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Ilan Hall beats Marcel Vigneron to become 'Top Chef 2' champion


By Christopher Rocchio, 02/01/2007 

Despite Food & Wine's public statement claiming otherwise, the magazine's website spoiler apparently had it right all along, as 24-year-old Ilan Hall was named the winner of the second season of Bravo's Top Chef on Wednesday night, besting the culinary skills of 26-year-old Marcel Vigneron in the show's finale.

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"I'm just excited for the future," said Ilan after he was announced the winner.  "I can only become more mature and use everything I've learned to my advantage to become a great chef."

For winning the competition, Ilan will receive a state-of-the-art Kenmore kitchen, be featured in an upcoming profile in Food & Wine magazine, appear at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, CO in June 2007, and be awarded $100,000 in "seed money" to help continue his culinary career.

Before Ilan and Marcel prepared their final meal for a group of renowned culinary experts that were serving as judges, the duo each got to pick two former Top Chef 2 contestants who would then work as their sous chefs during the finale.  Ilan chose Elia Aboumrad and Betty Fraser, while Marcel went with Mike Gaines and Sam Talbot.  The chefs purchased their ingredients at a farmer's market in Hawaii, where the finale took place, and then had four hours to prepare their meals for the following day.  Each finalist prepared five courses.

Ilan prepared angula (eel) with green tomato caviar, pan seared moi, grilled squab and whole shrimp with lobster sauce, beef short rib with romesco, and balls of fresh fruit with a bay leaf fritter for dessert.  While the flavors he used were nearly entirely Spanish, Ilan said all of the produce used was Hawaiian. He described the meal as "a reflection" of who he is.

"I won more challenges than Marcel, so I'm confident," said Ilan.  "I think this is the greatest meal I ever put out in my entire life.  It exceeded my expectations."

Inspired by a sea urchin that pricked his finger during a walk on the beach earlier in the day, Marcel began by preparing uni with calamari.  His meal also included a salad with yuzu vinaigrette encapsulated by a super-thin sugar, kampachi with mushrooms and green-bean sauce, a seared strip loin, and blini with koni coffee caviar for dessert.  He said the meal was "inspired" by his trip to Hawaii as well as everything he's accomplished in his culinary career.

Unfortunately for Marcel, he forgot the kampachi at the prep-site and had to drop it from his menu.  But with some help from Sam, he instead prepared hearts of palm with the mushrooms and the green-bean sauce.  The judges all agreed they didn't think Marcel "needed the kampachi at all."  But Marcel couldn't get lucky twice, and his sugar-encapsulated vinaigrette failed to materialize due to the humidity.

"It could have gone better, but I'm totally pleased with my performance," said Marcel.  "I don't think Ilan could have been as original as me."

The judges thought Marcel was more "cutting edge" while Ilan prepared something he was "more comfortable" with.  Gail Simmons of Food & Wine, who served as one of the season's judges, said "both had high points and problems," and added the decision for who would be crowned the winner came down to "who was more ready at this point" in their career.  Apparently that was Ilan, who took home the title of Top Chef.

"I'm totally surprised," said Marcel.  "I'm extremely disappointed."

Bravo has already announced that it has renewed Top Chef for a third season.  A nationwide casting tour is currently underway.

(Photo credit Bravo)


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