crispy quail with pistachio cassoulet
I would give a tooth to eat at Cyrus restaurant in Healdsburg, where the Top Chef season 6 finale elimination meal was held. Oh wait, I did give a tooth today, and now I'm sipping red pepper soup while the finale goes down. Surprise! First, the other contestants return to help out as sous-chefs. Thank goodness, because I was worried I would never lay eyes on Ashley again. High-strung Michael immediately panics, proclaiming "I'd slit my throat" if he got someone he didn't like. But no one draws Robin, and by now we barely remember Preeti and Jesse, "a real workhorse."
For the first course, each chef must use the same rather incongruous ingredients in the mystery box: dungeness crab, rockfish, Kabocha squash, hyssop and matsutake mushrooms? Squash and seafood seems especially odd, I'm not even comfortable serving yams with salmon. Kevin is spending way too much time obsessing over Preeti not helping him enough.
The next morning, Kevin's mom and Mrs. Voltaggio show up to lend a little support, telling the brothers, "No matter what happens, you're still brothers," in case they were likely to forget and start throwing punches at the end of the show.
The next course is inspired by a childhood dish: Southern fried chicken skin with liquid squash casserole and tomato for Kevin, whose mom likes to eat crunchy chicken skin by itself (just like me!)
Bryan cleverly riffs on his mom's tuna casserole with sardine, German butterball potato, heirloom tomato and bread crumbs.
The big surprise is that Michael was a super-picky eater as a kid who didn't like anything, especially broccoli. So he challenges himself with a dish of dehydrated broccoli, fried broccoli and spot prawn, but the judges find the shrimp less than riveting.
The moms nervously judge the first course, along with a crew of restaurant notables including Sam Nazarian and Drew Nieporent. Mrs. Voltaggio bravely admits she's never tasted a sardine, and then the moms are dismissed for the rest of the judging.
Judgingthe Mystery box course, Bryan's fish with squash curry had a happy sunny look, but the judges liked Michael's sweet and sour crab salad with squash and Meyer lemon tasted better.
The Chef's choice dish was their chance to spread their chefly wings and each dude chose something fairly representative of his personality:
Southern-fried Kevin shows he's most comfortable in the rooting around in kingdom of pig, though his pork belly dish falls a snout short.
Cocky Bryan tries to show his trendy, macho side, explaining that he hunts to "get more in tune with his ingredients," so he chooses venison with sunchokes.
Michael has been a bit of a sissy all the way through, despite his superior attitude, so it's no surprise he chooses a foofy dish like squab breast with pistachio cassoulet.
(Trying to find out how pistachios can make a cassoulet, I stumbled across this chef's blog Ping Island Strike, with some great molecular experiments.)
And now it's time for something sweet, after all those nasty glares the last few weeks.
Kevin returns to bacon perhaps too compulsively, offering chocolate bacon mousse with roasted banana and bacon brittle. Not all the judges are fans of porcine puddings, so bummer for Kevin.
I'd eat that: Bryan's sheep's milk dulce de leche cheesecake with fig sorbet is "subtle and sophisticated," say the judges, and I would agree that it looks best to me.Michael pairs butternut squash ice cream with molten chocolate caramel cake (above), which sounds like a mistake already, but when he overcooks the cake, that seals it.
It doesn't really matter though, since I've said since the beginning, this whole season seemed to be leading up to a brother vs. brother battle.
The chefs are asked to explain why they should be chosen as Top Chef, and Michael admits, "I just don't want Brian to be Top Chef."
After Kevin is eliminated, Michael says "We both cooked our hearts out." Well, it's better than cooking your ass off, I guess.
And just like that, the moms are back on stage, tears flowing, and Michael Voltaggio is Top Chef, season 6.
He'll be cooking at the Dining Room at the Langham Hotel in Pasadena at least through April...though the Dining Room closes in the spring for some freshening up.
And here's the Voltaggio brothers' new website, if you want to leave a congratulatory comment.