By Doris Bravo
Sadly, our in-house pop culture expert Doris Bravo is back with her final installment of her Top Chef Chile weekly reviews. It’s been one hell of a ride for all the contestants involved, though for Doris’ blood pressure, it might be good that the first-ever season has come to an end. We’re already looking forward to next season. For now, get Doris’ take on the finale, and a strong win for the ladies. Game-changer, folks.For numerous reasons I can’t address in this review, pre-Columbian culture in Chile is not as palpable as it is among our neighbors (Peru, Bolivia, etc.) The indigenous communities that survived the Conquest have been pushed to the margins of society while historic groups are a faint memory in the national psyche. Last night’s extravagant finale of Top Chef Chile awkwardly mimicked a sacrificial ceremony, or rather, what Hollywood would’ve crafted had the Indiana Jones franchise ever come to Latin America.
By the end of the second challenge it was pretty clear that my horse was in the lead. Not only had Carolina Erazo cooked circles around Juan Morales but her dishes were so superior that for most of the last twenty minutes it was as if Juan had disappeared entirely. After a season of terrible time management I am not surprised that the producers would wish to drag out the announcement of Chile’s first Top Chef. However nothing prepared me for the surreal chain of events that followed the final tasting.To begin with, the show appointed a notary to not only sign and seal the envelope announcing the winner but also to sit on the side of the stage grinning like a self-important goon. Said envelope was then passed onto Julián Elfenbein—Miss America-style—who ceremoniously announced that the winner would not be revealed in the cooking arena but off site. At the most prominent summit in Santiago. The manner in which columns of flames punctuated Elfenbein’s speech ushered in the first wave of unease. Carolina and Juan were driven in a police escort to said summit, Cerro La Cruz. They were met there by Elfenbein and the three judges who naturally arrived in a helicopter. Family members and various former contestants also appeared. The notary mysteriously materialized to oversee the proceedings as Elfenbein directed each contestant to their own butcher block because an episode of Top Chef Chile would be incomplete without a knife pull.
This is when an odd, sinister shade crept over the proceedings. Before the contestants pulled their respective knives, in order to see who won the bloody ordeal, Elfenbein gave a eulogy. For him Juan is “a great leader, a great human being.” Regarding Carolina he noted how “happy I am to have known you.” Within this context—the summit of a hill, behind flame columns, and among friends and family—this struck a dark note with me. Was Juan as the loser going to be pushed off the hill, as a sacrifice to the culinary gods? Or, would he seek revenge by taking his knife and stabbing Carolina?Obviously something so violent or dramatic would never happen on Chilean television. This is a culture that celebrates the family over the individual to such an extent that the entire Finale was saturated in saccharine displays of affection. The children of Carolina and Juan were no doubt explicitly prompted to cheer on their parents; there’s no way that little girl could’ve formed, never mind utter, such a complete sentence on cue. Juan’s oldest son was even wearing a chef’s jacket. Bleh. I don’t object to families making an appearance at the Finale. After all this is a country where it’s common practice to take one’s nuclear and extended family to the supermarket for a liter of milk.
But what does it have to do with the competition? I had the good fortune of watching last night’s episode online which only cost me two hours of my life. I can’t imagine how long it was live. In addition to the family moments there was a random red carpet juncture, complete with a catty correspondent who commented on the fashion of the TVN celebrities, prodded them for gossip, and asked them who they thought was going to win.Despite this filler, there was a terrific display of cooking last night, both in the first challenge and in the final task. Even though Alicia Rodríguez and Cristián Sierra lost out at the beginning of the episode I was thrilled by their choice of ingredients. Cristián selected potatoes from Chiloé; for those of you who want to create instant tension between a Chilean and Peruvian, ask them about the origins of Pisco and potatoes. Meanwhile Alicia prepared risotto from mote (boiled wheat), a preparation that is absolutely delicious!
All in all it’s nice the show ended on a high note, without the disappointment the judges had been launching at the contestants since the first episode. Perhaps it was clever editing or simply the fact that these four contestants worked best against each other, last night they all showed off their skill. Carolina walks away with a handsome batch of prizes: a year of Carozzi products, equipment from Kitchen Center, “10 millones” in Chilean pesos (I have no idea what this shakes out to), and, of course, the title of Top Chef Chile. For all my Spanish-speaking folk out there Carolina’s win also signifies a subtle yet important change in grammar: until now Top Chef has been a masculine phrase (“el primer Top Chef Chile”); now it is entirely feminine.