I'm totally okay with this outcome. I think I might have been a little more excited if Dale or Casey won, but it's not that I disliked Hung at all. And being really all about the food, Hung definitely deserved the win. Congrats to him.
There were a bunch of changes to this year's finale, and I thought they really were for the better. First of all, they revealed the winner live, presumably because of last season's Food and Wine website debaucle where the winner was spoiled before the finale aired. It was very Survivor-Apprentice-esque, though thankfully we weren't subjected to boring clip show recaps or interviews with family members. I imagine they'll be keeping it that way. The other changes involved the final challenge itself. For one, all the chefs would be serving their courses at the same time. I think there are advantages and disadvantages to this. While it allows for more direct comparison, I imagine it would be a little more difficult to keep track of the progression and cohesiveness of each of the chefs' menus. Although these more sophisticated eaters can probably handle it.
Also, the chefs' were each given a surprise sous chef: Rocco DiSpirito, Michelle Bernstein, or Todd English. Now that was a fun idea, and added a short of interesting dimension to it all. While they were all assured competent, professional help and none of that sabotage stuff that can come with former competitors, it was obviously a little intimidating. I could tell that the bigwigs were finding it really hard not to offer their input.
And lastly, taking a page from Project Runway Season 2, they were thrown a curveball and told to create a fourth dish with only an hour left. Here's where the former cheftestants came in. The pairings worked out surprisingly well: no drama here. And finally, Brian, the last chef kicked off, got to join the judges for the meal. I thought this was a bit bizarre, but Tom's blog indicates that Brian was still stuck in Aspen after getting kicked off and they figured they might as well invite him. Lucky guy.
So onto the food. I was kind of disappointed to see that Casey just didn't do well, and she knew it. Maybe had she more time to plan things it could have been different, but after the second course it was kind of obvious that it was going to come down to Dale and Hung. I've been saying all along that I thought Dale was a really thoughtful and creative chef and he really showed it here, with lots of interesting flavors and concepts that he'd never even done before. But while he he had two excellent dishes, his gnocchi course was called inedible. Ouch. Hung, on the other hand, is the technical master, which he displayed with full force, but he finally brought in some of his Asian influences and it really paid off. I actually thought the chocolate cake was a good idea. I mean, on the one hand, it was going to impress anyone, but in terms of a menu it made sense.
So Top Chef Season 3...how does it stack up as a whole? There were less personalities this time around, but a lot more likable people and a whole lot less drama. Which was maybe a little boring at times, but a heck of lot better than last year. And I think that the top 3 were really extraordinarily strong, definitely better than last year, and really right up there with Season 1, possibly even better. So yes, the show redeemed itself this year, and obviously I'll be here for next season!