The night foodies everywhere had been looking forward to had finally arrived, the season finale of Top Chef Portland. Thanks to a penultimate episode that left the judges unable to pick just two, the finale included three cheftestants ready to do battle for the grand prize of $250,000 and more importantly, the title of Top Chef.
There was Shota Nakajima, the odds on favorite to emerge as the winner and seemingly permanent resident at the top of our leaderboard. Gabe Erales, a chef who had done some of his best cooking as the finale got closer and Dawn Burrell, a chef who could create amazing flavors but dealt with time management issues almost from the first episode.
For their final Elimination Challenge the chefs had to prepare a four course progressive meal that would showcase their personal Top Chef journey. And they would have help in the form of former chefs who had been asked to pack up their knives.
Dawn picked Jamie to work with her while Shota chose Byron. And in what can only be called perfect happenstance, Gabe ended up with Maria, a chef who innately understands the flavors Gabe was trying to create with his menu.
The Top Chef finalists left it all in the kitchen for the finale.
For Shota’s meal he prepared sashimi three ways for the opening, followed by octopus karaage with water spinach. That was followed by a beef tongue curry that was inspired by his mother and close to his heart, and finished with a Hoji tea cheesecake and cedar-smoked gelato.
Overall the judges loved Shota’s meal, being particularly impressed with his sashimi and the smoky flavor he brought out in the gelato. The beef tongue curry was less of a hit due to it feeling like more comfort food than fine dinning and not the flavor. Overall, it was a great meal that regardless left the door open for another chef to pull off the upset.
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That upset would not be accomplished by Dawn however. She went with a very complicated menu that opened with lamb tartare with honey bread followed by green gumbo and a rice fritter. That was followed by a jerk beef cheek with black-eyed peas and her last dish was yam and buttermilk bread pudding.
While the judges adored her beef cheek and bread pudding, once again time got away from her on the opening course. Two plates were missing elements and that effectively eliminated her from winning Top Chef. At least it should have. If she would have won it would have been an insult to Shota and Gabe.
Speaking of Gabe, his meal was like a highlight reel of Mexican cuisine. He opened with pig head cheese and followed that with a scallop and tepache aguachile. For his third course he prepared a short rib with mushrooms and a cicilo negro mole and closed with a candied squash with cafe mexicano ice cream.
With the exception of his mushrooms being a bit overdone and the pig head cheese lacking crispness, Gabe entire menu was a huge hit with everyone. In particular the candied melon had everyone talking and the mole, as with all the sauces Gabe made all season, got rave reviews.
Once everyone arrived at Judges’ Table it was obvious it was between Gabe and Shota for the title of Top Chef. While I was rooting for Shota even I had to admit that Gabe made some damn impressive food and so was not shocked at all to see him win.
Gabe becomes the very first Mexican Top Chef and I think it’s safe to say he has shown the food world a different side of Latino cuisine. He did some of his best and most innovative cooking at the right time and deserved the victory. And don’t feel bad for Shota or Dawn. Just being a finalist on Top Chef has been known to open door and create opportunities other chefs only dream of.
Now we all begin the long wait for Top Chef Season 19. See you then.
What did you think of the Top Chef Portland finale Guilty Eater? Did you think the made the right call when they named Gabe the winner? Leave a comment below and let us know or join the conversation on our Twitter and Facebook pages.