Thursday’s all-Chicago finale of Top Chef showcased mutual respect for South Side natives Joe Flamm and Adrienne Cheatham. Flamm, Spiaggia’s executive chef, bested Cheatham — a Hyde Park native who lives in New York and worked at Red Rooster and Le Bernardin. Flamm, who counts chef Tony Mantuano as a mentor, wants to take the $125,000 to open his own restaurant.
Mantuano gave his protege advice to start the episode while Flamm talked about their friendship and his admiration for Spiaggia. “[But] I still want to go out and forge my own trail,” Flamm said in the episode.
Warning: Spoilers ahead.
The two competitors were chummy with each other the entire episode. They playfully shoved each other and joked. “No matter who wins, South Side comes out on top,” Cheatham told Flamm.
Flamm’s personal style with Italian food earned admiration from judges Tom Colicchio, Padma Lakshmi, and the rest of the panel. His first course — “tonno vitellato” (raw tuna with veal demi aioli, smoked waygu powder, capers) — drew praise from Chicago chef Curtis Duffy who liked the dish’s acidity. Duffy left Grace in December and the acclaimed restaurant closed the day after. Grace was not mentioned in the episode, as there are still some harsh feelings. A graphic describing Duffy listed him only as a “3 Michelin Star Chef/Restaurateur.” Shade.
Flamm’s second course, “tortellini en brodo” (grano arso tortellini, pig head, apple, black truffle, braising liquid broth) was made from a pig Flamm nicknamed “Norma.” All the pasta was made by hand: “It’s just perfect,” Colicchio said.
At the time of the third course, it was a tight competition. Flamm served “manzo di Colorado” (roasted beef ribeye with roasted asparagus and smoked bone marrow sauce). While Gail Simmons called Flamm’s asparagus, cooked in its own juices, “magic,” the steak was tough and over-rested, Colicchio said.
For dessert, Flamm served “torta della nonna” — a brown sugar cake with whipped ricotta, blueberry thyme sauce and chocolate shards. Chicago’s own Graham Elliott liked the “deep concentrated flavor” from the blueberries. Duffy liked the cake’s density, but said the ricotta underneath was heavy.
Flamm is the first Chicago chef to win Top Chef since Stephanie Izard won in 2008. She’s won Iron Chef, opened Girl & the Goat, Little Goat Diner, and Duck Duck Goat. Good luck to Flamm in filling those shoes.