At that pivotal moment when Dave and Kevin placed their hands on those doorknobs, I found myself a conflicted mess. Throughout the season, Kevin consistently had been the more dependable chef of the two, and his confidence and leadership skills dwarfed Dave’s ability (or lack thereof) to communicate clearly. So, the logical part of my brain deduced that Gordon Ramsay should pick Kevin, who’d have no trouble becoming part of the fine-dining culture at Araxi Restaurant in Whistler, British Columbia.
Yet, despite those reasons to pull for Kevin, my heart still leaped for joy when Dave’s door opened and he was declared the champion of Hell’s Kitchen. How could you not root for Dave? It was a minor miracle every time the guy completed a sentence, and he still managed to deliver some of the season’s best quotes (my favorite: “You’re not supposed to drink duck!”). He was unbelievably mellow and unassuming – the exact opposite of Kevin – and as a few of you pointed out last night, Dave evolved throughout the season while Kevin remained stagnant. Of course, there was also Dave’s fractured wrist, which made all of his cooking accomplishments seem even more impressive. Just wait until next season – every contestant is going to show up with an ailment of some kind! I’m putting my money on the chef with no sense of taste or smell.
In all seriousness, Dave won because he slightly outperformed Kevin during the two-hour season finale. Dave was the victor in both of the individual challenges, and his decision to construct a simpler menu during the final service resulted in a kitchen that ran a bit smoother. Let’s rewind to the beginning of last night’s finale and retrace everyone’s steps.
First half – individual challenge: Each of the three remaining chefs (Ariel, Dave, and Kevin) had to cook a single dish using the ingredients of a selected country. Ariel got China, Dave received India, and Kevin lucked out with Mexico. Ramsay brought in three celebrity chefs – Vikas Khanna, Thomas Ortega, and Eddie Wong – to judge the dishes. Even though Dave had no experience with Indian cuisine, and he made the mistake of including pork in his dish (which would have been rejected by Muslim diners), all three judges voted for him anyway.
First half – dinner service: Each chef received the opportunity to take a turn at the pass (or “run the hotplate” depending on the lingo you prefer). Kevin was up first, and he aced the quality-control test by spotting the halibut Sous Chef Scott mischievously substituted for sea bass. Dave didn’t fare as well, failing to notice that spinach puree had been swapped for asparagus puree in the risotto dish, and also neglecting to stop a sabotaged tuna dish. We also witnessed Dave’s attempt to imitate Ramsay’s intense energy by kicking a trash can and whipping the counter with a towel. Finally, Ariel’s turn at the hotplate was mediocre. She approved a dish that contained parsnip puree instead of mashed potatoes, but successfully caught Scott’s attempt to switch salmon for sea bass. Ariel feuded with Kevin, who lagged on the scallops station. When it came time for each chef to nominate someone for elimination, Ariel and Scott picked each other while Dave selected Ariel. Ramsay ultimately agreed, sending Ariel on her way but letting her keep her jacket.
Second half – individual challenge: Got to love Dave’s response to making it to the final episode: “This ranks up there on insane parts of Dave’s life.” One day we will learn about the rest of Dave’s life, and we will be stunned by how totally, like, insane it was, you know. Yeah. For the final challenge, Ramsay brought Dave and Kevin to the roof of the Westin Bonaventure Hotel (if you’re ever in Downtown Los Angeles, take a ride on the Bonaventure’s elevators). There, a crowd cheered the two chefs on as they raced back to the kitchen to create “a dish worthy of Araxi Restaurant.” Kevin made a poached lobster dish while Dave settled for a rack of venison, and a panel of five judges picked Dave as the winner by a margin of 3-2. Naturally, it came down to the last vote.
Second half – dinner service: Six previous contestants returned to assist Dave and Kevin in the kitchen. Dave selected Ariel, Robert, and Suzanne for his team, while Kevin picked Van, Amanda, and Sabrina. But where was Tennille? She finished in the top four and had, without a doubt, the most dynamic personality of any chef this season. Instead, we had to settle for Robert and his tired shenanigans. Moving on, Dave and Kevin designed their own menus for the evening, with Dave keeping it straightforward while Kevin preferred gorgeously elaborate but time-consuming dishes. Here’s a quick rundown of each kitchen’s performance:
Kevin: His team started poorly as Amanda undercooked and then overcooked her scallops. As a result, Kevin decided to have Amanda and Van switch stations. Moments later, a risotto dish was returned to the kitchen for containing hard, crunchy rice, and Amanda was the culprit once again. There was also some confusion as to whether Kevin asked for a meat dish to be cooked medium-well or medium-rare, but his team finished strong thanks in part to Van’s ability to compensate for Amanda’s blunders.
Dave: His appetizers were flying out of the kitchen, but when Robert pointed out that the kitchen was running low on mushrooms, Dave instructed him to use less of the ingredient. The result was discolored risotto that contained barely any mushrooms at all. Ariel also overcooked a venison dish and sent out raw salmon, but for the most part, Dave’s kitchen seemed to complete orders at a more consistent rate than Kevin’s kitchen.
The moment of truth: And we’re back to Dave stepping through that silhouetted door and discovering that he had won. “I’m totally in a state of shock,” he said while tearing up. Ramsay’s reasoning for choosing Dave was this: “Dave has a very natural ability and a very sophisticated palate. He fought through excruciating pain and excelled.” Kevin was a gracious loser, and he’ll certainly benefit from all the exposure he received on Hell’s Kitchen. But the night belonged to the “one-armed bandit,” who’ll inevitably regain the use of his left arm only to injure it again while skiing the slopes of Whistler.
PopWatchers, feel free to continue the discussion you started last night: Were you celebrating with Dave when he won, or outraged at Ramsay for not picking Kevin? And was anyone else here missing Tennille?