Hung wins Top Chef 3 with sous chef Rocco DiSpirito’s help

After a 75-minute, partially live finale, Hung Huynh won $100,000 and became the third Top Chef. If Bravo’s unscientific poll during the episode is any indication, that was unpredictable, and maybe even a pretty significant upset; Casey Thompson was by far the most popular chef, followed by Dale Levitski. But while Casey seemed poised to win the whole competition, she definitely choked during the finale. “This wasn’t my challenge,” she admitted. It was perhaps more surprising that the judges selected Hung over Dale, whose food was widely praised.

Of the four dishes served during the final challenge, the judges said Hung took two, and Dale won the other two. Tom called two of Dale’s dishes “a triumph,” and informed Hung that Todd English said one of his dishes was “three-star Michelin.” But Hung also said he “played it safe” with his fourth course, a dessert. Casey spent most of judging table defending her choices, and admitted that the dish everyone liked best was largely produced by Howie.

Before they actually got to serve and be judged on their food, the producers had four final twists. Besides having to work and serve simultaneously in the same kitchen, the chefs drew knives to select their sous chefs, and while they suspected the producers would bring back the weakest contestants, there was a pleasant surprise: they were world-famous chefs. Hung’s sous chef was Rocco DiSpirito, Casey worked with Michelle Bernstein, and Dale got Todd English. Dale said, “It feels really strange to say that, ‘I know you that have more restaurants than you can count, but chop the garlic right now.'” He later said that Todd English “was basically my prep bitch.”

While doing their final cooking, Tom Collichio pulled them out of the kitchen to reveal the final twists. “Well, kiss my ass,” Dale said. “I have, like, an hour left, and you’re taking me out of the kitchen?” Then Tom told them to make a fourth course, and again, Dale nailed it, saying, “I wanted to punch him in the face.” They also had new sous chefs, three already-eliminated chefs (Howie, CJ, and Sara, but not Brian, who got to eat with the judges).

Note to Bravo: Your first live finale should be your last, unless you can step up the production values beyond those insufferable Watch What Happens webcasts. The live pats of the finale did not demonstrate the level of quality we’ve come to expect from your competition series. Every live segment from Chicago looked like a cable access production that was transmitting its audio through cell phones and had been lit with flashlights.