt saw your favorite chef bow out some time ago. Tonight we, the audience, were left to see who would come out on top (chef) – Joe Flamm or Adrienne Cheatham.
Obvious spoilers are below so if you haven’t had a chance to watch yet, or simply don’t care to ruin the mystery, read on. You’ve been warned.
It seems almost unfair to even have a winner this season since most of the contestants, save a few surly and self-proclaimed underappreciated culinary geniuses, were legit friendly towards one another. You can actually see, without much difficulty, that the chefs on this season of Top Chef actually liked being around one another, most notably the 3 bears (Tyler, Joe and Bruce) + Mustache Joe. I’ll confess that as much as I like Adrienne, and I do really like her, I was hoping for Mustache Joe. In my heart I knew he probably did not have the finesse to get to the finale, but damn if he wasn’t close (Joe finished 3rd, likely a result of serving plain sourdough bread, sigh).
So it is with Adrienne and Joe; they admire and respect one another. Gone are the days of good versus evil – we are living in the age of Lebron James and friend competitors. For the final challenge Adrienne and Joe get to pick two sous chefs to help them pull off their culinary pièce de résistance. Per usual, the previously eliminated chefs are wheeled out and picked to be on Adrienne and Joe’s team kickball style. Adrienne selects Chris for her first choice…which was odd. Don’t get me wrong, dude can cook, but with Mustache Joe on the table it…well…doesn’t make too much sense. Chris cooks southern style food and we discover that is precisely what Adrienne plans on cooking up to wow the judges but still…why Chris? He’s so boring and one note and doesn’t have a lot of ideas and…kinda sucks?
Joe smartly chooses Mustache Joe with his first pick. Flamm, who works at Spiaggia in Chicago, is planning an intricate Italian meal to win over the judges. Mustache Joe totally makes sense for this menu but…the menu itself doesn’t. Instantly I recall an earlier episode where Padma laments, “You guys are killing me with this pasta”. Not good. Let’s recall Joe also previously went home and had to work his way through last chance kitchen to even be here and you potentially have a recipe for disaster.
The next two picks come quickly with Adrienne picking Carrie Baird, celebrated Colorado local who relies on making fancy toast to win competitions. Neat nature fact: When flying into Denver and boarding the train between terminals Carrie welcomes you to Colorado because the mayor was busy or something. Adrienne literally picks her because she is “fun to cook with and that’s important, too”. My heart sinks, Adrienne is finished. Joe picks Fatima Ali, who I just think is lovely. Ali is a firey Bangladeshi woman whose food always looks and sounds amazing. What she lacks in the technical department she more than makes up for in her creativity and flavor.
Joe and Adrienne sit down with their respective teams and begin to develop their final menu. Chris and Carrie are generally agreeable and go along with all of Adrienne’s ideas, nodding their heads appropriately. Adrienne has settled on Southern cooking with a bit of Japanese fusion. Sounds intriguing and needlessly complex – perfect for a Top Chef finale. Joe, Mustache Joe and Fatima start to work Joe’s vision. He’s going full Italian baby and Mustache J and Fatima couldn’t be happier. They actually ask questions and are interested in Joe’s ideas so it’s apparent right out of the gate who picked the better team.
Cut to Whole Foods and each Chef going down their respective shopping lists. Always a timed trip, Adrienne and Joe run through the aisles and scratch items off. We see their friendship once more when Joe checks out first and then Adrienne. Joe has some money in the budget left over but our girl Adrienne is over budget. Good guy Joe tells the audience he wants to win on his food and not a technicality and so he buys the remaining items Adrienne needs to complete her dish. Foreshadow much?
Back in the kitchen, the two now-executive chefs begin to execute. Adrienne and her team are having difficulty making this crispy cheese thing that will eventually be served over a sea urchin buttermilk dashi dish. There were other things in it, but it went over my head. Spoonbread maybe? I’ve never had it so I don’t know exactly what it is, but maybe it’s in there too? Adrienne also assigns Carrie to make grits for a classic shrimp and grits dish but…surprise! Because grits is not fancy toast, Carrie has never made it before. Grits. I’ve made grits. Guess I could be on Top Chef now.
Over on Joe’s side they are making this green pasta that will be stuffed with pig’s head. Joe informs us that most pig’s heads are female, passing the layup dad-joke, and explaining more technicalities with his dish. Mustache Joe kills the pasta prep while Fatima struggles with making brown sugar cake. I think Fatima on desert is a waste but what do I know. Good guy Joe assures Fatima that it will come out fine even though they may have to make a few more before it does. Mustache Joe tells her the only problem with the cake is that it isn’t very good. Easy fix.
The sun sets on prep day 1 and we move to an inspirational dinner back at their lux apartment hosted by chefs/hosts/friends (?) Tom Colicchio and Graham Elliot. Tom cooks a massive grouper and Graham makes what looks like a steak? Unsure as his meal wasn’t highlighted but I am sure it was fine. Either way who eats like this? Two entrees? I’d be so fucking full from dinner the night before that cooking the next day would be insanely difficult. I’d have to shout orders and taste everything from the bathroom. After some kind words and general “hey you got this!” type remarks Tom and Graham head out for the night.
Day 2 arrives and we are set to see what the chefs are prepping for the judge’s table. Adrienne’s first dish arrives and Graham says the spoon-bread-sea-urchin-cheese-cracker is seductive. Pause. What? Who says that about food? I love eating good food, and I love Graham Elliot, but to use the word sensual when describing food is just…stop it Graham. Go back to your weird hold the fork out and examine before eating small bite technique. That works. Food sex doesn’t. Joe serves a small cut of tuna with fat powder. I don’t know what fat powder is but one of the guest judges says it’s an ingenious use of it. I’m good with this but I wonder how often fat powder is used – and what can it be used with? I’m thinking some beefy bourbon cocktail thing might be nice? Probably not though. I’m thinking Joe wins the first round.
Second course arrives and we have to determine which dish is executed better: Joe’s pig head tortellini or Adrienne’s shrimp and grits. Joe, when describing his dish to the judges says his pasta looks like river rocks for some reason. It does, but that seems like an odd image to conjure up. You know those mossy rocks that fish sit in between and pee on? Put one of those in your mouth. The judges eat up (see what I did there) the description and remark on how each tortellini is hand-rolled. All pasta should be handmade just like your non-existent Italian grandma did when she cooked Sunday evening dinner for your massive catholic family – in one pot. Seems like Joe comes out on top again.
The third course is the entree course. Joe has made asparagus bathed in asparagus juice (again, didn’t know that was a thing) by grinding down the stocks and juicing them. Side note: I am going to try this and screw it up. Gail Winters, who seemingly likes nothing, loves the Asparagus. Unfortunately Joe also serves a forgettable ribeye with the asparagus. Whoops! Adrienne plates a cheerwine (so many things to look up on the internet today) braised short rib served on top of black-eyed peas. She pretends to overcook the beans and bursts some of them and Tom calls her out on this. Bad home cooks burst beans, and while he gets she was trying to be fun, she’s better than that. The lesson here? If you know how to cook beans, cook beans correctly. Tom has no room for fun at his table. Still, it seems like Adrienne gets the point here.
Finally we get to the desert course and let’s be honest here – desert is always an afterthought. The chefs are exhausted at this point. I’d do the same thing and mail it in too. Let’s flambé a fruit, squirt some whip cream onto a plate, and call it a day. Hilariously the judges call out both Adrienne and Joe for making good deserts but naming them poorly. This somehow affects the overall quality of the deserts so this one is a tossup on account of chef error? That’s the last two dishes of the season. Contest over.
Adrienne and Joe retire to the outside deck while the judges deliberate and it isn’t long before they are called back in to hear the results. With all the eliminated Top Chef contestants gathered-round the judges announce that Joe Flamm is the winner of Top Chef season 15. So now that Joe’s the winner his plans are…to go back to Spaggia and keep pushing it till he’s ready to open his own joint. I mean, that’s fine, but you could totally just go out and get some investors at this point and do your own thing. Whatever, Joe is a nice guy and won through his cooking. See ya in Chicago. I’m sure Adrienne will have her own spot shortly. It’s not like coming up second on Top Chef is worth nothing. Just please don’t invite Chris to cook in your kitchen when you do open shop.
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