Well, we’ve got the winner for Top Chef: New York. But let’s face it — the fact that Hosea took the title is less relevant than how Carla and Stefan lost it. Oh, Carla — why didn’t you stick to YOUR food? Sob!

You know the drill: The final three have to make the meal of their lives for the judges. As in previous years, they get sous chefs to help out. What’s different this time is that the sous chefs are also-rans from previous seasons. Hosea grabs season 4’s Richard Blais, Stefan chooses season 2’s enfant terrible Marcel, and Carla gets season 3’s Casey. And that’s when everything goes to hell for Carla.

See, Carla comes up with a menu she likes — a fish course, and meat-and-potatoes dish, and a cheese dessert — but she lets Casey persuade her that it’s all too simple. Why do a straightforward, gorgeous meat and potatoes when you could do a sous-vide strip steak? Well, I’ve never done sous-vide, but I can try it, Carla says.  No! Carla! Now is not the time to try new techniques! Likewise, Casey thinks a simple cheese tart isn’t impressive enough. Let’s do soufflés instead! Again, Carla caves… It’s incredibly frustrating. Carla, you’re the chef — stand up for yourself and your food! Cook what YOU want, not what some past-season palooka wants! It’s not about Casey, it’s about YOU!

Stefan and Hosea are better about sticking to their guns and making the menu they want. Both are starting with fish and moving onto a main, but then they diverge. Tom tells the chefs that they don’t need to provide a dessert as the third course. Hosea decides that desserts aren’t his strong point, so he’ll end with a venison dish. Stefan thinks that a three course meal HAS to end with dessert, and he’ll do something whimsical and slightly over-complicated.

Before the chefs get to serve their meals, they’re hit with a twist: They each have to make a passed appetizer using a classic New Orleans protein. The options: Redfish, crab or (gulp!) alligator. Whoever gets the baby in the King Cake gets to pick the protein, and assign ingredients to the other chefs. Hosea wins it, and he takes redfish for himself. Of course, he assigns alligator to Stefan. Well, duh — wouldn’t you?

Things get dicey in the kitchen as Hosea and Stefan jockey for ingredients. Somehow, Hosea manages to walk off with all the fois gras and all the caviar. Nice. Stefan complains, but Hosea is unrepentant. It seems like a cheap trick to me…

All three passed apps go over well — Hosea’s redfish medallions on corn cakes with remoulade are gorgeous and delicate, Stefan’s alligator soup impresses, and Carla’s shiso soup with blue crab wows the guests. We’ll call it a draw.

Carla wins the first course — her bouillabaisse is perfect, flavorful and full of personality.  Hosea’s trio of sashimi looks gorgeous, but the taste didn’t live up to the appearance. And Stefan’s fish carpaccio, which entailed him freezing fresh fish so he could shave it into delicate sheets,  turned water as it thawed.

Course two goes to Stefan: His squab is utterly delicious and possibly the best dish of the night. It’s completely in keeping with his skills, his history and his personality. Hosea’s scallops and fois gras over pain perdu is almost as big a hit — Gail adores the pain perdu, and the rest of the judges agree that it’s a fantastic presentation. The one dissenting voice is Rocco, who is bored with fois gras. Nice problem to have, buddy… Carla, alas, screws herself — the steak is tough, and it is devoid of her personality and her love. This isn’t her food, it’s Casey’s.

Third course is also disastrous for Carla, She didn’t turn the oven down, so her blue cheese soufflés curdle. She can’t serve them with her apple tart, so her dish is half bare. Oh, Carla — you just lost the competition. Wah!

It comes down to Stefan vs. Hosea. Hosea’s venison is perfectly seasoned, perfectly cooked and delicious. It is not, however, how you’d traditionally end a meal. Some of the judges are fine with that, while others think he gets points docked for not even trying. Stefan produces an ice-cream-and-mousse dessert that reminds Gail and the others of the early 80s — the presentation is dated, and the food is nothing special. This is the way he wants to close out a meal? Even Fabio, who is still high on Team Euro, admits that Stefan fell apart at the end.

When they meet the judges, Carla admits her flaws, but doesn’t apportion blame on anyone but herself. It’s heartbreaking to see her try to hold it together when she says “When I cook MY food, it’s really delicious.” She knows she screwed up. The tears start to flow — to the extent that Stefan comes over to comfort her. Oof. Carla, sweetie, we adore you — but you just have to have confidence in your own food, your own palate! Sigh.

Stefan says he should win because he’s the most consistent, the one who produced winning dishes throughout the competition. He is surprised to hear that the judges found his carpaccio watery, and he can’t believe they didn’t like the dessert. I know he hasn’t claimed any French background (yet,) but his basic message is “Non, je ne regrette rien.”

Hosea pushes the merits of this one meal. The flavors were bold and sharp, everything looked great, and the meal followed a great progression. It was the best he could do, and he stands by it.

The judges agree — Hosea’s meal was consistently good from start to finish, while Stefan’s had peaks and valleys. Hosea wins Top Chef. I’m too heartbroken about Carla’s crisis of confidence to care.

Highlights, thoughts and odds and ends

  • Hosea explains his rational for picking Richard: “Marcel kind of reminds me of Stefan, and the thought of having to pair up with Stefan and do a dinner would drive me nuts.”
  • Stefan actually sort of agrees. “I’ve seen second season. People don’t like Marcel. He’s a bit of a twat, but who’s not?”
  • Carla claims she wanted to work with Casey in the first place. Is that true? I have no idea. I’m too busy being blinded by rage that Casey cost Carla the competition by making it about what she wanted, not what Carla wanted. Oh, sure, Carla should have stood up for her decisions, but I still think Casey was out of line.
  • This week’s random interstitial: A voodoo tarot card reader visits the chefs, and Stefan asks about love lives — specifically, “How about a girl named Jamie?” Stefan — she really, truly, honestly is NOT that into you. You really, REALLY aren’t her type.
  • Stefan admits to bringing home voodoo dolls and stabbing little Hosea. It didn’t work.
  • The judges laugh that Hosea assigned Stefan alligator — “It was fun to stick it to Stefan is what you were saying,” Tom says. “He would have done the same thing to me!” Hosea says. Stefan looks disgruntled that anyone would even suggest such a thing.
  • Carla’s appetizer ingredient attacks, and Stefan helps her free herself from the crab’s clutches. Dammit, Stefan, stop making me like you!
  • Explain to me what Branford Marsalis was doing as a judge. He’s a good musician, and he seems like a great guy, but he didn’t really seem to bring anything concrete to the judging.
  • Was anyone else moderately weirded out by the former contestants at the end? Jeff looked PISSED, and Leah refused to let go of Hosea’s neck.

Posted by:Sarah Jersild