Stephanie Izard – Top Chef!
Stephanie has truly has demonstrated the qualities of a talented, educated chef, a person who can both manage her peers and step back in their charge, all while keeping a focus on her culinary vision. Although she’s clearly developed her style, she obviously is willing to continue to learn more about food, and that is the mark of a true artist, someone who is constantly growing and learning how to better themselves at their passion.
This season presented a talented bunch of chefs, all vying for the title of Top Chef. On-screen friction was expected and showcased, and this season, Lisa filled the role of “villian” on the show.
Although Richard stuck to his stylish way of cooking, this isn’t Top Chef 3000. No matter what innovative techniques come up over the years, the finished product is what counts, and his menu seemed to lack substance on the plate. Richard has shown, over the season, that he is capable of delivering the goods, but I felt like he was caught off-guard by the last-minute surprise of his celeb sous-chef “bailing” the day of the finale. That, and his need to be “cool” (literally, using liquid nitrogen to make bacon ice cream) ultimately led to an unbalanced, unfocused meal. Clever names and nifty preparations lead to big expectations, and when you slap pork belly on a plate, it better be stellar, standing above and beyond all the other slabs o’ fat out there.
Lisa’s choice of an Asian-themed menu was a smart one, as she showcased her strong points. She probably delivered the most solid meal that she has done all season. But alas, this is not “how cheuy” (“top chef” in bad, phonetic Cantonese). Her focus and comfort in her menu was strong, but her “big, bold, in your face” cooking style (which she said represented her personality) was probably too one-note, and not representative of a more well-rounded Top Chef. Her soup was well-received, but her failure to properly execute wagyu beef was a red flag about her abilities as a versatile chef. In her defense, I was pleased to see her support of Stephanie about her dessert. But I had to chuckle at her dissing Richard, telling Stephanie “You definitely killed the First and Third (course) and I kinda feel like I nailed the Second and Fourth…” Ouch.
Stephanie, although she had some problems, continued to do what she did best: Her best. Her menu showcased her many talents, and her lamb dish clearly blew the judges away. As much as Richard talked about a tasting menu being about a progression, I think Stephanie’s “soft openings” made her main course truly pop and stand out among the rest. Her dessert was lacking, even visually, but I think the strength of the menu as whole carried her home. She showed restraint and sophistication in the opening snapper dish, yet packed a punch with bold, innovative combinations (braised pistachios, blackberries and olives!) in the lamb dish. Her second dish of quail, lobster ravioli and quail egg looked like a lovely, sublime bridge between the two. Her dessert of ricotta poundcake was evocative of her unanimously-praised gorganzola cheesecake.
All of the final three have their place in the culinary world, but only one met the criteria of Top Chef, and I agree with the choice. When Tom Colicchio stated that the judging came down to “which meal we would like to have again” I knew it had to be Stephanie. She gave the judges surprises, as she has consistently done throughout the season, and they are looking forward to more from her.
So am I.