Endings are bittersweet. Sure, we get to find out who will be Top Chef 2016 but we’ll also have to say au revoir to the finest slice of Monday-night telly France has to offer. To mark the occasion where either Xavier or Coline will be named champion, we’re going to look back at some of the best and most WTF bits of this year’s Top Chef.
Starting a new season with a bunch of unknowns is awkward, like the first day of school. Who is cool kid/the bully/the ones that will pee themselves and cry to go home? In the first episode only a few stand out; the rest either gradually come through over the course of the series or disappear without having left any impression at all. One person from this season’s opener that you couldn’t miss was Joy Astrid – though not for the right reasons. She did not stop talking. She ran around. She shouted. She panicked. She was everywhere. Twitter hated her right from the off. I kinda liked her.
— M6 (@M6) January 25, 2016
Then there was some fancy-schmancy guy from Versailles who moaned about having to make a tomate farcie as it didn’t “inspire” him and then – horror upon horrors – the basil wasn’t good enough quality. “What a dick,” I remember thinking, “I hope this is the last we see of him.” It was Xavier, tonight’s finalist.
The Elimination Most Likely to Have Viewers Shouting at the TV
Every year there is an elimination that leaves viewers foaming at the mouth in outrage at its perceived injustice. Last year was real life Tim Burton character Olivier (#teamolivier #neverforget). This year’s Top Chef martyr was Wilfried.
In week three Wilfried, a promising and talented chef, was paired with Pierre M, a smirking nincompoop, in a challenge to reinvent the pot-au-feu. The twist was that part of the way through Wilfried was forced to stop and watch while Pierre continued alone. Wilfried looked on in agony as Pierre’s carefree attitude and poor choices led to the failure of the task resulting in the pair ending up in the final cook-off. So far, so bad.
The test was basically “do something yums with a pineapple”. Wilfried, whose family is originally from Martinique, chose to make a dish based on a family recipe. Aside from forgetting to add a PINEAPPLE to his basket of ingredients (he was saved by the generosity of Pierre E) Wilfried was confident in what he had produced ahead of the blind taste test. He shouldn’t have been; he was placed last along with… Pierre M. The judges chose to keep Pierre’s dish over Wilfired’s and a nation cried, “Noooooooon!”
The cruelty of the decision was amplified by their respective backgrounds. Wilfried, we learned in the episode, comes from a rough suburb of Paris and had difficulties at school until he found his calling in cookery and has worked hard ever since to make his way up in his chosen profession; in contrast, Pierre is the son of a three-starred Michelin chef who already has his own restaurant. I’ll leave it to Twitter to say the rest.
Etre "fils de" c'est vraiment le plus beau métier de France #TopChef
— ViceIsFootball (@ViceIsFootball) February 8, 2016
Every season on Top Chef sees new food trends. We’ve had makis, ballotines, carpaccios; in 2015 we had one candidate determined that every dish should be “façon thaï”. 2016 was all about the cromesqui and barely a week went by without one.
But what is a cromesqui? Thanks for asking, it’s a ball of meat/cheese/chocolate which is covered in breadcrumbs and deep fried. In Scotland this is known simply as ‘food’. The big question about Monday’s final isn’t “Who will win?” but “Will there be any cromesquis?”
On s'en fout du finaliste, IL Y A EU DU CROMESQUIS OU PAS ? #TopChef
— Juliasaurus (@Jliabht) April 11, 2016
Olivier came back! Olivier came back!
My fav contestant EVAH returned as a judge in episode 6 to the surprise and delight of me and probably other people too. Sadly his appearance caused controversy off screen because of his apparent snub to Franck. Gothic Olivier, known for the delicate highly manicured appearance of his hair I MEAN food, was tasked with judging the contestants food first on presentation, choosing to taste only the plates that impressed him visually. When time came to view Franck’s quiche lorraine revisited, a silent Olivier gave it barely a glance before moving on. Franck (arguably this year’s Olivier with his unusual/alarming appearance a contrast to the refined artistry of his food) and the viewer were left confused and more than a litt upset by this slight.
Words flew around off screen. The two were reconciled after Olivier phoned Franck to explain that he was told by the production team not to speak to Franck during the judging and that he was angry at how the editing of the programme misrepresented him.
Charles’ carrot-based breakdown
Charles, the adorable baby-faced giant and winner of Objectif Top Chef, was pushed to his limits in week 8 when he was required to do something clearly he had never attempted before: make a low calorie meal. Charles, dairy fan, malfunctioned and started putting carrots in everything. “Maybe you should add something else?”, prompted a concerned Michel Sarran to the clearly disturbed lad. So he did. More carrots.
After that it was a short step to the final cook off where they had to make something savoury look sweet (or vice versa). Despite having the freedom to go to town with butter and cream, Charles was not at ease. In the end he went with a savoury dish that looked like a large orange. And just how did he get that orange colour? Yes, you’ve guessed it – carrots. Time was up for Charles. He cried. Philippe Etchesbest cried. So did my boyfriend. It was weird.
The trompe-l’oeil test (or ‘make something that looks like something else’) in the derniere chance gave the contestants the chance to bring out their mad inventor skills. One of them was a dessert that looked like fish fingers and ketchup. Philip Etchebest said that it was the best thing he had tasted in the competition. Jean-François Piège went further, declaring that whomever made this dish will be the winner of Top Chef. Step forward, mad-minded creator. . . Xavier. Will JFP be proven right tonight?
Battle of the Restaurants
La Guerre des Restos is a high point in any season of Top Chef and this year we weren’t disappointed.
Franck and Pierre E may have had the restaurant that no one else wanted but they had a concept and menu they agreed upon and they actually enjoyed working together. The theme was Spain: Simples? Yes, except they couldn’t find any Spanish decor in the small French town. Luckily Pierre M was on hand to help! (“He’s been here for hours and done nothing.” said Pierre E on finding the resturant little changed on his return.) But Pierre M came good in the end producing a Spanish flag and some peppers. And the interior had easily the most coherent and stylish decor. All looked set for success.
Polar opposites Xavier and Thomas decided their restaurant should definitely be countryside-themed but with a Parisian influence, and it would use local produce but that included caviar, and the interior should be rustic yet also high-end and stylish. Xavier bought expensive bins from a shop with big windows (they saw him coming, boom-tish) and Thomas bought cabbages and a live chicken to be used as decor. In short, conceptually at least, it was a mess.
But it was nothing compared to the problems between Coline and Gabriel. Things started off badly with Coline making suggestions and Gabriel responding with the emotional arsenal of a fourteen-year old: silence or grunts of acquiesence. Bickering over sauces followed and the relationship deteriorated further until the pair were barely able to communicate. Even an arse-kicking from Philippe Etchebest did little to change the team spirit.
In the end, cruelly, it was Franck and Pierre’s Spanish-themed restaurant that didn’t find favour in the provincial town. No real surprise there; its menu of unpronouncable pig and chicken organs was never going to find favour against the classicism proposed by the other two. Coline and Gabriel (credit where it’s due) rallied but it was Xavier and Thomas who were the unquestionable winners of the battle. But for most viewers, the highlight was no doubt Philippe Etchebest chasing an escaped chicken across the road.
For the first half of the series Gabriel was a fairly unremarkable contestant; he wasn’t hypertalkative (Joy-Astrid), clearly just released from prison (Franck) or a cooking machine with the emotional depth of a Moulinex food processor (Xavier). He was beige. If you tried to picture him, you might come up with a human-shaped stick figure. “Yes, that’s Gabriel,” you would say, “I think. Wait, who’s Gabriel again?”
Then – perhaps surprised to find himself still in the competition – Gabriel began to get confident. Like, really confident.
“I’m never far from perfection,” he said. “I produce things that are exceptional,” he continued. Then came the high mark of the deluded: referring to himself in third person, “Today I’m going to do some great Gabriel Evin.” Gabriel was standing out now but for all the wrong reasons. The audience did not take kindly to this display of monumental arrogance and when it was time for him to face the chopper, the Twitterverse didn’t conceal its glee.
— Inglourious Cinéma (@InglouriousCine) March 28, 2016
Xavier and the children
Another Top Chef tradition is to get the chefs to cook for a group more critical than any Michelin inspector, more vicious than any Tripadvisor reviewer: children. Like YouTube commentators, they have little idea what they’re talking about but don’t hold back from saying it, making them particularly difficult to cook for. (I’m a mother, I know.)
Coline was particularly confident ahead of the task, citing her experience of cooking for her son. As faithful viewers know, THIS IS A TRAP. Every year someone says they know how to cook for children and every year they come undone. Despite following the example of children’s menus the world over by covering food in breadcrumbs and frying it (mouse cromesquis, anyone?), Coline, Pierre E and Thomas were beaten by the simplicity of Xavier’s pasta.
Oh, Xavier – his discomfort around the children was a delight to observe! For this year not only were kids the judges, they were also allowed to run around the kitchen, ask questions and generally get in the way. (For the full parent experience, each chef should have had to cook while a crying toddler held onto their leg, wailing something about a missing doudou.) Xavier, doubtlessly unaccustomed to wee ones, was as ill at ease as a cat forced to wear a top hat and bow tie. It was wonderful, bravo Top Chef!
You’ve got a friend?
One of the most telling things about a person is how they will react under pressure. Do they retain their decency in times of stress, will they help out their fellow man? There were three notable moments in Top Chef 2016 that gave us an insight into the characters of the various chefs. First is one already mentioned. In the derniere chance where the main ingredient was a pineapple, Wilfried forgot to add that very item to his basket. Step forward Pierre E who, seeing Wilfried’s distress when he realised his mistake, gave him one of his own pineapples. Despite effectively decreasing the odds of succeeding himself, Pierre E’s sense of fair play wouldn’t allow him to let another contestant fail over such a silly mistake. Bloody good bloke.
They say ‘what goes around comes around’ and this may well be true in our next example. It was Pierre E under pressure this time, looking highly unliklely to plate up on time. Step forward Coline who, having finished herself, saw the difficulty her friend was in and aided him as the final seconds ticked, allowing him to present a completed dish. Bloody good lass.
Which brings us to Xavier. Once again it was the final cook off to stay in the competition. The task was to reimagine ratatouille (yes, just like in the Pixar film). The contestants therefore filled their baskets with peppers, courgettes, aubergines and onions. Except Gabriel who found himself far into the cooking process quite onionless. Now Gabriel is precisely one person’s favourite contestant (Hi Gabriel’s mum!) but I would challenge anyone not to feel a tiniest bit sorry for him. Yes, I was desperate for him to fail but I wanted him to fail fairly. Xavier – by anyone’s estimation the best cook in the competition – realised that Gabriel needed onions and hid his remaining onions under other ingredients. Of course this was by no means cheating; this is a competition after all, why should he help his rivals? But this one action was so mean spirited that it left a bitter taste in the mouth, which is the very last thing a chef wants.
So who will be Top Chef 2016? It looks like Xavier is unbeatable – his cooking talent is matched by his ambition making him a formidable opponent. But Coline has come a long way during the series; her skills and ingenuity have increased, to say nothing of her self confidence, something that’s been really rather touching to witness. I’m firmly in #teamcoline but only tonight’s Top Chef will tell. See you there.