February 29, 2012 9:17pm PT by Jethro Nededog
'Top Chef: Texas' Finale: Who's the Lone Star Winner?
Top Chef certainly made good on the promise of its ninth season’s locale, Texas. After starting with a supersized 29 chefs, bringing one chef (the scrappy Beverly Kim) back for a second chance at the title, and shooting in four cities and two countries, the Bravo series pitted its final two chef-testants against each other on Wednesday’s finale.
Paul Qui and Sarah Grueneberg were tasked with creating a four-course tasting menu for 100 guests that would represent the restaurant of their dreams. Sarah decided to take several risks with her menu delivering a modern take on her German-Italian roots. Paul, on the other hand, would deliver what he knows best: Japanese with pan-Asian influences and techniques.
The show put on a quickfire challenge to select the finalists’ sous chefs that included eliminated contestants from the original 29, as well as James Beard Award winners Marco Canora of New York’s Hearth restaurant and Barbara Lynch of Boston’s No. 9 Park.
The finalists were to pick their sous chefs in an anonymous tasting of their dishes from the challenge. Paul scored Barbara, Chris Crary, Ty-Lor Boring, and Keith Rhodes. Sarah would work with Nyesha Arrington, Heather Terhune, Grayson Schmitz, and Tyler Stone (who judge Tom Colicchio eliminated from the first 29 for his awful butchering skills while still in the kitchen).
There is no arguing that Sarah is the boss in the kitchen. Known for being extremely straightforward and unforgiving of mistakes, she postponed her wedding to compete on the show. Aside from putting up with Tyler (who she didn’t much respect) and the possibility that she hadn’t caught all the bones in her fish, she had a smooth time of it during the finale challenge.
Paul, who failed out of college and wanted to prove to his parents that he could do something well, had a few difficulties. First, there was some discomfort with having a chef of Barbara’s caliber working underneath him. Thankfully, that subsided. Then, he found that his crabs had soured overnight and had to substitute shrimp into a dish at the last minute. And finally, one of his courses was overcooked and he had to serve them to half the judges anyway.
Despite the slight mistakes, Tom said that the chefs served the best food they’ve ever had in a finale on the series. And the judges agreed that it was hard to imagine they’d have to name one a loser.
But in the end and despite what looked to be a contest that leaned toward a win for Sarah, Paul took the Season 9 title. If anything, the judges seemed most impressed by his attention to detail and his unexpected mix of flavor profiles.
While Sarah may have rubbed the other chefs the wrong way during the season, Paul proved that nice guys can finish first. He may have regretted that he didn’t assert himself enough during the restaurant wars challenge, but he seemed to have learned from that experience and still managed to keep the other chefs on his side.
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Email: Jethro.Nededog@thr.com; Twitter: @TheRealJethro