Top Chef Masters: A Winning Storyteller

For last night's final episode of Top Chef Masters, finalists Michael Chiarello, Hubert Keller and Rick Bayless were asked to cook the meal of their lives, quite literally.

Note: We reveal the winner and losers below ...

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Top Chef final elimination challenges typically strip away all the gimmicks of previous challenges (not that we don't enjoy those), and simply allow the cheftestants to do what they do best. This was no exception.

The three master chefs were asked to cook a four-course meal that took the judges through their culinary careers, beginning with their first food memory, followed by the experience that made them want to be a chef, the opening of their first restaurant and their plans for the future. Talk about a dream challenge!

There is usually a curve ball or two thrown in, but this time, perhaps in reverence to their master status, there were none. When it was time for a surprise video message, they were sure a new twist was coming. But it turned out to be their sous-chefs wishing them well, and then walking into the kitchen to offer their help. Here are a few more thoughts on last night's finale:

  • We may have to give up our dream of making our own mole. Rick Bayless said it took him 20 years to perfect his. We're screwed. Rick's mole, incidentally, made Jay Rayner get all existential – "You can't identify it, but it's everything at the same time." And it made Gael Greene "shiver." Moving on.
  • We've clearly been going about laundry day all wrong. Hubert Keller's first food memory dish was Baeckeoffe (bakers oven) – a stew of Alsatian lamb, beef, pork and potato that the women in his French hometown would bring in pots to his parent's bakery on laundry day. His father would cover them in a bread crust and put them in the oven to bake while the women went to the river to do their washing. When they returned, lunch would be ready. We're sure this was all a lot of very hard work, but it still sounds idyllic.
  • Want to win over Gail Simmons? Learn to cook a jar full of primal goodness like Michael's Polenta with Rabbit, Asparagus and Wild Mushrooms. Why? Because she wants to bathe in it.
  • "You can slice truffles over a dish and say it's special, but it's not. It's just expensive." Ha! We wouldn't turn down truffles, but we love how Rick champions the seemingly humble ingredients.
  • Look out oxygen – chorizo air may give you a run for your money. Actually, this was a garnish on Rick's Arroz a la Tumbada with lobster, crab, squid, mussels and shrimp. There was a moment of panic when the seafood seemed a bit overcooked, but that wasn't enough to keep Rick from winning the big prize. Ladies and gentlemen, your first Top Chef Master.

Of course, the successful Top Chef Masters contestants weren't competing for their own prize money; it's all for charity. So last's night's biggest winner was the Frontera Farmer Foundation, which supports sustainable family farmers in the Midwest. Bayless told the Chicago Tribune that eight farms will receive about $12,000 each to expand their production. “For a family farm that makes $40,000 a year, it will be a great big change,” he said.

If you're interested in supporting any of the other charities featured on the show, you can learn more about them in Bravo's contestant bios. They're all great causes, but we're particular fans of the Grameen Foundation, which fights global poverty through microfinance and technology.

See you back here next week when we begin our weekly recaps of Top Chef Las Vegas!

Related: Top Chef Masters: Mountain Goats at the Beach

(Images: Bravo)

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