PLEASE READ BEFORE COMMENTING!!!
As usual, there's a lot of sneaky intel out there, but I'm endeavoring to keep this blog a spoiler-free zone. This isn't just for the readers, but for me, too -- I don't want to know what happens! As such, anything that's already been broadcast or has been posted on the official Bravo site is fair game for discussion. I will, for example, discuss the preview of next week's show at the end of the post. But if you've heard rumors that one chef has been hosting a lot of dinner parties, or that another chef was spotted boarding a plane to an exotic locale, please keep them to yourself.

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February 22, 2012

Top Chef - S9E16 Postmortem

Well, that's better.

Due to a wee vegetable peeler mishap, typing is somewhat less enjoyable than usual, so I'm going to keep this short and save it for Monday. But I'll say that I'm pleased with the finale matchup. I had Paul and Sarah 1-2 in the preseason, and every episode since E5. Whatever you think of her, Sarah's a helluva chef and she didn't stumble her way into the finale... she earned it.

That said, I hope Paul smokes her.

Discuss.

Comments

I swear I hate you Elvish editors. I could swear Lindsey was going on because she had little of this episode's drama at all (it was all about foreshadowing Paul going home with Sarah triumphing) and the edits made it look like all 3 dishes were liked roughly equal.

Except then you read Tom's blog, and apparently Paul was never in danger and Lindsey was clearly inferior. GAH!

Well? Is it worth watching?

I usually try to avoid spoilers, but I was so completely demoralized last week that I just didn't care to watch.

Based on the edit and spidery sense I call Sarah as the season winner, also, bs on editing for taking Sarah out as the middle and the eliminating Lindsay and naming Paul winner. Lame.

@IG - Well I just spoiled the ep for you with my first comment, but the challenges are fair.

IG, it is worth watching to see who wins, IMO. I was very demoralized last week as well.

But could the elves have been more sneaky about the win? Jeez. They announced that Sarah was going on to the finale and to the untrained eye, made it appear that Lindsey and Paul were in the bottom. Then they awarded Paul the winner's prize. I suspect they're trying in earnest to have a competitive finale.

I think Paul's over seasoning with the Thai chiles in the quickfire may have cost him a clear elimination win. He seemed to have second guessed himself.

If he had been eliminated, it would have ruined an already rocky season for me. Now I look forward to the finale. I think both Sarah (as bitchy as she is) and Paul have talent and I will stay tuned to see who wins.

I hate the fact that Sarah will be on my TV again next week. Tired of her personality and her food. Can't believe Tom kept defending her for that horrid looking frozen poop log she put on top of her pasta. Lindsey's dish must have been worse than they led-on for her to get eliminated. I'm not going to say Sarah winning would be as bad as Hosea, but it would probably be a close second for me.

If there was ever any doubt that the elves control this shitshow. From Twitter:

@TomColicchio: Arugula is what happens when you really don't have anything negative to say

SPOILER FREE:

Much better episode. Really cool quickfire, and while it was a catering challenge, they weren't set up to fail. My will to live was not sapped.

SPOILER:

I thought it was reasonably clear that she was in second place when they announced Sarah was going to the finale. The lack of mention of the prize gave it away.

@Alex: I was thinking the same thing re: Hosea. But really, I believe Sarah deserves to be on the top with Paul. After all, who else? This is a season where one chef dominated convincingly. It also happened to be a chef that was classy and a team player who the viewers liked a lot.

So we are left with few alternatives other than to root for the dude who is an awesome chef, a good guy, etc. OR the gal who has been a erstwhile bully and frankly, a good chef as well. Sarah is no Hosea.

That said, I feel your pain especially coming from Austin. Go Paul!

I guess I'll watch the episode, then, but I just can't bring myself to do it quite yet. I'll join in with comments tomorrow.

Whatever problems one might have with her TV persona, Sarah is the EC of a Michelin-starred restaurant and the protege of one of the greats. I've eaten there, and it's astonishingly good. I'm rooting for Paul, but Sarah is undeniably a talented and accomplished chef; if she wins, she will have earned it.

Quick side note for my above comment -please note that I am not comparing Sarah's competence or abilities to those of Hosea. She has earned her way into the finale as did he. I was simply putting it up there in terms of disliking the winner.

The Hosea comparison bothers me because I don't think Stefan was anywhere near as dominant as Paul has been this season.

Okay time to go WAY in depth - let's look at the TC elimination resumes of each of the Finalists before the final challenge:

TC 1:
Harold: 1 Win, 4 Highs, 2 Lows
Tiffani: 2 Wins, 3 Highs, 3 Lows
OTHERS WITH MULTIPLE WINS: Dave (3 Wins, 4 Lows), Miguel (2 Wins, 3 Lows)
WINNER: Harold

TC 2:
Ilan: 2 Wins, 2 Highs, 3 Lows
Marcel: 3 Highs, 4 Lows
OTHERS WITH MULTIPLE WINS: Elia (2 Wins, 2 Highs, 4 Lows), Betty (2 Wins, 4 Highs, 2 Lows)
WINNER: Ilan

TC 3:
Hung: 1 Win, 5 Highs, 3 Lows
Dale: 1 Win, 4 Wins, 4 Lows
Casey: 2 Wins, 2 highs, 4 Lows
OTHERS: Howie (2 Wins, 1 High, 6 Lows), Tre (3 Wins, 2 Lows)
WINNER: Hung

TC 4:
Stephanie: 4 Wins, 5 Highs, 3 Lows
Richard: 4 Wins, 3 Highs, 1 Low
Lisa: 1 Win, 1 High, 6 Lows
OTHERS: Dale (3 Wins, 2 Highs, 1 Low), Antonia (1 Win, 6 Highs, 3 Lows)
WINNER: Stephanie

TC 5:
Hosea: 2 Wins, 2 Highs, 4 Lows
Stefan: 4 Wins, 2 Highs, 3 Lows
Carla: 3 Wins, 3 Highs, 3 Lows
OTHERS: Fabio (2 Wins, 4 Highs, 2 Lows), Jamie (2 Wins, 3 Highs, 2 Lows)
WINNER: Hosea

TC 6:
Michael V: 3 Wins, 6 Highs, 1 Low
Brian V: 4 Wins, 4 Highs, 0 Lows
Kevin: 5 Wins, 3 Highs, 1 Low
OTHERS: Jen C: (1 Win, 3 Highs, 3 Lows)
WINNER: Michael Volt.

TC 7:
Kevin: 1 Win, 3 Highs, 5 Losses
Ed: 3 Wins, 3 Highs, 2 Losses
Angelo: 2 Wins, 2 Highs, 2 Lows
OTHERS: Kelly (2 Wins, 3 Highs, 3 Lows), Tiffany (2 Wins, 5 Highs)
WINNER: Kevin

TC 8:
Richard: 4 Wins, 4 Highs, 1 Low
Mike I: 2 Wins, 2 Highs, 3 Lows
OTHERS: Antonia: (2 Wins, 5 Highs, 4 Lows), Carla, (3 Wins, 2 Highs, 4 Lows), Dale T. (3 Wins, 2 Highs, 3 Lows), Angelo (2 Wins, 4 Highs, 2 Lows)
WINNER: Richard

TC 9:
Paul: 7 Win, 1 Low
Sarah: 1 Win, 3 Highs, 4 Lows
Lindsey: 3 Wins, 3 Highs, 3 Lows
Beverley: 2 Wins, 2 Highs, 3 Lows
Ed: 2 Wins, 2 Highs, 4 Lows
(Note there's been a TON of team challenges this season as you can really see with the wiki win/loss/in charts, way too many multiple winners)


Long story short, we felt like at the time that Stefan was the best, or that Carla was the best at the time. But well, Stefan dominated the start (though Jaime won a bunch) and Carla the end - neither really dominated throughout. Several other seasons had a few contestants (the Four Horsemen, Stephanie/Richard, etc.) dominate all the rest, but NEVER has there been a season like this one where one contestant has CLEARLY dominated EVERYONE ELSE.

This would be beyond Hosea. This would be insane.

FTR: I missed that Paul was declared the winner the first time watching the episode as I turned it off after the PPYKAG. Never seen them announce a prize AFTER that.

I agree. Sarah beating Paul at this stage would be beyond Illan. Beyond Sbraga. Beyond the dreaded Hosea. Certainly beyond Hung. Not because she's a mediocre chef (because she's not, however deplorable I find her in general), but because Paul is so clearly Top Chef in every sense of the term. I have clear and obvious homerism (i'm from Austn and Uchiko was my favorite restaurant hands down before casting was announced) but Paul has proven to be my favorite type of reality competitor - creative, consistently masterful, humble, professional, and a clear team leader. As a Texan and a Top Chef fan I've taken a lot of umbrage with the way the show has presented the food culture here, but Paul has been such a strong representative that I've had fun rooting for him despite the embarrassment of the season as a whole. I hope he wins, but even if he doesn't he has secured his already ascendant career with his performance on the show. Sarah may win (and I shouldn't complain because I've been hoping for a female winner for a number of seasons now), but if she does I take solace in the fact that Paul Qui will have absolutely no trouble securing investors and diners in the future.

I don't worry about Paul, but as a serious fan of Top Chef I really hope he wins for the sake of the franchise. The show needs him more than he needs the show right now.

Can the Elves resist bringing Bev and Lindsay back for the finale as sous, with Paul picking first because he won the semi, meaning Sarah will wind up with???

Would Paul be a true sport and pick Bev so Sarah could work with her buddy Lindsay?

garik16,

I do like and appreciate all the stats you compiled there (since it's what I like to do :) ), but unfortunately, they're not all there and some little details / asterisks apply to some of the comparisons that somewhat voids the conclusion.

Oh, and Paul has 8 wins before the final challenge, not 7. :)

First, you didn't include the quickfire wins. Paul won 2, but Stefan won 4, and had 3 double wins (which up to that point in Top Chef history there had only been 1 of, and he did it 3 times!) And he won 3 challenges in a row (I thought it was 4 from memory, but I was wrong). And he pulled this off at both the beginning and end of the season.

Second - this is the big difference for me: 3 of his 4 elimination wins were individual challenges, and almost every challenge that entire season was an individual challenge. Contrast that with Paul, where 3 of his 8 were group wins, and another was in a group based challenge. I think we only had 1 individual challenge through the halfway point of the season... And the big difference - the gimmickry - the quality of the challenges for most of the season has been really poor compared to Season 5, over the entirety of the season. There has been nothing this season like trying to recreate Eric Ripert's food from memory or like in Season 3 where they had to do the same thing for a difference famous chef and Hung dominated.

Oh and an extra challenge this season... so gotta look at percentages not just W/L.

In Season 5, there was a sense, even by the other contestants in their interviews - especially Hosea - that they felt they weren't on the same level as Stefan and couldn't beat him... and his problem was he just stopped caring / thinking it was over - when he got to the finale, he just phoned it in and got edged out.

I mean... Hosea pulled the same BS that Ed did to get eliminated, using canned imitation crab meat in his dish, except he was making a crab salad - not just a sauce, and would've gotten eliminated too, if not for someone doing something worse. I think that the skill differential between the 2 david's and the 2 goliath's was just wider in Season 5... so I'm not sure which I would consider the biggest upset - but it's close.

Too bad Stefan isn't in this season :(

He would've done even better with all the catering challenges. I'm not sure the winner should get "Top Chef" this season; it should be "Top Caterer". :D

I loved the idea of the QF...but not at the finale stage. The finalists were essentially charged with figuring out and executing someone else's dish. I know they did more than that ultimately, but listen to them during the judging and it's clear that each chef felt the success of the challenge was riding on how well they followed their Master's lead. That's just lame when we're down to the final three.

I am impressed with Sarah's cooking, but god, I hate watching her as a contestant. The way she loses it every!single!time! they bring out a person from the back or even announce a prize makes me wince. Seriously, last night, when they brought out the Masters, I got such a Buddy the Elf vibe from her I wanted to scream ("SANTA'S COMING! I KNOW HIM! SANTA!!!!")

The thing I've been missing at the end of this season is (besides Paul) a feel of the chef's personality on the plate. In seasons past, if you put down plates from each of the final chefs I could pretty well pick what dish was from what chef. And while I may not have been fans of the chefs in Season 7, at least I'd be able to distinguish between a plate from Ed or Kevin or Angelo.

Put down two plates between Sarah and Lindsey and it would be hard for me to tell which is which. Ok, maybe that's not completely fair. But while I think Paul's learned a lot from Tyson Cole, he's taken it and is now doing his own thing. While Sarah and Lindsey may be putting out great food, it still feels to me like an echo of their mentors instead of their own voice.

While Ed, Beverly, and even Grayson may have stumbled technically and/or conceptually, they seemed to have much clearer expressions of themselves in their food.

If Paul had gone home, I would have skipped the finale.

My fingers are crossed for Paul. Even with his win last night I don't think he's invincible.

We finally got to Uchiko (Paul's restaurant) this last weekend. Damn that's some good food! And happy, informative servers. "When I eat this dish, this is how I like to do it...". Hmm, might have to think about a food service career if I could eat that food more often.

I actually thought the QF was cool. A high end version of the team challenge from a few seasons ago where they couldn't look or talk. With only two people, it's obviously easier, but I thought it was neat.

Paul's confessionals had a lot of doubt. Uncertainty, the inability to edit, etc., all the stuff that he did so well in Texas (confidence, restraint) seemed lacking in his discussion of his cooking. Not a good sign.

"Put down two plates between Sarah and Lindsey and it would be hard for me to tell which is which."

You could tell. Sarah's would have some sort of pasta and Lindsey's would have halibut, cooked the right way. ;-)

I agree with Paula -- Sarah's exuberance is grating.

I was ready to throw my slipper at the TV if Paul went home. I particularly appreciated how he took leadership and got the staff set up before the cocktail party.

lamelame, Paul only has 8 if you count last week's ice chopping block as a win. Given that he didn't really win the challenge (I consider Lindsey as having come in first), I didn't count it.

Interesting comment (slip?) from Tom C: "I know who I want to see in the finale." Not the usual "it's only about the dishes in front of us right now." As soon as he said that, you knew that Lindsay was a goner.

The extended judges table clip at Bravo.com is, as usual, more informative than the episode itself.

The decision between Sarah and Lindsay seemed to come down to a question of concept rather than one of execution. Weren't we just saying that the judging has recently seemed to favor technical execution over creativity? Not in this case it seems.

They found Sarah's dish to be more creative and on-point thematically while Lindsay played it too safe - her halibut had no real heat and the remoulade was not cold. They felt that the tomato granita, while tasty, was a separate component and not part of the dish. They also hated her cocktail in and of itself - it sounded like it didn't taste good at all and at the end of the day was just a (sub)standard bloody mary.

Interestingly, they seemed to have more difficulty with Sarah's hot element than with that frozen block of mousse. The canneloni was neither piping hot nor did the roasted chiles she incorporated have any significant spice.

So Lindsey executed a yawner of a dish fairly well, while Sarah failed on several technical levels but her creativity (and I think the overall taste of the dish) was judged to be stronger. As a viewer I tend to favor contestants that display ambition and creativity over perfect technique, so I guess I can't complain. Lindsay has bored me throughout the season anyway - I honestly can't remember a single dish she made other than those Applebees-looking zucchini beef boats. I can't say I'm particularly sorry to see her go even though I really don't want Sarah on my TV for another week.

I secretly wanted Paul to get eliminated so I could skip the final episode copmletely.

Alamos Road: Yes! I noticed that too, and that's when I knew for sure Paul was safe.

Count me amongst those wishing this was the last episode so I would never have to watch Sarah ever again.

Even though it's inconsistent with the judging all season,
I'm glad they eliminated Lindsay for lack of creativity. Seems odd that Gail seemed to be pushing so hard for Lindsay's dish, I think she would have kept Lindsay in because "she didn't make any mistakes".

However, how difficult would it be to put that tray of frozen sauce in the oven to soften the bricks up a bit? The whole concept wasn't good, because pasta has such a low heat capacity, so doesn't retain it's heat like a piece of meat does, and it isn't going to melt a brick of frozen sauce, even if it wasn't over-frozen. She could have shaved those bricks, or made a "snow" of them or something, once she realized how hard they were. She just doesn't seem to have any instinct for doing anything that isn't pretty traditional italian, technique-wise and seasoning-wise. I'm not really one that has been impressed at all by her creativity this season. She has maybe made some delicious looking italian food, but you can find delicious italian food pretty much anywhere.

I think Paul set the bar too high for Tom in the Mentors challenge by making a dish with exactly the right number of components, making complete. Now he's going to get crucified every time there's something in the dish that Tom doesn't understand.

New drinking game: you have to drink every time Tom says "arugula".

Also: do NOT watch the direction Padma's eyes if you don't want to know who wins. I'll say no more than that.

meant to say "making a complete, perfect dish" not "making complete"

I too decided to wait to watch this episode until you-all weighed in. So all I can say at this point is: I don't know what was up with the @BravoTopChef "name game" thing during the episode but it was so annoying I unfollowed the account. Really, it's the penultimate show and you can't find something more interesting to tweet?

"She just doesn't seem to have any instinct for doing anything that isn't pretty traditional italian, technique-wise and seasoning-wise."

FWIW, I strongly disagree. Even setting aside the non-Italian dishes, of which I think there were more than you remember, her food has been mostly Italian-inspired, but by no means stuck in that box, and very creative and refined even within that context. Let's look at her top-mentioned dishes:

Flash Fried Rattlesnake in a Brown Butter Sauce
The rattlesnake was the basis for the challenge, no points for getting outside the box there. The rest - tomato, capers, arugula, lemon, orange, thyme -- within the scope of Italian, but creative and refined.

Chili con Carne
Not really germane.

Grilled Roman-Style Artichokes with Date Purée
Grilled Roman-Style Artichokes? Yeah, traditional all the way. Dates and pecans, plated in so refined a fashion? Not so much. It's clearly Italian, but it strikes me as a very refined Italian that isn't married to tradition.

Burrata Stuffed Squash Blossom with Bacon and Zucchini Hash
The ingredients, Italian flavor profile all the way. Burrata-stuffed fried squash blossom, Italian techinque all the way. The hash is pushing it.

Pork Sausage Stuffed Cabbage and Spinach with Browned Butter
A really smart Italian/Eastern European fusion that got her a win.

Breakfast Raviolo, Pancetta and an Egg Yolk
Straight-up Italian.

Mozzarella Filled Arancino and Celery Salad
Arancino, straight up. Pureed caponata, traditional flavor, interesting spin. Celery salad... mmm, not sure how I feel about that one. Mostly traditional.

Fried Soft-Shell Crab with Cottage Cheese Sauce
She used an artichoke! Otherwise, not much specifically Italian about this one.

Corn Soup with Onion, Red Chili and Peaches
Not so much.

Braised Rabbit Leg and Heart, Cherries, Cabbage Puree and Hazelnut Sauce
Some of the flavors are Italian, but "cabbage kraut puree," and a presentation that's way more French than Italian?

Five Greens Filled Pasta with Garlic and Chili and Spiced Sformato; Cocktail: "Agrumi" (Gin, Kumquat and Mango)
The pasta, straight up. The rest... curry, mango, kumquat, antigriddle. Not so much.

Point being, of course her dishes are infused with Italian flavors and techniques. That's what she does. But I have a hard time understanding how anybody can look at this list and dismiss her as working within too small a box.


Dom, you're the expert, so I bow to your wisdom.

However, several of the not straight-up italian dishes were the result of ingredients forced upon her in some way or another.

Maybe I have been to too many great italian restaurants where the dishes are refined and incorporate ingredients besides noodles and tomatoes, so I don't have a perspective. I mean, look at the restaurants you review - not many italian places there, at least recently. You've had way more experience with asian food, so maybe what Paul does seems not as creative to you. It just seems like there was a huge difference in creativity between Paul and the rest of anything I've ever eaten, and not a huge difference where Sarah is concerned.

This is a bit of a tangent, but it relates so bear with me. I'm here DC/Maryland and we have a local pizza and cheesesteak place called Jerry's. They've had these corny radio ads forever (featuring the late Ken Ober) where they impersonate famous people, mostly politicans (it is DC after all). At the peak of Emeril-ness they had one spoofing him and at the end he's talking randomly about adding arugala (bam!). I was watching last night and Toms saying arugala over and over and they switch the camera over to Emeril and i'm thinking 'Emeril is going to be on board with the arugla!' And then I remembered the ads were complete fiction...

erm. arugula.

Whoa, whoa... I didn't say anything about relative to Paul. The stuff that guy's doing is on another plane, as far as I'm concerend :-)

And you're right, what Sarah's doing is on par with great refined Italian restaurants. But I think you kind of made my case by implying that she's operating at that level right there. You seem to be suggesting that Italian-influenced = not very creative. I guess what I object to is the notion that one can't be extremely creative within that context. Creativity doesn't always have to mean global influences and flavors.

More to the point... if Sarah's level of creativity isn't to the level of a Top Chef champion, then I think we're getting a seriously skewed perspective of how wild and wacky food has to be to impress.

Dom, if she wasn't operating at that level she wouldn't be one of the finalists on Top Chef! (at first I was going to say "if she wasn't operating at that level she wouldn't be on Top Chef" but we've seen some real doozies...)

And yes, I guess I was comparing her food too much to my own experiences and too much in comparison to Paul. But yes it doesn't have to be "global". Hell, put a raisin in where I don't expect it and I'm happy.

..and also I was internally comparing her to Mike V and Richard...

Perhaps Paul (and Blais, and Mike V.) is the crux of it. He's pulling out stuff and I have absolutely no idea where it's coming from. I guess what I'm saying is that I hope being amazed by Paul's work doesn't get in the way of being really impressed with Sarah's work. And creativity isn't the be-all-end-all. Yeah, it's important to a point. You have to keep experienced diners interested. But after that point, all that matters is that it tastes amazing. And on that basis, I wouldn't be completely surprised if she takes Paul down. No question in my mind, it's Paul's to lose. But a lot of people seem to feel that he has to have a meltdown to blow this. And I think if Sarah rocks it out, he won't have to be that far off his best to make it a toss-up.

...plus I just really don't like her. If I liked her maybe I would think she was one of the best chefs that's been on Top Chef. Who knows.

"...plus I just really don't like her. If I liked her maybe I would think she was one of the best chefs that's been on Top Chef. Who knows."

This, I suspect, is playing a large role. Which is completely understandable. I just know that I really want to eat that food. I don't care who's making it.

...and that's why you write a food blog and I eat out maybe once a week if I'm lucky. :)

And ALL of this needs the massive caveat that neither of us have actually tasted a damn thing :-)

LOL! Oh yeah, forgot about that!

I think it is interesting how Top Chef has shifted from Season One. In that Season, Harold was strong but Tiffani may have been stonger. However, in the final judging, they took into account the entire person as a chef, not just the food they cooked. That is why Harold won (and I think deservedly). Now, we get to hear Tom go on and on about it's all about the food. the judges haven't mentioned leadership qualities as a reason for winning Top Chef since Harold. Too bad, because if Paul gets edged out by Sarah for the food of the finale, that would be a shame. He has shown himself to be the complete package.

In many ways Paul has already won. He has shown himself to be a very creative chef, he has shown himself to be a stand up guy, he has no doubt increased business at his restaurant, and he has already won close to $100K in cash and prizes. Not to shabby.

I want to see him win the whole thing, but if he has a bad day and Sarah has a good day then she can take it. But even if she does, Paul is still in winner.

As I read this thread, I realized the dominant reason *I* keep liking Sarah is probably in large part because . . .

"neither of us have actually tasted a damn thing"

. . . doesn't apply to me; I was at her restaurant in Chicago a year ago or so, and it was, frankly, one of the best Italian meals I've ever had.

I ate alone, at the bar, because I was in town for a business trip and made a last minute decision to go, and service and food both still stick in my mind.

I like *watching* completely nuts creativity on TV, but for eating... it's more of a tossup.

I think the judges do take the personality of the chefs into consideration a little bit, at least. I seem to remember during the finale of the last season Tom saying something like "The word chef means boss" and watching how well the final chefs were able to utilize and manage their sous chefs.

Best line of the night was Tom C. to Paul (paraphrasing): "So, what happened in the Quickfire?" Clearly, this season is Paul's to lose at this point. I've said it before, the other judges are irrelevant - Tom called Lindsay's dish boring (halibut - seriously, for the "meal of your life?"), and he verbally excused the frozen turd on Sarah's. Elves possibly over-played the arugula "issue" with Paul's dish, but is Tom really going to send him home for a garnish? At least it was an edible garnish.

It's all up to what Tom thinks - and he loves Paul's cooking. I just hope Paul uses coconut in something in the final.

Preview has Tom saying it's the best food they've ever had in a final, which I took to mean both of them. A fairly stunning comment nine seasons - and many great chefs - in.

Bob, Tom ALWAYS says it was the best food in the final ever.

Well, after the Masters challenge where Gail was in full swoon mode praising that dish, we want him to win, no? Most of us here are pretty well eaten, as are the judges and it takes a lot for them (or us) to be floored. He floored Gail.

On Sarah and Italy. Yes, she gets some points for doing some German-style dishes, but not full credit in my mind. Didn't she say that she had some German or Eastern European ancestery and that meals at home had German flare? I'm not saying she's throwing out mom's schntizel and calling it refined, just that it isn't, showing a huge range to cook elevated versions of the food you grew up eating. And, I say this, point blank, as a half-Italian who loves the way her food looks and cooks a ton of Italian inspired stuff myself. But I'm not a professional.

The only times she went outside that window while in Texas was 1) the challenges where the theme was clear (Mexican, for example) or 2) other, ingrediant limitation like the blind pantry. Now, I will say that I agree with you that the stuff she's done in Canada looks more diverse ethnically. Italian grounding, but not so limited.

I find it amusing the way Sarah gets knocked for cooking Italian, but everybody (rightly) objects when an Asian specialist is knocked for cooking Asian.

Asia is a large place compared to Italy, but it's not like Italian food is homogenous.

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