Rubbernecking: Top Chef Finale

Season Five of Top Chef came to a close last night with a final cook-off in New Orleans. Seventeen chefs started this journey last November 12 and the final three were Stefan Richter (from Santa Monica, age 36); Hosea Rosenberg (from Boulder, Colorado, age 35); and Carla Hall (age 44, from Washington D.C.). Their final challenge is to cook a three course meal for 12 judges and distinguished guests at the world-famous Commander's Palace Restaurant.

To assist them, through the indubitable magic of Reality TV, the judges located three runners up from previous seasons to serve as their sous chefs for the most important meal of their lives. As our heroes scurry into the kitchen to do the prep the day before, Stefan and Hosea are already grandstanding with swiping all the foie gras 'n' shit from each other. Boys, boys!

Meanwhile, Carla's got her own drama going on as it seems her sous chef Casey Thompson (from Season 2) is quietly trying to put her on stamp on the menu. She talks Carla into doing a sous-vide sirloin, which is something she's never done before; as well as a blue cheese soufflé for the final course which later falls flat - literally.

The night before the final challenge, our intrepid three receive a visit from a voodoo tarot card reader to tell their fortunes. The only thing we learn from this is that Stefan confides that he has stabbed voodoo dolls in the name of Hosea and Carla. Apparently he's taking no chances.

The day of reckoning starts with a surprise last minute protein based course being added to the mix and the upper hand is awarded randomly to Hosea, who gets to pick his ingredient and decide who gets the others. He picks red fish and gives Carla the crab, sticking his nemesis Stefan with the alligator, which Stefan has never cooked before.

Long story short; the dinner guests include chefs, restaurant owners, restaurant critics, food writers, and Branford Marsalis. The best line of the entire show has to go to guest and celebrity chef Rocco DiSpirito, who moans, "I don't know if it's only me but I'm tired of eating foie gras" (at which judge Gail Simmons, possibly realizing how effete and elitist that sounds, shakes her head). After the meal is consumed, the four judges (Tom Colicchio, Padma Lakshmi, Gail Simmons, and Toby Young) hand down the final judgment. Carla, after the failure of two of her three courses, is written off right away. Her sous-vide steak was too tough; she f-ed up the soufflé by putting it into a too-hot oven (Wasn't Casey around to trouble shoot that at least? Some sous chef she turned out to be).

With Carla out of the running, the judges seemed truly despondent to have to choose between Stefan's dizzying highs (his squab was apparently pure poetry and the best dish of the night) and lows (his dessert creation was pronounced "pedestrian at best" and "completely dated; this sings 1982"), and Hosea's progressive arc of consistent good flavors. Since Carla is, admittedly, the most soulful chef of the three, this is a devastating choice. And hence Hosea is crowned Top Chef.

The exit interviews often say it all on these shows and this one was no exception. Hosea rather flatly states to the camera, "I couldn't be happier. Things are gonna change." Over and out. The season's ups and downs shall be revisited next week al dente with the cast reunion show on Bravo, Wednesday March 4th at 10pm.

Read more of Holly's ruminations on the slings and arrows of popular culture at Snoop* Du Jour.