And we're here - the finale in Hawaii. Nick vs. Nina. Closest finale EVAH, per the previews from Padma, of course.
The show starts with them showing a bit of Judges Table from 48 hours later. Then it flips back to 48 hours earlier.
Padma and Tom come back to the lanai where Nick & Nina are waiting. Sure enough, the final Elimination Challenge is taking over a restaurant for the night, creating a four-course menu to show them who they are. The judges will be splitting into two groups, each group eating at the restaurants at different times, so Padma tells them to keep it consistent throughout the night. Nick will also get an advantage, which he'll find out about tomorrow.
The next morning, we get the gratuitous shot of Padma coming out of the ocean in her fringed bikini. And then they flip to the two chefs left having breakfast in their suite. Padma walks into the suite (still in her bikini with a sarong around her waist) with a lot of the past cheftestants. Padma tells them they'll have the help of three previous cheftestants - friends or foes.
Nick's advantage gets to choose all three of his sous chefs first. He picks Jason, Louis, and Brian. Nina chooses Shirley, Stephanie, and Travis. Nina says it's girls against guys. :-)
The teams start planning the menus. Nick is focusing on connecting with the food and putting a classic but contemporary technique spin on the food. Meanwhile, Nina wants to showcase local ingredients, dedicating her menu to her father. She also chooses to throw in two extra surprise courses. (This could be an issue!)
They head to Whole Foods to get their ingredients. Nina's hoping to make an ice cream, even though dessert is not her forté, and Nick is planning on making a panna cotta to try and remedy the failed panna cotta made for the challenge which had Jacques Pepin as guest judge.
Traivs tells Nina by phone that there's no ice cream machine, but she's locked into her ingredients. She'll have to improvise.
They get back to their respective kitchens for prep. Nicholas's team is at ka'ana kitchen, and is directing his sous chefs how he wants them to prep their individual dishes. Nina's team is at Gannon's Restaurant, and she decides to go with zeppoles for her dessert.
Back at Nick's kitchen, Jason is standing on top of a pan of shellfish, saying "that's 200 lbs. of effin' pressure on that bitch; 65 lbs. is my hair and ego." Tom and Emeril enter the kitchen and Tom asks if he's doing four savory dishes, or if he's doing a dessert, and Nicholas tells him he's recreating the panna cotta from earlier in the season.
Then they go to Nina's restaurant, and Emeril asks her if she's doing a dessert. She explains about not having an ice cream machine, and Tom tells her she didn't *have* to do a dessert. He said "You don't get penalized for not doing a dessert!" (Wait - REALLY, Tom? That's not what you've said in previous seasons!)
Nina notes that Tom always does this - plays a mind game with the cheftestants and she isn't going to allow them to get into their head. Tom tells her when they're finished up, he and Emeril are going to take her and Nick to dinner.
Nick notes that he was knocked several times for underseasoning so he's taking an extra step to make sure everything is properly seasoned. Nina is worried that her goat isn't going to be tender enough, but they get everything packed up and done.
Nina and Nick head to O'o Farm, where they meet Emeril and Tom for dinner. Who walks up but family members - Nina's husband and brother, and Nick's wife and his mother. Dinner is served, and discussion of how each was raised and what it means for each of them to win Top Chef.
It's day of service, and each chef meets with their FOH staff and servers. Nick names his restaurant Kris after his wife. Nina checks the goat, and realizes it's still too chewy, so they continue to braise it. Nicholas brings out one plate to show the staff, and two servers aren't there. Nicholas removes them as main servers and designates two others, and he walks off asking the rest of them to inform the servers who weren't there what they just talked about.
Diners arrive at Nina's restaurant, Canouan, named after the island her father was from. Judges arrive at her restaurant - Gail, Tom, David Kinch (chef/owner of Manresa), and Takashi Yagihashi (chef/owner of Takashi).
At Restaurant Kris, the judges are Padma, Emeril, Hugh Acheson, Paul Bartolotta (chef/owner, Bartolotta Ristorante Di Mare), and Masaharu Morimoto (chef/owner of Morimoto Restaurant Group). We also see a few of the former cheftestants.
NINA (Amuse Bouche) - Breadfruit with Whipped Foie Gras Butter. Tom and Gail both love the dish.
NINA (First Course) - Tuna & Escolar Tartar with Tomato Water & Jalapeno. It was deemed refreshing by Takashi, and another diner said "You can taste the islands!"
Nick is having server issues, where it doesn't seem like they are giving his expediter the tickets. There were 16 diners sitting outside who had nothing in front of them. He asks Louis to fire 16 first courses, and specifically tells the servers "The fish is going to be on the left-hand side of the diner, alright?" Sure enough, several servers put the plates down incorrectly in front of the judges.
NICHOLAS (First Course) - Hamachi & Tuna Crudo with Green Apple Wasabi, Celery & Maui-Meyer Lemon. Morimoto said the quality of the seafood is good, Bartolotta said the fish was good and he liked the heat of the wasabi, but Hugh said it was underseasoned, and Emeril agreed.
NICHOLAS (Second Course) - Sweet Shrimp Bisque, Scallop & Daikon Noodles with Thai Basil. Morimoto said the abalone was cooked perfectly, but he didn't know why he was using the scallop. Bartolotta said it was seasoned perfectly, but it wasn't sweet.
NINA (Second Course) - Roasted Goat Sugo with Orecchiette, Cherry Tomato Confit & Goat Cheese. Takashi said the confit of the cherry tomato was a nice pop in the mouth, Tom said the goat is perfectly cooked, perfectly seasoned, and Tom said he'd come back for that dish.
NINA (Third Course) - Swordfish with Squash Puree, Braised Kale & Smoked Onion Jus. Tom thought the deeply cooked kale served with the brightly spiced swordfish didn't work together. Hey! There's Sheldon from TC10 giving his thoughts on what he'd like to see as well.
NICHOLAS (Third Course) - Kombu Cured Duck Breast with Kabocha Squash, Hijiki & Ginger. Hugh said that Nicholas did a phenomenal job rendering the duck's fat, Emeril says his duck is chewy, but Bartolotta said his was perfectly done all the way through. Hugh said this dish was packed with flavor.
Nicholas asks his expediter to make sure there are dessert spoons on the table before he serves his final course - and when he gets to the judge's table, there are no dessert spoons and has to ask for them again. Hugh asks him "How are your servers?" and Nicholas says ".......They're lovely!" and then launches into his dessert description.
NICHOLAS (Final Course) - Caramelized White Chocolate Panna Cotta with Almond Cocoa Crumble & Tropical Fruit. Hugh said, for him, panna cotta is "cream that's just set, it's jiggling, it's soft." Padma said it's not jiggling enough, but Bartolatta said the dish was very good.
NINA (Intermezzo) - Compressed Dragon Fruit & Frozen Papaya Skewer with a Ginger Simple Syrup. Tom looks askance at it as she puts it down, but he said the frozen papaya was damn good.
NINA (Final Course) - Chocolate Zeppole with Macadamia Nuts & Passion Fruit Anglaise. Tom thinks they're good, but it's not a complete dessert - it's more like a petit fours. David Kinch said it's ending the meal with a whisper, and not with a bang.
The judges switch restaurants. Nicholas continues to have FOH service issues. In the in-between, Andy is at Watch What Happens Next, and both Nina and Nick are there, and Nick seems very restless, rocking back and forth on his feet, whereas Nina seems calm and confident.
Nick's first course - very fresh fish, Kinch and Takashi say it lacks seasoning.
Nick's second course - Tom and Gail love the second course - Tom said it's easily the best dish he's had all year. David Kinch said there's no problem with salt and acid in this dish.
Nina's Amuse Bouche was very well received, as was her first course of crudo - it had more punch and power than Nick's. Her second course of goat and orecchiette is mature, and sublime, Morimoto said the sauce and pasta is great, and Emeril wanted another bowl.
Nick's third course of duck - they liked the duck, which was cooked nicely. However, a server comes up to the expediter and said Table 9 didn't get their first course. Nicholas comes out with a very loud "Goddammit!" and slams his hand down on the service table, which is heard in the FOH. The judges then hear him calling out the ticket for an immediate firing of that dish for that table.
The judges get their fourth dessert course, and Gail asks Tom if Nicholas redeemed himself - Tom replies that it had a bit too much gelatin, but it was very good - night and day as compared to what he served earlier in the season. Tom said if Nick's season was about peaking at the right time, he peaked at the right time.
Nina's third course, the swordfish, was said to be too much for the palate by Morimoto and Padma. The last course of dessert wasn't Nina's best, according to Hugh.
Judges head back to Judges Table. Tom asks Nicholas about his service and his food, and Nicholas explains about the tough service. His first dish was also underseasoned. Padma didn't get any scallop flavor of his 2nd course, whereas Tom thought it was his best dish all season (Padma rolls her eyes at that statement). His third course of duck, was undercooked for some, perfect for others. And his dessert should have had more jiggle - and more panna cotta in the bowl.
Tom tells Nina they had asked for four courses, and wonders if they should judge her for her two extra dishes. She replies that if she felt it worked and made for a better progression, why not? Hugh and Gail loved her first course, and Gail and Emeril thought her goat and orecchiette dish was amazing. Hugh said she nailed it and it was a killer dish. Nina thought her third course (swordfish) didn't gel, and she said dessert is not her strong course, but it was a good little bite. Gail said that it was telling as to how she described it - "a little bite".
Nina seems to take the first course.
Second course seems to be split, but it's 3-2 to Nina.
Third course seems to leaning towards Nick.
Fourth course, Nick takes the course.
It's 11:30pm at night, and Hugh said "OK, now what do we do because we're in a tie" and Tom said "Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa - *are* we in a tie?" Gail said they could sit there for another 60 hours and still not agree on what they all ate. Emeril said "Where would you want to go back to dinner tomorrow?" and Padma said that service should be considered. Nicholas was seen and heard yelling at waitstaff, and Hugh said it plays into his decision.
It's now 12:20am, and Tom is saying for consistency throughout the night, he thought Nicholas did a better job. He didn't see the need for Nina's amuse bouche and the intermezzo, but Padma said she did make them, and they were amazing. Gail said she wishes Nina had taken the energy used in making those dishes and put them into a decent dessert, and she would have been happier.
1:00 a.m., and Tom is asking what was everyone's worst dish of the night - Hugh said zeppole for him, but Tom said swordfish. Emeril said he ate all of his swordfish, but he couldn't eat all of his duck.
They come back in front of the judges, and the other cheftestants are there to see who wins. Tom tells them this is, by far, the closest decision they'd ever had to make as judges.
Padma announces "Nick, you are Top Chef." REALLY???? :-/ Hmmm.....I'm almost putting this in a Hosea and Ilan win. Maybe not as bad as either of those two, but a very close third. But that's just me.
OK, it's over. Not the winner I had hoped for, but oh well. I'm done.
P.S. I did see on Facebook that Nina won Fan Favorite, so at least there's that.