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'Top Chef': Slow and steady wins the race

Remember the fable about the tortoise and the hare?

Kevin Sbraga certainly does.

In what some might have seen as an upset victory (but we suggested was a strong possibility nearly a month ago) New Jersey’s affable Kevin won the title of “Top Chef” in the season’s finale Wednesday, proving that slow and steady can sometimes beat a whole lot of flash.

Not that Kevin’s cooking wasn’t exemplary. But when the arguably more creative Angelo Sosa overreached (his duck dish was too complicated by half) and the usually balanced Ed Cotton phoned in his dessert (which looked like a cafeteria sheet cake with some froufrou accompaniments), Kevin’s evenly excellent four-course meal clipped his challengers at the finish line.

Over the course of Season 7’s 14 episodes, Kevin won just one elimination challenge—way back in episode six, he triumphed with his tuna and veal with romaine leaves, pine nuts and Mediterranean condiments. Ed won twice as many elimination tests just in the last three weeks. What’s more, Kevin on five separate occasions was judged to have had one of the worst elimination dishes, making him shortlisted for ejection more often than Angelo and Ed combined.

Yet when it most mattered, Kevin didn’t falter at all.

It’s easy to say that Kevin was helped immensely before he even started dicing vegetables in the season finale, when through a random knife draw he was paired with last season’s winner, the exemplary Michael Voltaggio, as his sous chef. Angelo (as he wanted) was joined by third season victor Hung Huynh, while Ed was joined by second season champion Ilan Hall.

Both Ilan and Hung are fantastic chefs, but Michael, who once worked with Kevin, not only knows the judges’ tastes better but also can plate a dish with unmatched artistry. If you were playing a pick-up football game, and each team got an NFL quarterback to sit in, you’d probably want to be on the team with Peyton Manning in the backfield, not Matt Leinart.

In winning, Kevin toppled a narrative that looked almost foretold in the premiere episode: that Angelo’s winning, if not preordained, was inevitable. Angelo’s chances may have been damaged by his becoming ill just as the final test was starting, and we didn’t get much comfort from his hotel room doctor, who looked about as competent as the house-calling psychic expert in “Paranormal Activity.”

Ed, who had been the contestant with the most momentum coming into the finals, made only one material blunder, abdicating the dessert to Ilan (although Ed wins class points for not blaming his assistant for making the dish).

As judge Eric Ripert noted, Kevin “paid homage to every ingredient.” His menu was both exotic and accessible: a vegetable terrine, pan-seared red mullet with cuttlefish noodles, duck dumplings and a Singapore sling for dessert, which must have tasted far better than the fancier version of a Dole fruit cup.

In a fairly obvious epiphany, Angelo said just before Kevin was declared the winner, “It’s really just so subjective.” Like any reality show, “Top Chef” is just that.

But even if the current season started slowly and the caliber of cooking wasn’t always very high, it feels as if the best chef did in fact win. The tortoise beat the hares.

--John Horn

Photo of Kevin Sbraga in "Top Chef": Joan Leong/Bravo

Comments () | Archives (24)


Kevin won because of the color of his skin. I called it when I saw he was a finalist. "I bet Top Chef wants to get some color." I thought to myself. Same reason why Aarti won "Food network Star."

The color of his skin?!? You should be Sorry for being racist. I had NO idea Kevin was even African-American until he mentioned it at the end. If Top Chef really wanted some color, don't you think Tiffany would have been in the final instead? They could have had a two-for-one and put a check mark in the female column as well.
Kevin was clearly not the strongest chef going into the final. However, this was not "who did the best job over the entire season", it was who did the best job that night. Like baseball, it doesn't matter if you had the best record during the regular season - it matters who wins the big game - and the big game was won by Kevin. Angelo made some missteps and Ed did not deserve to win for his dessert decision alone. How could Ed rise above like he did the previous week by winning the Elimination Challenge even though he had immunity, and then TOTALLY abdicate responsibility for 1/4th of the dishes he was being judged on in the FINALS?!?
I thought there was no way Kevin would win this thing, but when it was all said and done, he did the best job on the night that mattered most. Give him credit where credit is due. To say that he won because of his race is despicable.

I agree with Sorry,I never noticed that Kevin was black,he could have been any other ethnicity,but when he himself said "the first African American winner",I thought Gee!,you stoled your thunder.Of course he won because of his color and not his cooking.I guess if he doesn,t care how he wins then neither do I.As for Rupert'he is the wrong judge for this show,much to pretencious for me!

They really dodged a bullet here. Eater.com's spoilers made it clear Angelo wasn't the winner, and given the reviews of Ed's restaurant, it was obvious they's have egg on their face if Ed had won (and I don't actually put it past Bravo to re-edit the show so the winner didn't get "no stars:fair" from the NY Times).

Color of his skin? Damn, the entitelement of some white people is really above and beyond comprehension. As deputy Dog said, once you're at that stage of the finals, it's that meal, and that meal only, and yes, good for Kevin.

Kevin seems like a nice guy and a great cook, but Angelo and Ed consistently delivered better food. By that standard, he should have lost.

He's Black?????? I'm black and didn't know. I thought he was hispanic or something. I doubt color had anything to do with it, although I'm not so foolish as to say there is NO WAY it had absolutely NOTHING to do with perceptions.

I don't think he was the best chef at all, but he DESERVED to win because of his consistency. You do what you do well, not what you think will impress the judges. That's what he did. Personally I was cheering for Tiffany (she was sooooo nice and sweet) but that's the way the cookie crumbles.

Once again, L.A. Times, thanks for the spoiler.

Congratulations Kevin!!! I thought all three Chef's did a superb job all season and even though Kevin was seen as the underdog, he really shined at the last challenge when it mattered the most.

" we didn’t get much comfort from his hotel room doctor, who looked about as competent as the house-calling psychic expert in “Paranormal Activity.” "

Thank you, I thought that doctor was awful. Yes, Angelo, you can just lie there sick without any drugs at all despite a "doctor" seeing you. That guy was just awful.

In a night where there were few mistakes, I think Kevin clearly made the least in number and severity. I think it was the right decision in a competition where the judges consistently insist that they base their decisions on that night's performance.

In my opinion, it would have been difficult to give the title to Angelo after all the work Hung did while Angelo was sick in bed. And Ed's dessert was quite simply a deal breaker.

Thanks for another great season!

The real champ of the season was Tiffany, whom they dumbly ousted two weeks ago. She consistently made great food without pretense, with one of the most winning personalities in reality TV. Good for Kevin, but Tiffany should've been around for the final challenge. Kevin won using her formula.

Ya know, when it fits their narrative, the judges are fond of saying, "it's all cumulative." And cumulatively, Kevin stank, plain and simple, and had no business winning -- or even being in the finale for that matter. Surely he must hold the record for the Top Chef who spent the most time at the bottom. After the judges, in their most disastrous decision of the season, ousted Tiffany (the week that Kevin *should* have gone home -- and I'm pretty sure Eric Ripert would agree with me based on his comments during that episode), I kind of lost interest since their second most disastrous ousting was Kenny. After those two extremely poor judging decisions, my faith in the judges is very much starting to waiver. Now based on the one final meal, Kevin's was obviously superior -- both Angelo and Ed fumbled the ball in different ways with their dishes (poor Ed can't edit to save his life, and that dessert!) -- but it certainly made for a dis"taste"ful ending to the season. Final three shoulda been Angelo, Ed (or Kenny) and Tiffany, hands down, with Tiff being my favorite to win it all.

Erica Stephens: I would call your comments baseless, ignorant and stupid but your spelling speaks for itself. Thank you.

Gosh, the comments are so entertaining. I thought Kevin deserved to win. He cooked from his heart. I did not know he was Black. What difference does that make. Having Michael as his sous chef was no doubt an asset. People that make comments about Rupert.......it is Eric Ripert, should know who they are talking about. Look him up. His credentials far outreach the other judges. It is true, he is sometimes hard to understand, well, he is French, just listen to him. Regarding the comments about the Doc on call at the hotel, well, welcome to Medical care outside the U.S.

I don't know what to say.

I think it's unfortunate that a person would believe the only reason Kevin won is because of his race. Tiffany won several elimination challenges, yet she was not chosen for the finale because she didn't deliver in ONE challenge. If it was solely about color, why send her home? Also, Carla, an African American woman was a finalist a couple of seasons ago and did not win. If you have watched past seasons of Top Chef, you would know it's not about how many challenges you win throughout the season, but what you do at the finale. Richard Blais was an obvious favorite during his season, but lost to Stephanie because she put out the better food at the finale, period. It's unfortunate that people are ignorant enough to think an African American can only win such a competition based on skin color and not talent. As an African American woman let me inform you that we excel in MANY areas based on skill, talent, and intelligence and NOT the color of our skin. For those who think otherwise, let me suggest you take the time to get to know some successful people of color so maybe you won't continue to be as ignorant as you are right now.

It's really lame to put a photo of the winner on the front page of LATimes.com when some of us recorded the show to watch later. Thanks for the unavoidable spoiler.

I thought he was Swedish....

NOTE TO DVR USERS: It is NOT "spoiling" when the L.A. Times reports the winner AFTER the event has occurred. The world does not, and will not, EVER, revolve around your personal viewing habits. If you don't want to see who won a reality show because you're too busy to watch it on the day of the actual event, THEN DON'T READ THE ENTERTAINMENT SECTION OF THE NEWSPAPER THE NEXT DAY!! Stop with the whiny, "blah, blah, blah, thanks for ruining it for me, waaaaa" complaints already.

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