Marcus Samuelsson wins Top Chef Masters

Marcus Samuelsson won Top Chef Masters 2 and $100,000 for his charity, the UNICEF Tap Project, which raises money to “to bring clean and accessible water to millions of children around the world,” according to its web site. He beat the other two finalists, Rick Moonen and Susur Lee, by half a star, as they tied with 17 stars each for the final, three-course, autobiographical meal.

Guest judge Tom Colicchio called Marcus’ second course “brilliant” and “genius,” while Gail Simmons praised “[his] gifted hand as a chef and [his] truly global vision.”
But the biggest praise of the evening was saved for Rick Moonen; James Oseland told Rick he “raised the bar on culinary mastery” and then asked “can I marry you?” He didn’t get an answer.

The finale spent a lot of time on the chefs and their stories, although it seemed especially intent on humanizing Susur Lee, who had come off pretty abrasive and cocky in previous episodes. We learned, for example, that his first wife was killed when her plane was shot down over Russia. Oddest of all was that Bravo fake-out between commercial segment, during which Rick said Susur was a “gentleman with a great exuberance” and said it was a “privilege” to cook alongside him, even though the editors got a lot of mileage about Rick bitching about Susur’s presence in the kitchen during most episodes, including this one.

While I loved the first season of Top Chef Masters, this one was strong but didn’t quite have the same draw for me. I think they changed all the wrong things, rarely bringing back quickfire challenges from previous seasons and instead throwing in twists that weren’t necessary. Meanwhile, the judges didn’t really improve, although Gail’s presence was always welcome, and the scoring system is still better than the regular show’s non-existent one. My favorite two finalists, Jonathan Waxman and Susan Feniger, were eliminated during the last two episodes because the judges got all snobby and declared that their food, while apparently technically fine, was not worthy of a “master.” Eh.

And the season ended just as Kelly Choi’s awkward smile was making me desperate for the return of Padma Lakshmi’s stone face (get it?). Top Chef DC debuts next week.

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