Omnivore - Dinner at 11,200 feet: 'Top Chef' announces newest winner

"Top Chef Miami" ended last night with a bang, or at least a Hung.

The finale of the third season of Bravo’s hit reality/food television hybrid aired last night, culminating in the first live announcement of the winner of "Top Chef." Hung, the technically talented and slightly obnoxious “villain” from Las Vegas, took home the big prize, winning $100,000, a feature in Food & Wine magazine and an appearance at the Food & Wine classic in Aspen, Colo.

The live component to the finale, though seemingly exciting, was mostly rehearsed and unnatural. Head judge chef Tom Colicchio sounded nervous and Padma, the leggy host, seemed almost bored as she introduced the finalists’ families and gave Hung his new title. Worse, though, was that the finalists themselves watched the final show, which was not live, before the announcement of the winner, leaving poor Casey, the lone female and my personal favorite, sure she hadn’t won before there was even a winner.

The final competition, a four-course dinner served at 11,200 feet in Aspen, Colo., was 10 times more interesting than the live portion (and the rest of the season, for that matter). Not only did cheesemaker Sara, giant CJ and bulldog Howie return to help the chefs pull off a surprise fourth course, but real top chefs joined the finalists as sous chefs on the first day of the challenge. In perhaps my favorite reality TV surprise of all time, Rocco DiSpirito, Michelle Bernstein and Todd English joined Hung, Casey and Dale respectively to help them create their final meal of the competition, and then served as guest judges at the table alongside regulars Tom, Padma, Gail Simmons and Ted Allen.

Ultimately, this season of "Top Chef" failed to deliver the same sort of universal entertainment of the past seasons. The editing tried to paint Hung and Howie as villains, but neither of them lived up to the perfect love-to-hate Marcel (who appeared in the finale as a Hung supporter) and more importantly, none of this season’s cast of characters was as lovable as Season Two good girl Elia. And even though I was rooting for Casey, I didn’t fall in love with any of this season’s chefs.

Hung probably deserved to win — his food was well-prepared, seemingly simple and all him, but I’m waiting for next week’s reunion show to see how the other contestants feel about that.

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