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December 22, 2014

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The Jet Stream: Artists, artisans and shoemaker hacks

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BravoTV / Virginia Sherwood

Even the great wizard of pork can stumble. Kevin did not put up his best performance on the finale of “Top Chef: Las Vegas.”

So the fat lady is out of breath, and we have crowned the new Top Chef. I think we all had a feeling that the V-bros were going to see the finish line together about midway through, but the surprise to me was the beard. I really didnt feel that Kevin was going to make it all the way! I thought Jen was gonna beat him to the final three. So how did Paul Bunyun self destruct? Well, it goes back to what I always say: You can be Top Cool Dude, Top Nice Guy or Top Red Beard, but in the end, its about being Top Chef!

You couldve flipped a coin between the two V-bros for the win; they are just the most complete chefs in this group. And what made Kevin finally lose? The judges were just tired of the same ol' stuff from him. By the end, they were done with his courses of pork, served with pork, with pork jus, pork jam and bacon nibs.

Top Chef: Las Vegas Finale

TOP CHEF -- Launch slideshow »

I'm not hating on him at all, but the fact is this: A great chef friend and colleague of mine once told me that there are two types of chefs in the world — artists and artisans. What he meant was the artisan is the chef that learns a style of food and delves deep into it and spends a lot of his life researching and practicing that discipline. He finds his niche and refines it until he lives and breathes it. He can produce the purest form a dish that has existed and maybe put a little twist on it, but at the end of the day he is producing a living testament to an existing dish. The artist, on the other hand, is someone out of the box. He's someone who takes risks and doesn't want to follow the rules of established cookery! He understands it maybe, but doesn't need or want the rules to apply. Why do tomatoes and basil have play together? Why can't we make tomato water and then use calcium alginate and make tomato caviar and suspend them in basil soup into a shooter? This is an artist's interpretation. Once my buddy told me this artist vs. artisan theory my whole world changed! BTW, there is a third type of chef, the shoemaker hacks that are only chefs because of nepotism, or dudes that are so high on being called chef that they use "chef" in their email addy or license plates. Of course, not everyone that does that are hacks, but a high percentage of them are. Yes, I said it. For every one of us artists or artisans, there are 10 shoemaker hacks!

Allow me to apply this to "Top Chef": Artists = V-bros and Eli, to some extent. Artisans = Jen, Kevin and Mattin. Shoemakers = Robin, Ash and Preeti (Iím going to get so much crap for the Preeti comment because we have a lot of common friends and are affiliated with the same company, but I don't care! You can't be an executive chef and not be able to cut a straight batonnet or shuck oysters.) I'm putting on the Kevlar now, because I'm going to get some hate mail.

So why did Mike win? What makes him great? You can apply the answer to any great chef. Young cooks in school and aspiring chefs, take note: Mike won because he was confident; he was well trained and practiced; he cooked under some greats to learn their techniques; and he was never afraid to take chances. I still think Bryan also had these attributes, but his downfall was that he played it a little safer than his brother. Fortune truly did favor the bold between these two. Remember when each chef had a chance to say some final words before judging? Mike said, "I just don't want Bryan to be Top Chef!" Homeboy was not joking; he was serious as a heart attack! Cruel? I say no. He wanted to win and was not ashamed of it. The lesson here is to be bold and not afraid to be aggressive about what you want!

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