"Finale Part 2" Predictions

Well, here we are. It's the Finale of Top Chef 5, and we are about to learn who will take the title.

Will it be Stefan Richter, who helped along the dramatic arc of the show by totally blowing off the last two Elimination Challenges and ending his steamroller dominance? Or will it be Carla Hall, who's been steadily picking up her own steam, who will roll into the final challenge on a high from her recent streak of success and snatch an underdog victory? Or will it be...um - oh right, Hosea Rosenberg? Who has been...good?

My ambivalence about his place in the final is not to say that Hosea's cooking isn't good, or that he doesn't have a shot. It just seems like the editors have never quite bothered to build him into a character to root for or against. His interviews have mainly been anti-Stefan, and it's hard to rally around a negative. Maybe he is going to come out from the shadows and take the whole thing, but from a reality television editing perspective, it would almost be... avant garde.

So in my mind, the Top Chef 5 stage definitely seems to have been set to be a showdown between the steely arrogance of Stefan and the scrappiness of Carla's cooked-with-love style. It's kind a redux of the final showdown of last season, with Stefan taking the more analytical/technical side of Richard Blais and Carla taking Stephanie Izard's spot as the less consistent but more relatable chef.

Stefan seems slightly more obvious of a choice, if only for the fact that his technical know-how seems solid, so if he could just, ya know, care about the final challenge and actually put something of himself into his food, he might walk away with it all. Several of the eliminated chefs I've talked to after the show have noted that he's a good guy, supportive, and one of the friends they're closest to after the show. Clearly, there's warmth there, and while it's not a necessary ingredient to make great food, some sense of genuine joy at delighting your diners can only help.

Carla definitely has the joy part down - and she's really been a joy to watch this last half of the season. She seems to have struck that elusive reality balance of being completely invested in the competition without having lost her sense of perspective or humor. It is, again, possibly editing, but she hasn't appeared to have a single crisis of confidence since she hit her stride. So the thing that would seem most obviously to be her weak point a few weeks ago - her tendency to get rattled - seems like a non-issue at this point. She's come into her own, so if she can stay there, cook with inspiration, and Stefan doesn't suddenly come to his senses and give a damn, she might just come out on top of Top Chef 5.

What do you think?

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