Top Chef Texas (-ish) - Finale

So, was it just really obvious, or am I getting good at this finally? Paul was one of my guys from the get-go, and at the top of my odds from gate to gate. Congratulations Paul Qui; you're Top Chef.

It works that maybe the quietest, meekest chef to win this competition served some a final meal of fairly soft, squishy dishes. Chawanmushi, congee, and ice cream topped with foam? Sounds pretty good, but Paul's skills with textural punctuation (puffed rice, pea shoots) were what kept his courses from being mush after unrelenting mush. The congee, noted as weakest by most of the judges, had the least dimension.

I won't slight Sarah for her output in the finale. She did a pretty solid job, with a first course that deviated startlingly from her usual milieu. Squid ink and coconut are not the usual tools in German/Italian/Chicagoan/Texan Sarah Gruenberg's toolbox. She and Paul both carried themselves really admirably in the kitchen during this challenge. For being easily the most starstruck chef I can recall ("OHMIGOD ITS ________ !!"), Sarah got her shit together and ran a tight and professional ship in Vancouver.

As far as narrative, it couldn't have been written any better than to have Tyler -- he of the toothy smarm and exceptionally poor butchering skills -- not only reappear in the finale, but be blind-selected as one of the competing chefs' teammates. He didn't, at least, appear to submarine Sarah's efforts, but how much better would her team have been with the unselected Master Chef Marco Canora? Paul seemed to really thrive thanks in part to Master Chef Barbara Lynch's presence.

Final thoughts. Smarty Paul bought those prawns when he didn't need them -- and then he needed them. (What exactly happened to that crab anyway?) It would have been great to see Nyesha competing in the finale rather than assisting. I think Paul would have really been given a run for his money with her, even as well as Sarah performed. A lot of this year's challenges were pretty mediocre. I don't think Top Chef should return to the "Last Chance Kitchen" concept, if for no other reason than because it won't carry the same surprise. (And this season's surprise was blunted by, I think, chefs who were just plain worn out by the season's rigors.)

Go forth, Paul Qui -- executive chef at one of GQ's 10 Best New Restaurants of 2011, and now Top Chef -- and bask in your new fame. And dude, don't sit anywhere between Heather and Beverly during the reunion special.