The first part of the Top Chef season finale involved the finalists creating a three-course menu and serving it up at head judge Tom Colicchio's flagship Craft in Los Angeles. This in itself was daunting. The contestants were awed by the sparkling kitchen and array of fresh ingredients at their disposal. But in addition, Colicchio himself was barking out orders as the chief expediter. Things got messy. Chefs were running behind. Someone was going home.
(SPOILER ALERT) That someone turned out to be the beloved Sheldon Simeon. "I want to show them that I've grown," said the Hawaiian-based chef. So rather than cooking up the Filipino-style cuisine that wowed both judges and his fellow competitors, Sheldon went with a quail, which was perfectly fine, but not remarkable. Both at judges' table and this afternoon on the phone, Sheldon again said that he wanted to show the judges that he'd grown over the last few months. But it turned out the judges loved the old Sheldon and were probably hoping for more of the vibrant flavors that got him this far. (Yes, it was very much like that episode on The Brady Bunch featuring "The New Jan Brady"—with similar lessons!)
"To come this close," said the finalist, and to see the finish line, "it was definitely brutal." Still, he maintained, "I have no regrets." The zen chef is hopeful that his Urbano Filipino-inspired restaurant from Restaurant Wars will one day become a reality. As he and previous chefs have noted, the cuisine just needs to be refined. "It comes from a very peasant culture," Sheldon explained, and it isn't stuffy. He compared it to the early days of sushi when most Americans recoiled at the thought of eating raw fish. "Now you find it at convenient stores," he mused. "Who knows, one day we might find lumpia [Filipino egg rolls] at 7-Eleven."
Next week's finale between the equally attractive Brooke Williamson and Kristen Kish looks to resemble an Iron Chef episode, complete with a live audience. To boost ratings, perhaps the competition should include a pillow-throwing tickle fight.