Mrs. Voltaggio's Choice: Top Chef Finale's 5 Most Awkward Moments
Top Chef's engrossing sixth season -- a big step up from the previous two years -- concluded with a challenge that was Freudian in nature, and awkward in person: Create a meal based on your childhood. I would've much preferred a less psychological, more gritty "Create a dish based on Kevin's body art" theme, with enraged pig heads cropping up on Padma's platter, but the finale's Bryan/Michael Voltaggio showdown gave us adequate levels of cockiness, tears, and Gail Simmons's emphatic deployment of the word "sophistication." Plus, these five cringe-y moments.
1. The inclusion of thoroughly trounced competitors
Tom Colicchio said it himself -- together, the final three contestants Kevin, Michael, and Bryan won 12 out of the season's 13 elimination challenges. When the trio was forced to draw knives and select eliminated contestants for help during the final challenge, it felt like watching Katharine Hepburn enlisting Audrina Patridge for assistance with a The Lion in Winter line-reading. Kevin matched up with Preeti? Grim. The Eleanor of Aquitaine in all of us winces.
2. The Voltaggios diplomatically acknowledge their mother.
Not that the surprise appearance of the finalists' mothers at their lodging was -- well -- that much of a surprise (it's a familiar Bravo conceit), but compared to how Kevin and his mom embraced upon being reunited, the Voltaggios were positively chilly. Bryan's first reaction: "That was a really cool feeling." Then he went back to folding his arms. And then he and Michael couldn't really argue the rest of the day, which is rough for the home viewer. When Michael won and his mother came out, then some tears were produced, but for a second there Padma seemed like the (relatively) histrionic one.
3. The mothers smile (sort of) as their kids are eviscerated on national television.
What was with placing the moms within that grid of high-falutin' chefs at the final table? Luckily, Padma was there to soften the blows for each matriarch. Right after Bryan's sardine dish was called "the least seasoned" and "a shame," Ms. Lakshmi turned right to Mrs. Voltaggio and asked her to defend the plate. Fine, that's not softening anything, but she, uh, made sure to notice that Mrs. Voltaggio was still there. Her response was the dish it "wasn't that fishy." I cannot say the same for this entire sequence.
4. Padma Makes Mrs. Voltaggio Choose. Like Sophie.
Not through with ruining Mrs. Voltaggio, Padma asks the blonde mom to choose whether she liked Michael or Bryan's dish better. There's a burst of intermittent laughter from the other judges, which is convenient for editing purposes, since it covered Padma's utterance, "Because I can just give this prize to Kevin if you don't answer."
5. Above all else, this reaction shot of Tom Colicchio to Michael's win.
I haven't seen that kind of whimsical stare since Gail Simmons first laid eyes on Marcel Vigneron's Ludwig-von-Koopa-like coif. It really tied the episode up with that warm, familiar roasted-banana-chocolate-bacon sentimentality. Except without the roasted-banana-chocolate-bacon chef that we wanted to win. Sigh.