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Top Chef S9-17: Finale

Updated on March 1, 2012


The show is just about over ya’ll. The last two cheftestants, Paul and Sarah, battle it out for the title, the money and bragging rights.

Don’t forget, if you don’t want to be spoiled about this episode, get out of the kitchen now!

The cheftestants stand before Tom and Padma and find out the newest and last challenge at hand. The cheftestants must create a 4 course tasting menu and the restaurant of their dreams.

One chef will be located at Black + Blue while the other will be at Coast Restaurant. Tonight they need to get some sleep, because tomorrow will be a full day.

Sarah and Paul tasting the future sous chefs plates.
Sarah and Paul tasting the future sous chefs plates.

Sous Chef Bonanza

The next morning while the cheftestants are worrying about the upcoming challenge, Padma brings out 11 possible sous chefs. They are an odd bunch of chefs. Some are from this past season of Top Chef: Heather, Malibu Chris, Grayson Nyesha, Keith and Ty-Lor. Three were kicked off before making the 16 for the show: Colin, Ashley and Tyler Stone of the booted for butchering the butchered meat. Lastly, two James Beard Award winning chefs: Barbara Lynch and Marco Canora.

The sous chefs create dish and a little placard is placed next to it. They stand beside Padma as the cheftestants come out, gasp and finally get to taste each of the dishes. The cheftestants will chose their sous chefs based on the dish.

Malibu Chris made an Asian inspired dish to lure Paul into picking him. On the other end, Heather is beaming, hoping that Sarah will see her type of food and pick her.

Since he won the last challenge, Paul picks his plate first. Paul picks butter soup with shellfish and caviar: Barbara Lynch.

Sarah picks halibut, lentils and pomegranate: Nyesha. Paul picks buckwheat noodles with local shellfish: Ty-Lor.

Sarah wants to pick Heather and there are two dishes that might be hers. She goes with the scallops with raisin citrus sauce which was on the menu at Heather’s restaurant. It wasn’t Heather, but Tyler “He who cannot butcher” Stone. Grayson immediately says, “That’s unfortunate” and Sarah tells him that she’s not letting him butcher any meat. Everyone, including Padma, laughs, but wow…how mortifying.

Paul picks lamb with blueberry mustard and crispy parsnip: Malibu Chris.

Sarah goes for her second Heather choice: chicken with black pepper and dumplings and gets her chef.

Paul’s last pick is Dungeness crab: Keith. Sarah’s last pick is pasta carbonara with Brussels sprouts: Grayson.

In the end, master chef Marco Canora’s salmon dish wasn’t picked. Neither were Colin and Ashley whose dishes couldn’t even get them a spot on Top Chef in the first place.

Paul is happy that he got a master chef in Barbara, but he is afraid that such a great chef will clash with him because it’s a difficult transition from head chef to sous chef.

Planning Time Planning Time

Sarah doesn’t want any drama in her kitchen. I guess he’s talking about possible clashes between Heather and Grayson, Heather and Nyesha and everyone with Tyler. Wow. And to think, she wasted a choice just to find Heather instead of basing her choices on flavor alone.

For this service, Sarah wants to push the boundaries and do something new. Tyler has a lot of suggestions for Sarah, including making a dish sous vide. Sarah shuts him down, because for her, it’s not the time to do something you don’t know. And hell, she doesn’t want to listen to someone who didn’t make it past the first round. Sound confusing? Don’t look at me, I didn’t make it up!

Over on Paul’s side, Barbara has quickly inserted her opinions to Paul’s dish before he’s even finished laying it out. She wants to add sesame seed and he seems really unsure.

Paul really respects Barbara, but since this is his chance to shine, so he’s going to make his dishes, his own way.

Grayson and Sarah
Grayson and Sarah

Shopping Time

Sarah decides to give Tyler very specific things to do to make him feel like he’s a part of the group. But honestly, she just doesn’t really give a sh!t. Not my words…hers. I really hate to tell her he’s a part of the group whether she likes it or not since she picked him for her team, but I digress.

Paul wonders if he should pick up shrimp, but his sous chefs tell him to stick to his plan. Barbara thinks he should be more confident.

Paul sticks to his instincts and gets the shrimp anyway. He feels that even though he doesn’t have a plan for the shrimp, he’s always looking for the best option.

Sarah is cooking at Black + Blue and has a difficult time with Tyler. He’s constantly asking one question or another and unlike the other Top Chef veterans, he’s completely lost.

Paul is creating a meal based on Japanese flavors with other Asian influences. He is concerned, however, that none of his sous chefs know the style of food or the flavors that he’s using.

James Beard Award Winning chef Barbara Lynch and Paul
James Beard Award Winning chef Barbara Lynch and Paul

After prep, Paul and Sarah meet with Emeril and Tom to go over wine pairing choices. Both cheftestants taste several wine flavors and pick the best pairings for their meal.

Sarah asks Tom and Emeril if they have any advice for the challenge the next day. Emeril reminds them to remember Restaurant Wars. It’s odd how that one episode keeps coming back to haunt chefs on both the winning side and the losing side. Paul remembers the challenge all to well as the one where his team was destined to lose because he didn’t step up as lead his team.

The next day, both cheftestants really push their teams and step up as leader effectively. Heather thinks that Sarah has all it takes to lead a kitchen and serve a wining meal. Barbara sees the passion, drive and wisdom in Paul’s dishes. She’s really proud and honored to be working by his side.

Before the judges arrive Keith and Barbara check on the crab, which has gone “funky”. It smells odd and the flavor is off. Paul doesn’t fret too much about it and has Keith use his plan B shrimp.

Tyler is doing the dessert, but he seems to be taking a long time. Sarah wants him to use a mixer, but he convinced her that the texture will be super smooth if he does it by hand.

First Seating’s Tasting

The editing goes back and forth between Paul and Sarah’s restaurants, but for the sake of clarity I’ll go through Paul’s first then Sarah’s. There were a lot of judges and the constant switching from one to another can be a bit confusing.


The judges are Tom, Gail, Marco Canora, Mark McEwen (Head Judge for Top Chef Canada) and Cat Cora (Around the World in 80 Plates). Also tasting the meal is Ed, Chuy, Dakota and Lindsay. The name of his restaurant is qi.

First Dish: Chawanmushi, edamame, pea shoots and spot prawns.

Gail thinks the dish’s saltiness as great and the flavors are spot on. Mark thinks that Paul really knows his flavors, his ingredients and the flavor profile is pleasant. Also, the chawanmushi was perfectly wiggly.

Between the first and second dish, Paul is called out to the floor where he is greeted by his parent and his girlfriend. His dad is beaming and cries with excitement.

Second Dish: Grilled sea bass with clam dashi, pickled radishes and mushrooms.

Mark thinks that Paul has a great aesthetic and the meal is appealing to the eyes. Tom loves the aromatic broth and really can’t fault the dish at all.

Third Dish: Congee with scrambled eggs, uni, kale and smoked albacore

Tom doesn’t think the dish is as interesting as the others and thinks the textures might be a little too similar in the dish. Cat thinks the taste of the albacore is amazing, but can’t see where the dish fits in with the rest of the menu.

Fourth Dish: Coconut ice cream with puffed rice, kumquats, mangostein, Thai chili foam and jasmine gelee.

Mark is impressed by the boldness along with the beautiful and delicate flavors. Cat thinks the first bite has such bold flavors.

Overall, Mark felt the meal was sexy and Tom thought that Paul knocked it out of the park.


The judges are Padma, Hugh, Emeril, Bill Terlato and David Meyers. Also tasting the meal is Whitney, Moto Chris, Richie and Bev. The name of Sarah’s restaurant is Monte Verde.

First Dish: Squid ink tagliatelle, spot prawns and coconut.

Emeril thinks it is delicious. David was worried about the different regions but it’s cool together.

Second Dish: Rye crusted steelhead trout, fennel sauce, pickled beets and gras pista.

Emeril loves the trout, but the excessive fennel takes away from the dish. Ironically, Nyesha plated the dish with less fennel, but Sarah had her add more. David is disappointed that the beets were raw and Emeril explains that they weren’t pickled enough.

Third Dish: Braised veal cheek with crispy veal and sweetbreads.

Padma moans that the veal cheeks are luscious. Yes, she moans it and I drooled, because mmmm, veal cheeks. Hugh thinks the polenta is like breakfast porridge and that he can imagine having some honey and cranberries and having breakfast. I don’t know if that’s a good critique or bad, because now I’m even hungrier after his explanation.

Fourth Dish: Hazelnut cake with kumquat and roasted white chocolate ganache.

David says that the white chocolate was an incredible surprise. Hugh says the dish is brilliant.

Emeril thought the meal was spot on and the dessert was over the top. David thought the meal was incredible overall.

Between the first and second seating, Sarah gets called out to see her family. Her mom is there along with her fiancé, his mom and a family friend.

Second Seating’s Tasting


The big change in the second seating is a judge swap. So, now Padma, Hugh, Emeril, Bill Terlato and David Meyers taste Paul’s dishes.

Between the first seating and second Paul finds out that his first dish (chawanmushi) has overcooked. He reluctantly serves his dish.

First Dish Redux:David has high hopes, but the texture of the chawanmushi isn’t great. Emeril says the prawn was overcooked.

Second Dish Redux:Emeril loves the broth. Hugh says the bass was cooked perfectly. Padma gushes that the skin is so crispy.

Third Dish Redux: David is impressed by how cleanly the dish incorporates the contrasts of textures and flavors. Bill hasn’t ever eaten anything with this approach before.

Fourth Dish Redux: Bill wonders if the puffed rice was a bit overdone. Hugh likes the coconut and finds it very refreshing.


Sarah isn’t pleased with the smoothness of her polenta in her third dish. She adjusts the texture very quickly between the judges’ first and second seating.

First Dish Redux: Mark says that Sarah was able to infuse coconut in a way that was an accomplishment. Tom thought the dish was successful.

Around this time, Sarah’s fiancé warns her that he found a bone in his steelhead trout. Sarah rushes down to the kitchen and, along with Nyesha, looks for any bones.

Second Dish Redux:Tom thinks that the steelhead was perfectly cooked, but really under-seasoned.

Third Dish Redux:Cat feels that though she really liked the dish, it needs a crunch of some kind and then she’d be happy to pay for a meal like that.

Fourth Dish Redux:Cat says that the dessert was great. Gail thinks the dish has a bitterness that breaks the sweetness rather well.

Hugh, Emeril, Padma, Tom and Gail
Hugh, Emeril, Padma, Tom and Gail
Sarah and Paul
Sarah and Paul

The Judging

Sitting at the final judges table is Tom, Padma, Hugh, Emeril and Gail.

Tom begins by saying that these two meals was the best food ever served in a finale of this show, including All-Stars. The food was exciting and delicious.


Gail says (of the first dish) that tartar over the pasta was out of the blue, but so right and really made sense. Emeril loved the crust (on the second dish). It was perfectly cooked, but the beets were raw. Sarah explains that she marinated it, but didn’t cook them. Hugh thinks that might have been where the problem was.

Tom thinks the veal (third dish) was perfectly cooked and the dashi paid off, but sweetbreads were a little dry. Emeril adds that the polenta didn’t work for him. Sarah explains how she altered the polenta and Gail was glad she was at the second seating, because her polenta was good.

Hugh says that the dessert was the dish of the night. Padma begins by saying that she really hates white chocolate, but how this was the best dessert she’s had on all the seasons.


Gail says she was blown away by the first dish. She thought the chawamushi was so silky smooth like glass, however, at the second seating every judge there says it was overcooked. Hugh feels that the sea bass (second dish) was stellar and the dashi was great. Emeril praises the broth that elevated the dish right to the moon.

Padma tells Paul that the congee showed great confidence by just sitting the long uni on top of the dish. Gail doesn’t think the third dish really worked with the progression of the while menu, but Hugh disagrees. Hugh feels that the dish provided the inherit richness that was required after the fish course. He adds, the way the smokes fish mimicked rich meats in the way that it did really added to the menu.

Tom really loved Paul's dessert because he really doesn’t like sweet desserts and Paul’s dish was like another savory course. He says the texture was great on it and this dish was his favorite of the night. Hugh asks Paul how he made the puffed rice. After Paul’s response, Hugh adds that he thought there was a problem with the amount of crunch the puffed rice had on the dish.

Overall Critiques

The First Dish

Tom is upset that the second seated judges didn’t get to taste Paul’s wonderful chawanmushi. He thinks that may give Sarah the edge for this round.

The Second Dish

Emeril is ‘still tasting’ Paul’s broth it was that good. Hugh thought that it had complex flavors that ‘sung on the dish’.

The Third Dish

Padma sees that Sarah fixed some of her issues between seatings, but thinks that if she had just used the cheeks it would have been better off. Tom thinks Sarah should have just used one protein and not the other. Emeril wonders if Paul’s congee was really that great and Hugh reminds him, “it really was.”

The Fourth Dish

Emeril loves both dishes, though he’s heading towards Sarah. Gail mentions that Paul’s dish ‘woke her up’ and that it was refreshing, juicy, sweet and spicy. Hugh says Sarah made a beautiful hazelnut cake and that isn’t easy.

The Winner

Gail thinks that Paul cooks the food he cooks everyday and that Sarah took more risks. Tom thinks that overall, Paul did the tiny details better, which elevated his dishes.

None of the judges want to see anyone lose for those wonderfully executed meals. They were really that good, but there can only be one winner of Top Chef Texas.

So, who wins as every cheftestant from this season, the judges and family members from both families watch on?

Top Chef Texas Winner Paul Qui
Top Chef Texas Winner Paul Qui

That’s right it’s Paul. Yay!

Sarah did a wonderful job. Though she didn’t win and came off as a bitch from time to time, no one can deny what a great chef she is. Her food looked simple, but the flavors described by the judges were always complex and thoughtful. Though the judges seemed disappointed by sweetbreads; I so wanted a taste of the veal, sweetbreads and polenta. Too much…don’t care!

Sarah really wanted to win and looked brokenhearted that she didn’t, but I’m sure they’ll be another All-Stars and she’s more than proved she can kick some ass and stand up for herself both inside and outside the kitchen.

At the end, Paul is beaming. He looks like a weight has been lifted from his shoulders. That could because his dad is overcome with joy. You could see hid dad’s pride in his smile and tears, which he couldn’t wipe away fast enough.

Good job, Paul. Next Top Chef needs to pull together Top Chef: Champions, but that’s probably 6 more seasons to go: 9 seasons of Top Chef and 1 All Stars. Maybe we could convince them to just go for it right now. Next stop, the reunion.

Who should be season 9's Top Chef?

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