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Top Chef Finale Part 1 (spoilers)

I won't say a lot right now, as I'm tired and heading to bed....but I'm surprised Brian didn't do as well as I expected him to in the QuickFire; glad Casey won that one.

And Dale really pulled it out for the Elimination challenge! Based on various comments, I did expect Brian would be the one going home.

And finally - with the "Why you should stay and be one of the Final 3" speeches from all 4 of them - Dale, Casey, and Hung were so incredibly impassioned with what they had to say. You could see Chef Colicchio was impressed with all of them......until Brian had his say. I think that's when I figured he was going to be packing his knives and heading back home.

I'll read more tomorrow - especially looking forward to jfood's review. :-)

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  1. I thought Hung was so fake; but that' probably because i just don't like him at all.

    so he is technical; but i love when the chef said Casey's dish has Soul! Exactly what a Top Chef should be.

    2 Replies
    1. re: strephking

      Couldn't not see real quick how some might respond. :-)

      And when Chef Ripert said Casey's trout dish had soul, you could see Hung was perturbed......which is why I think he talked about soul in his food at Judge's Table. He definitely seems very rote - always looking to do the right thing, but as AMFM says below - he's technically perfect but hasn't learned to let loose his soul to allow it to be in his food.

      1. re: LindaWhit

        It was acknowledged last night that Hung was the best chef technically of all the remaining contestants. I think that Hung has the ability to blow it out of the water in the finale when he can cook what he wants to cook, using his ingredients brought from home, and is not constrained by the restraints they give them in the challenges. His main problem is that he is immature -- I think he lacks confidence to experiment with ingredients he's not familiar with (he said he'd never cooked elk before), and so he feels safer sticking with his classical training.

        Overall, I think the right three were picked for the finale -- and it seems to me that the title of "top chef" is up in the air. All of them have the talent to pull it out next week. Personally, I am rooting for Hung, but given they've never had a female winner of Top Chef, I think the odds are in Casey's favor for that reason alone.

    2. you definitely could tell (the colcchio being impressed part), i'd agree. and dale's resume says that he should be that good. so i'm glad a few months helped him pull it together.

      i thought it was interesting that hung was finally honest about the soul in his dish (that he didn't love this one and was cooking for the judges). every time he mentions his parents i actually feel sorry for him because he is SO the classic child (and he obviously should be grownup out of it now) who is just perfect perfect perfect to please the parents and often loses the sense of self in the process. i mean i really think he feels he has to win or he will disappoint his honor and his family. and he has mastered everything he has been taught but never learned to let loose enough to allow his soul into the food even though in his speeches i truly believe he knows it needs to be there. i like him. he's arrogant but he's honest. i liked when he said that he'd help out in a real kitchen but this isn't. he's right. this isn't. nothing wrong with playing hard.
      thought it was interesting to see them handle the challenges of the night. but i thought 3 was a cop out.

      10 Replies
      1. re: AMFM

        "i liked when he said that he'd help out in a real kitchen but this isn't. he's right. this isn't. nothing wrong with playing hard."
        ~~~~~~~~
        Agree on this one - however.....I still think it could hurt him in the end, if former cheftestants come back to help. It could be a "what goes around comes around" situation.

        And with 3 finalists, that means MORE of of their former compatriots would be available to choose from, if they still get to choose 3 - so maybe Cliff and Lia will be on next week's show?

          1. re: ajs228

            LOL! Yes, thanks for catching that. I *said* I was tired last night in my original post! :-)

        1. re: AMFM

          < i mean i really think he feels he has to win or he will disappoint his honor and his family.> I thought that too... I just hope if he doesn't win that he won't pull a "Vatel!"

          1. re: AMFM

            "...who is just perfect perfect perfect to please the parents and often loses the sense of self in the process. i mean i really think he feels he has to win or he will disappoint his honor and his family."

            I started getting that feeling about him midway though the season. Couple that with his drive to be technically perfect, and yeah, you can see how he could easily lose his soul amidst it.

            I agree with Chef Tom -- Hung's technically perfect, he enjoys what he's doing, but overall his dishes, to me, don't have the "soul" that many others' do.

            1. re: AMFM

              Oh geez- am I the only one who saw that Hung basically fed the judges exactly what they wanted to hear. In the beginning of the challenge he was like "oh I hate this- who wants to cook with elk" but then flat out told the judges he loved the challenge. (He's always bored- how about you add some flair then?) Then he word for word stole what they said about Casey "I have soul, blah blah blah, cooking is my life". Then he went low enough to claim his immigrant status and how he cooks for his mom and boo hoo (um how come he has never spoke of this before?). I think he sees cooking as a job, not a career, not a lifestyle. Its what he does to pay the bills. Yes he is good at it, but that doesn't mean he has passion for it. I work with many immigrants, that came here as adults and they have feelings and emotions, albiet sometimes expressed differently- but they have passion in life and their careers. Like Hung says- any monkey can be trained- they would be technically good, but lack the emotional drive.
              Even with my rant, I admit he is a good chef but needs to emotionally grow up a bit; as well as be an executive chef (he is only a sous chef people) before he can be top chef.
              My vote is for Casey- not just because she's female but because she's been consistently excellent, is pleasant, and genuinely loves her work.

              1. re: jme1beachbum

                You have no idea what Hung has talked about -- this is an edited tv show. And you don't get to that level of mastery without passion -- his skills absolutely sing.
                I want to see Hung let it rip in the finale, and cook Casey under the table.

                Dale is the real wild card - that whole confession of bad year "I was dumped!" etc
                and now Stella Has His Groove Back.
                Dale v Hung, that's the passion play for me!
                Casey is a total bore.

                Although it would be interesting if she and Hung both threw down with the Asian ingredients in the finale....

                1. re: pitu

                  Eh- to each their own. Although saying I have no idea what he talked about is odd- because I wrote things he said on tv (edited or not). Also check out Brians podcast :)

                  1. re: jme1beachbum

                    That's the point --we only know the very limited things that the producers/editors actually included on tv, so when you write
                    "boo hoo (um how come he has never spoke of this before?)"
                    I want to tell you there's no way to know if he'd talk about that before.
                    Oui?

                    1. re: pitu

                      I see- I thought you meant the stuff he actually said. Capece! :)

            2. everyone picked up that hung was saying what the judges wanted to hear. I was waiting for the other three to jump out of their skin at some of his comments. He is definitely "playing the game" as oppose to just cooking. Not cool.

              17 Replies
              1. re: strephking

                Totally disagree. Hung is passionate. He has worked incredibly hard and tried (and succeeded) to master every technical skill he has been taught. This takes dedication and passion. And soul. He is Vietnamese, arrived in the US when he was 9. He is not going to express himself in the same way as someone born here, or maybe read what the judges seem to be looking for as easily as the American chefs. Along with amuse-biatch, I find the constant harping on Hung as "lacking soul" to have a twinge of that "inscrutable Asian math-geek robot" stereotype, and I am sick of hearing about how the Americans "cook with heart and soul" even if they are sloppy and non technical. It's the same lame excuse for how poorly American schoolchildren perform (but they are so great at cheerleading and football).

                Go Hung. In fact, it's pretty great that the final three represent an immigrant, a woman, and a gay boy. Perfect!

                1. re: kenito799

                  I'm with you, kenito. Hung may come off as cocky and arrogant, and he probably is a real pain in the a-- to be around sometimes, but I find him to be genuinely passionate about what he does. I didn't really like him at first, but as the competition has progressed, he's kinda grown on me. And I get a little annoyed that he seems to get portrayed as The Stephen or The Marcel of season 3. He's got way more heart than they did.

                  Personally, I think Casey will probably win, which is okay by me. But I wouldn't mind seeing Hung take the title. Go Hung!

                  1. re: tachis

                    You should know that Hung and Marcel are very good friends. Maybe that is why they are protrayed similarly. Hung may have a passion for what he does and have the skills which could qualify him to win. The thing with Hung is that the show is highlighting his as not being a nice person. So can he work well with others as a Top Chef will need to, or does his skill alone let him win.

                    For me - I want to see Casey win, she may not have the refined skill of Hung, but combined with personality and her passion, I hope she takes the title.

                  2. re: kenito799

                    I totally agree with you Kenito!!!! I think the judges have totally stereotyped Hung. I was moved by Hung's stories of escaping from Vietnam as a child. I think a lot of Hung's arrogance probably comes from having to struggle to assimilate in a country, where, let's face it, people are not always very kind to those who look or sound different. It's a defense mechanism. To be honest, I don't think Casey's dishes have more "soul" than Hung's. Collicchio seemed to suggest that Hung's dishes lacked "soul" because he wasn't using Vietnamese flavors... But why should Hung have to turn to Vietnam to give his food soul? Hasn't he had more experiences than being born in Vietnam to shape his life and palate?

                    1. re: Petitpois

                      I thought the same thing about Colicchio's Vietnam comment. Hung seems to love the subtleties of fine French cuisine and there is no reason why he should be expected to cook Asian food. That is who is he as a chef. On the other hand, remembering his amazing geoduck and black chicken dish, it will be really great if he does work in some Vietnamese flavors.

                      1. re: kenito799

                        And how could someone forget that haute Vietnamese cusine is very heavily influenced by French cusine.

                        1. re: kenito799

                          "You're asian, cook asian food!"

                          I'd love to see Colichio say to Tre. "Hey, you haven't cooked any soul food yet!"

                          I don't see why he would necessarily feel the need to cook vietnamese food or even use any of that in his food. Hung has a style, and he cooks that style.

                          In the long run, it might help him though...who knows.

                          1. re: Xericx

                            Oh man, can you imagine if Colicchio requested fried chicken and watermelon from Tre? I think the producers at Bravo would probably have the business sense to edit that out if he went that far, but it really isn't that much better to request Asian food from Hung.

                            I can see how some people found his response last night forced, but I think it might be more that Hung's assumption was that pouring his heart out would be inappropriate, and he probably suppresses a lot of that emotion on a daily basis -- as many people who want to be functional and have had hard pasts do -- and that he suddenly realized that if he didn't let out who he was, it was going to hurt him. I therefore agree that he only spilled his guts for the game, but disagree that what he said was disingenuous. I see nothing wrong with what he did.

                            1. re: Adrienne

                              I agree I felt Hung needed to let people understand his love of cooking and family history and how far he has come with the help of both parents. Yet, I do not understand the expectation of his "roots" coming through in his food or expecting some Asian flavors from Hung is that much of a stretch or insult. Especially since in the episode Hung spoke of the many spices/foods he brought with him for the final challenge just for that purpose. He is a unique contestant and I hope he has an opportunity to show his true style whatever that may be.

                              1. re: Adrienne

                                Hung did say that comfort food (or home cooking- not sure of exact quote) for him was steamed fish and rice- If those are the things that brought him comfrt and remind him of home, maybe we can see some of that instead ofjust what he was formally trained to do.

                                That said- many of his dishes looked fantastic to me, but his perverse way of spininng his gaffes at judges table seemed almost manipulative.

                              2. re: Xericx

                                (Um shrimp and grits anyone...best dish from tre?)

                          2. re: kenito799

                            This is total BS. They first criticized Hung for being expert technically but not having passion for cooking. His speech then fed back to them what they wanted to hear. He went on and on about how much love and passion he puts into cooking when the entire season he basically acted like a robot in the kitchen.

                            1. re: RBCal

                              er, that's an awful lot of glee expressed on his face for a "robot"
                              Hung clearly enjoys his mad skills. What would you really rather see:
                              Casey mushing up an onion like a grade schooler or Hung dismembering a chicken like an expert?

                              1. re: pitu

                                IMHO, Hung is more passionate about cooking than anyone who has been on Top Chef in any of the seasons. Whether that translates into "soul" in his food, I don't know, but people saying Hung is some sort of automaton, I don't understand.

                          3. re: strephking

                            Actually Gail says in her blog that she wished they had included more of what Hung had said, about how cooking is his passion and how he grew up with it as a guiding force. She said he was vehement and sincere, and she hasn't been a fan of his on her blogs. I think he is actually the most passionate of them all.

                            1. re: traceybell

                              i've been prretty clear all along in my comments that i think hung is a pompous ass...so i was genuinely surprised - and pleased - to see his 'human' side emerge a little bit tonight. the way he admitted he didn't stand behind his dish 100%...that was very out of character for him. and regardless of whether or not he was 'playing' to the judges with his talk about passion, the sound bites throughout the episode where he talked about his family and personal history were the first 'real' tidbits he's revealed about himself as a person. it was a welcome change.

                              of course, i still want casey to win.

                          4. As far as personalities go, I liked Brian the best. He's the guy I'd want to share a kitchen with. And although he had a couple of missteps, I really loved his style of cooking. Yet, I don't think he is the best cantidate for Top Chef. That should be a toss up between Casey and Hung. Dale, I think, coasted by for most of the challenge and obviously put up a good fight in this episode. I don't think, though, that he has earned the Top Chef title

                            I want to see Casey win this. Although Hung has the technical skills (as has been stated), I think Casey has her heart in this competition. Hung's response to Tom's questions seemed calculated to me, even if his words were true. I'm not sure how much of this is due to editing, but I dislike Hung's attitude and would not enjoy cooking with him. But he definitely has the skills and knowledge to win this.

                            It'll be a good finale. I'm glad they let in three for the last run because otherwise that would have meant one of the best chefs would have gone home.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Agent Orange

                              i've been a big defender of brian 'the person' all along, but i think we all saw this one coming. he's been a pleasure to watch and seems like a great guy...and based on the awards he's won and the excellent reviews he has garnered at oceanaire the guy can obviously cook. but his performance on this show clearly didn't warrant a trip to the finale in comparison to the other three chefs.

                              you had a nice run malarkey...we'll miss you!

                            2. All in all, a very good episode. I thought Eric Ripert was an excellent, fair and articulate judge - for instance, I liked the way he stuck up for Casey's sauce even though her elk was undercooked. Whatever ego Chef Ripert may have, thankfully it didn't make an appearance unlike some previous guest judges. I actually thought they might send all four to the finale, as it seemed like a very difficult decision and the editing didn't give it away (at least to me). Looking forward to the finale now (which airs when? not next Wed., my DVR didn't pick it up and it would've).

                              12 Replies
                              1. re: Debbie W

                                As long as we're armchair psychoanalyzing Hung, I'd venture the notions proposed above are not racist or anti-Asian. I think he's just displaying classic behavior of some immigrant children and their parents. He's the good son. I've seen the behavior in my own Jewish family and in many others from around the globe.

                                1. re: noisejoke

                                  i totally agree and while i was afraid of coming across as racist myself one of my best friends growing up (a first generation asian immigrant herself) wrote an article on that very topic published in an esteemed journal. she's now a social worker for asian american children in NYC. they are pushed to succeed very hard and hung's behavior is classic. i hope he can let his soul in because i truly believe he is passionate about it but mildly frantic and afraid to let go of following the techniques he has OBVIOUSLY mastered and have served him so well and led him so far in life to this point.

                                  i like casey too by the way. and think dale was having a confidence crisis that seemed to dissipate in his time at home and the chef that matched the resume came back. should be an interesting final.

                                  and honestly i think they'll get a good winner this time however it goes. i would eat at any of their restaurants.

                                  1. re: noisejoke

                                    More armchair psychoanalysis...

                                    I believe Hung is kind of caught between two worlds of cooking - Vietnamese/Asian and French/Western.

                                    Regarding Tom C's comment to Hung about not using Asian flavors in his cooking.

                                    There are a couple things that Hung could be thinking "Everybody is doing the Asian influence thing, that's not unique!" or "You probably will not like real Asian cooking"

                                    If memory serves me right, Hung did some Asian inspired dishes early on that were hit-miss. Afterwards, Hung played it relatively safe by relying on his superior "classical" skills, but he's definitely has to come up with his own style/inspiration/niche.

                                    At the judging table, Hung implied he was going to let loose. I'd like to see him just go all out and blow them away with great and unique flavors.

                                    1. re: dave_c

                                      the thing is (if history serves me here) it's not like french and vietnamese have no tie in either. no one seems to bring that up but it's like indian and british cuisine - some things just historically happen...

                                      1. re: dave_c

                                        I agree - it will be interesting to see how all three move forward with being able to cook what they want.

                                        And I do hope the producers take that factor into account next season - give them fewer restrictions (using only items from a vending machine/gas station, or limiting them to $10 to feed an army) and just let them do their thing.

                                        1. re: dave_c

                                          I've actually heard this from some chefs in Asian/upscale/fusion-y places...if they serve something authentic -- no one "gets it" or orders it. Anthony Bourdain on the panel might...and in this case, the food still needs to fit the context of the contest, i.e., the coq au vin.

                                          Expectations related to race and ethnicity are a funny but often loaded question and in this case subjective to particular tastes.

                                          I mean, should the judges expect the women chefs to cook "chick food" or Tre to do southern soul food? It would be insulting so why not give the same benefit to the Asian guy?

                                          Also from a competitive context, wouldn't you want to win with the skills you were trained in and use every day? For Hung that's not Vietnamese food and yet the expectations might be for him to cook Vietnamese food or harder yet - a fusion version. Seems to be sort of a no win situation.

                                          1. re: ML8000

                                            I think the issue isn't that he is asian and doesn't cook vietnemese food, but it seems to me that he talks about watching his mother cook at home, his family, his dad owning a vietnemese restaurant, etc. being his major influences, but you don't see that in his cooking AT ALL. That is what leads me to think he is just trying to tell the judges what they want to hear. I understand it is not what he trained in, etc. but a good chef personalizes (i.e. puts soul in) by taking training that they recieve and combining that with personal experience (i.e. spending time in your families vietnemese kitchens). It seems to me that the judges were dead on with this one. Technically good, but it is almost like the kid that everyone thinks is a genius because he can spit back everything the teacher said word for word, but in reality, he can't put it into his own words.

                                            1. re: dagoose

                                              But it might be about him being Asian if the judges since no one else was held to this standard or expectation or somehow think he should be "should" be cooking something Asian. I get the part about pulling from personal experience...but again, would the judges expect Tre to cook soul food?

                                              1. re: ML8000

                                                I would if Tre talked about his inspiration coming from his father's soul food restaurant

                                            2. re: ML8000

                                              When Ripert commented that Hung's dishes were the best technically, but "lacked soul", Colicchio might have then felt comfortable spinning off a slightly different, but sort-of related criticism about Hung's lack of "native" cooking, which was weird. The regular judges were definitely in awe of Ripert. I had to laugh when Gail said she didn't like someone's dish, but when Ripert disagreed, she quickly corrected herself and said it was good. ;-)

                                        2. re: Debbie W

                                          i had the same thought. i almost believed they'd send all four...until we started hearing more details from judges' table. as soon as ripert said the shank was dry and questioned the cheese selection in brian's dish, i knew he was a goner.

                                          pretty impressive the way dale managed to turn a near-disaster into a victory.

                                          i truly hope hung does showcase his passion in the finale, and cooks with real soul. it would be a shame to think that there's nothing else behind all his amazing technical skills.

                                          1. re: Debbie W

                                            Agreed - I also think it was a great episode. I got a chuckle out of the comment made by Dale or Brian I think about seafood chefs not really thinking of trout as seafood? What's that about? I know it doesn't come directly from "the sea" but still .... I'm hoping Casy wins.