Warning, nothing but spoilers ahead.

And the winner is . . . (Bravo photo)

An understated season of Bravo’s “Top Chef” ended Wednesday night with an understated winner.

Kevin was never the flashiest chef of the bunch, or even the most talented. But he peaked at the right time, pulling off a well-deserved finale victory despite an up-and-down season. Kevin had only won once before, and had finished in the bottom three five times. On paper that might make him the least distinguished “Top Chef” winner ever (even Season 5’s Hosea won twice before the finale). But the winner isn’t based on season-long performance, it’s based on that last meal. And Kevin managed to pull off a high-risk, high-reward menu.

Season-long favorite Angelo (well, favorite to win, I don’t think he was anybody’s favorite) managed to rise from his deathbed after falling ill, and pulled off a pretty amazing menu, much thanks to his sous chef, Season 3 winner Hung. With Angelo bedridden on Day 1, Hung had to prepare everything by himself. Gotta say, of all the “Top Chef” alumni, if there was one chef who could pull off doing the work of two chefs, it’d be Hung. The guy’s a speedfreak ball of energy. And a darn good chef. In the end, it wasn’t Angelo’s illness, but his too-complicated duck dish and odd fruity shooter that did him in.

Ed had the momentum, winning both challenges last week. But his inexplicable decision to let his sous chef, Season 2 winner Ilan, handle the dessert just killed him. For all of Ed’s talk about how this was his menu and he wasn’t going to repeat mistakes of the past and let his sous chef sink him (cough cough Casey), he entrusted one-fourth of the biggest meal of his life to someone else. Stunning. The pudding/cake thing might have tasted fine, but it wasn’t a “Top Chef”-winning dessert. Sorry Ed, you blew it. His unfocused fish dish didn’t help him any either.

Kevin became the favorite, at least in my mind, the instant he was paired with

Season 6 winner Michael. MVolt wasn’t my favorite chef last season, but he knows how to blow away the judges with creativity and bursts of flavor. And that’s what Kevin’s exotic yet down-home dishes did. His simple duck was cooked the best, his daring cuttlefish noodles paid off, and his reinvented, multilayered Singapore sling wowed everyone. For this meal, on this day, Kevin rose to the challenge and was indeed the top chef.

As an aside, I thought the editing in this episode was very good. I’ve had major problems with the past two finales (including this season’s “Top Chef Masters”) when there was a deliberately misleading disconnect between the judges’ comments and the eventual winner. But this time, listening to the judges, it was obvious that Kevin did the best (I had Kevin with the best duck and dessert, tied with Angelo for best fish, and Ed with best veggie course).

So what do you guys think? Is Kevin a worthy winner? Did a great finale redeem a disappointing season? Can an all-star cast revive the show next time around? And are you looking forward to seeing Angelo again (yep, he’ll be among the all-stars).

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