On last week‘s “Top Chef” Quickfire and Last Chance queen Michelle Minori was asked to pack her knives, leaving only three chefs to battle it out in the finale. Sara Bradley boasts two wins in the last three Elimination Challenges, Eric Adjepong holds a season best record of three overall wins and Kelsey Barnard Clark was voted the chef that should win in our recent fan poll. In the finale, the three chefs are asked to serve the best four course meal of their lives to a table of food world stars: Melanie Hansche, Mitsuharu Tsumura, Alexander Smalls, Dan Hong, May Chow, and Alvin Leung, as well as season judges Tom Colicchio, Padma Lakshmi, Nilou Motamed and Graham Elliot.
Below, check out our minute-by-minute “Top Chef” recap of Season 16, Episode 15, titled “Finale,” to find out what happened and who was named the winner on Thursday, March 14 at 9:30 p.m. ET/PT. Then be sure to sound off in the comments section about whether the judges selected the right chef.
9:31 p.m. – At the MGM Theater in Macau the three finalists were treated to a video montage of each of their journeys on the show, including testimonials about their strengths from some of the judges. The videos were touching, but reminded them that they’re each stiff competition for the title.
9:35 p.m. – After the videos, Padma and Tom brought them on stage to explain their final challenge: cook the best four course meal of your lives. As is tradition, the rest of their cast was brought out so that each chef could choose peers to work with them as sous chefs. Kelsey chose Brandon Rosen for his “insane” knife skills and Nini Nguyen; Eric chose his good friend Justin Sutherland and Michelle Minori; Sara chose Eddie Konrad after working well with him in the previous challenge and David Viana.
9:37 p.m. – As teased last week, Tom reasserted that only two chefs would actually serve their full four courses to the challenges to vy for the title. Two hours into their official cook time each chef will serve their first course to the judges and a decision will be made which one impressed them the least.
9:38 p.m. – In their meal planning brainstorming sessions, Kelsey told Eddie and David that the concept of her meal would be “summers in the South” using traditional Southern cuisine mixed with the influences of Macau. Eric was obviously going to stick to his West African roots like he has all season, but also tell the story of the Transatlantic slave trade and how the flavors of Africa came to the American South. Sara also planned to stick to her heritage and cook Southern food, but infuse it with hints of Macanese and Portuguese tradition as well.
9:43 p.m. – While shopping for ingredients, Kelsey once again benefited from having Brandon, as well as Nini, on her team due to their vast knowledge of Chinese cuisine and the flavor profiles of its ingredients. She previously used Brandon’s knowledge to her advantage in one of the first Quickfires in Macau. Unlike Kelsey and Sara who appeared to shop only at the Macanese market, Eric and his team split their time between the market and a more traditional supermarket where he found the spices he’d need for some of his dishes.
9:55 p.m. – In the kitchen the teams focused heavily on their first courses, knowing that for one of them it would be the only dish they served. Kelsey’s team had to make a second batch of cornbread after the first attempt was too salty and tasted too strongly of baking soda while both Eric and Sara did multiple rounds of taste-testing of their spices and sauces, key components of each of their dishes.
10:01 p.m. – For their first courses Sara served chili prawns with boiled peanuts and grapes, a dish that reminded her of family trips, Kelsey served cornbread & buttermilk as an ode to the matriarchs in her family and Eric served Caribbean jerk tartare with lotus root chips using spices and sauces indigenous to Africa.
10:03 p.m. – The judges loved that Eric stayed true to the vision he’s had all season, and while Padma was specifically taken by the use of finger limes both Graham and Tom were concerned that he used too many ingredients that detracted from the beef. Both the guys found Sara’s shrimp to be perfectly prepared, but Nilou thought it was a little bit off in texture. As for Kelsey’s dish, Padma felt like she was transported into Kelsey’s memory without having been there herself and Graham liked that she, too, maintained her vision, but Nilou hoped there would be more flavor in the buttermilk.
10:05 p.m. – The decision ultimately came down to Eric’s burnt lotus root chips and the fact that the center of his dish, the beef, wasn’t as present as it should have been. And so, sadly, Eric was eliminated, leaving longtime friends and the two Southern chefs, Sara and Kelsey to battle it out with their remaining three courses.
10:07 p.m. – To conclude the competition, Sara and Kelsey had four more hours of prep time that night and then were given two additional hours the next day before serving their full meal, including these first courses again, to the judges and a table of other icons in the food world.
10:09 p.m. – One of the executive decisions Sara made for our meal was to not cook a dessert course and instead focus on meats and vegetables which she knows she can cook well. During a visit to the kitchen, Tom and Graham backed her up on her decision, offering up some relief to a decision that seemed like a bit of a risk at first thought. In Kelsey’s visit, Tom suggested that she add something to her first course to make the dish more substantial–luckily she had planned backups and had extra crawfish that she could throw on top.
10:19 p.m. – In terms of service, Kelsey and Sara did not have to cook at the same time. Instead, Kelsey and her team had access to the kitchen first and would serve all four of their dishes before Sara and her team took over to cook and serve their meal.
10:25 p.m. – As suggested Kelsey added the crawfish to her first course, making it a complete first course of cornbread & buttermilk with crawfish, boiled peanuts, cucumber and watermelon. The rest of Kelsey’s meal was: second course, French oysters, vichyssoise, Chinese chives, pickled green tomato and cheese straw; third course, soft-shell crab and field peas with a pistou sauce; fourth course, peach cobbler.
10:37 p.m. – Unlike Kelsey, Sara didn’t make alterations to her first course so she served the chili prawns with boiled peanuts again, followed by: second course, braised bacon with razor clams, baby corn and pickled peaches; third course, roast duck with black-eyed peas and pickled beets; fourth course, rib eye steak with dirty rice, shiitake broth and maitake mushroom confit.
10:51 p.m. – At Judges’ Table, Sara earned high marks for her starter course, and although Kelsey’s cornbread wasn’t as good on the second time as it was the first time they thought it was overall better. In the second course, Kelsey took a clear edge over Sara who even admitted that it was her least favorite part of her meal. The judges thought Sara rebounded well with her third course, especially compared to Kelsey’s third which she was unhappy with. As far as last courses went, Tom thought Sara’s was near-perfect and Graham thought it was a bold move with a big payoff to end with steak instead of dessert. For Kelsey’s dessert, some of the judges had issues with parts of it, but all together thought it was still a very strong showing.
10:57 p.m. – With their families and the rest of the contestants surrounding them, Kelsey and Sara approached the judges’ table once again to hear the results. They entered the competition as best friends and said all along that if one of them couldn’t win that they wanted the other to, but at the end of the day it was Kelsey who cooked the final meal the judges liked more and so she was cleared top chef! Congrats to Kelsey and to all the fans that voted for her in our poll of who should win!