Because it's the finals, there's no Quickfire. So the Elimination Challenge is that they have to cook a three-course meal. For the first course, they will each be given a box with identical ingredients. The second course can be whatever they want. The third course has to be a dessert. They'll be serving some of the finest chefs in the country.
And, of course, they draw knives to choose two people from their former competitors to help out as sous chefs, one to help the night before, and one to help the day of service. Kevin gets Preeti (night before) and Ash (day of). Bryan gets Ashley (night before) and Jen (day of). Michael gets Jesse (night before) and Eli (day of). Kevin got screwed, and he knows it. I think Bryan fared best.
First night prep goes great for Bryan and not so great for Kevin, while Michael still isn't sure what he's going to make for his first course. The twist of the finale is that they get a visit from their mothers, and then Colicchio informs them that they now have an added (now first) course, which needs to be inspired by their mothers and their favorite childhood foods. So here's what they made:
First course: "tuna noodle casserole," which is sardine, german butterball potato, heirloom tomato, shaved fennel, and Panko bread crumbs
Second course: sous vide rockfish, kabocha squash with curry and Meyer lemon
Third course: venison saddle, puree of sunchoke and orange-juniper sauce
Fourth course: sheep's milk and white chocolate "dulce de leche" cheesecake, dry caramel, fig sorbet and poached pear
First course: "broccoli reinvented" which is cream of dehydrated broccoli, spot prawn, and fried broccoli
Second course: dashi-glazed rockfish, sweet & sour crab salad with squash and Meyer lemon
Third course: fennel-scented squab, pistachio cassoulet and textures of mushrooms
Fourth course: chocolate caramel coulant, butternut squash brulée and butternut ice cream with candied pumpkin seeds
First course: "Chicken & Fixings" which is fried chicken skin, tomatoes, and liquid squash casserole
Second course: rockfish in duck fat, roasted squash, roasted matsutake, crab broth
Third course: slow-cooked pork belly, roasted broccoli and Brussels sprouts, and caramelized ham jus
Fourth course: roasted banana, toasted peanut with chocolate bacon mousse, and bacon brittle
Service: The moms join them for the first course only. Everyone likes Kevin's dish, but they think Bryan's is underseasoned and Michael's prawns might be undercooked. In the second course, they liked the flavors of Kevin's dish, but he didn't do well with his mushroom. Bryan's food is once again underseasoned and blandly plated, and Michael's dish was greatly balanced and cooked perfectly.
With the third course, Bryan finally shines with his cooking and seasoning. Michael's food is well-cooked but seems gimmicky. Kevin's food is good but the judges seem underwhelmed. And in the final course, the judges aren't impressed with Kevin's heavy use of pork. Michael's cake is dry, and Bryan's dish impressed the judges again.
Judges' Table: They like Bryan's sophistication and restraint, Michael's daring and boldness, and the fact that Kevin stayed true to himself throughout. Kevin had a bad night and is the first eliminated. And then Padma announces that Michael is the new Top Chef.
It's morning in Napa, and the final three are getting ready for the day. Kevin interviews how excited he is to be one of the finalists. He's won five eliminations, the most of everyone, but he thinks Bryan has great technique, and Michael is incredibly creative, so it's anyone's game. As they eat breakfast, they wonder what Jen is doing right now, and Michael suggests that she's detoxing. Then Michael jokes that he wishes it were Bryan who went home. It sounds mean, but it actually comes off as kind of charming in a teasing your sibling kind of way. I think I would have liked Michael a lot more this season if they had shown him mocking Bryan more often. Bryan says he just wants to have fun in this last challenge. Good luck with that. As they walk out the door, Michael jokes with Kevin that he won't need his knives and Kevin says he's going to karate chop everything to pieces. See? Joking around! Michael! Who knew?
The cheftestants join Padma and Tom in front of a vineyard. Tom explains that they'll be cooking a three-course meal for the finals. For the first course, they will each get a box with the same ingredients, and will have to use everything in the box in that dish. The second course is totally their choice, and the third course must be a dessert. I guess Hosea winning with his all meat, all the time meal last season annoyed someone. I note that Padma has perfected the pregnant lady stance, with hands clasped below your bump, so that you look pregnant and not just fat. Padma and Tom add that they'll be serving to some of the most important people in the food industry, and that this meal could make their careers if they impress the right people.
And of course, they'll have help. Kevin looks all confused about who might possibly be coming out from behind the grapevines, but anyone who has watched this show before knows it's going to be the previously eliminated cheftestants, led by Jen carrying the dreaded knife block. There are people I forgot existed. Preeti? Eve? Padma says that they have to draw knives to find out who will be their two sous chefs. This is total horseshit, unless they were going to limit the pool to the last six eliminated. Isn't the point of the finals to see who is the best chef, period? I don't have a huge problem with some of the weird twists they do throughout the season, but I like the finale to be just flat-out cooking, which is why the Masters finale was so satisfying. Anyway, they draw knives. Kevin gets Preeti and Ash. Bryan gets Jen and Ashley. Michael gets Jesse and Eli. Okay, so Kevin got two people who were kind of known for their lack of technique, and it seems like good technique is what you really need in a sous chef. You want someone that you can tell, "Make a béarnaise sauce and steam the clams" and they'll know exactly what you mean without a lot of hand-holding. I think the others got exactly that, and Kevin didn't. I don't know that it affects the final outcome, but I will say that Kevin is clearly bummed out and discouraged from the word jump. Once the knives have been drawn, Tom says that the final three have won twelve out of the thirteen challenges, so great food is expected. That's super impressive. Obviously the right three are in the finals.
So first, they have fifteen minutes to plan what they will make, which includes finding out what's in the mystery crate. Michael opens his crate first, and it seriously looks like the contents of a garbage can in a cartoon. All that's missing is coffee grounds. It's a whole fish of some sort, some crabs, some mushrooms, lemons, herbs, and a few other items. Also, the fish is super exaggerated looking -- it kind of looks like the fish that talked to Tony Soprano in Big Pussy's voice. Bryan lists off the ingredients for us: rockfish. Dungenes crab, kabocha squash, Meyer lemon, matsutake mushrooms, and anise hyssop. You know, probably just like the contents of your pantry right now. Michael seems particularly disgusted as he paws through the ingredients. Bryan doesn't think this will be easy.
So now they have three hours to prep, and one of their sous chefs stays with them, while the other will join them the next day. Kevin works with Preeti, Michael works with Jesse, and Bryan works with Ashley. Bryan is really happy with what Ashley is doing, and she does appear to be taking direction well; all you really hear out of her is "Yes, chef." As Ashley's knife flies through some carrots, Preeti takes like five minutes to cut one chunk of some other vegetable. Uh oh. Michael cleans his fish as he interviews that he has no clue what to do with the mystery box, but he's starting to get some ideas. Kevin has Preeti cutting up some pumpkin into precise matchsticks, and he tells her to keep the perfect ones and discard the others, because there are plenty of pumpkins to cut. He interviews that she kind of sucks at prep, and out of his list of twenty tasks, he's only given her two, presumably because that's all he can trust her with.
Cook, cook, whisk, whisk, chop, chop. Bryan interviews that his strategy is to stay focused, and he's not planning on trying anything new in the finals. In contrast, Michael says that he's less conservative (and thanks editors, but we've watched this show before), and he'll do what he wants, even if it gets him in trouble. Bryan disagrees that he's playing it safe; he thinks he's playing it smart. Ladies and gentlemen, the Voltaggio brothers!
Michael runs by and tells Kevin that his sauce is burning; it's a little moment that I liked because it shows how much these guys aren't into sabotage, but instead into beating someone at the top of their game. Anyway, Kevin is still fretting about the sous chef issue, and I agree that he got screwed, but at this point he needs to put it behind him and just cook the best food he can. I find it weird that we don't get any interviews with any of the sous chefs to find out what they're thinking. They finish their evening of prep and bid goodbye to their sous chefs.
The next day, the Voltaggios are discussing how best to split up the space in the kitchen for their remaining prep. Kevin sits at the table and laments that he spent so much time worrying about Preeti's lack of output instead of just getting his food ready. Shades of Carla last season. Bryan is totally prepped; he's even made drawings of how he wants to plate his food. Meanwhile, Michael still doesn't know exactly what he's going to do with his mystery box course, and he's feeling anxious for the first time.
Someone knocks at the door, and they know it's probably the next curveball. Kevin opens it, expecting to find Padma, but instead, it's his mom! And Mama Volt right behind her. Hugs are exchanged all around. As the cheftestants get ready for the final day, Mama Volt helps Bryan button his chef's coat. So cute. She warns her boys that they need to remember at the end of the day that they're still brothers. Michael tries to give her instructions on how to roll his coat sleeves and Bryan tells him to lay off. Kevin's mom gives him advice; she tells him to be himself and cook his own food, because he deserves to win. Aw. Moms. I think Kevin's mom could have her own show. Kevin interviews that he feels a lot better after talking to his mom, and he has his confidence back.
The finalists arrive at Cyrus, the restaurant where they'll be cooking their final dishes. Tom greets them and says that it's time to find out the final twist, and it has something to do with their mothers' visit. They need to add a fourth course, and it should be inspired by a childhood favorite dish.
They all run into the kitchen, where Michael is joined by Eli, Bryan is joined by Jen, and Kevin is joined by Ash. They have three hours, and still have to come up with their new first course. Bryan explains his first; his parents were divorced, which we already knew since he talked about it during the TV dinner challenge. His mom used to make tuna noodle casserole that had a mix of textures, so he's going to pay homage to that. Michael hated vegetables growing up,