Top Chef All-Stars Finale Recap
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At long last, weíre at the end of the All-Stars season. My last favorite left last week, and itís just down to Mike and Richard. Antoniaís barely left the building when Tom and Padma reveal the final challengeóthey each have to create the restaurant of their dreams. I suppose Richard is going to have to go bigger than his hamburger place in Atlanta, though I do like a good burger. Their menus must consist of a four course tasting menu, which seems strange, as an odd number of dishes would work better.
Quickfire For the Losers
Mike and Richard sit around the townhouse lamenting about being the underdog, who is the underdog, and what kind of dogs they would be or something to that end. Meanwhile in the kitchen, the cast-off chefs prepares an amuse bouche for Richard and Mike to taste blindly. They get to pick three that they like and the chef that prepared the food they like will work for them. Mike wants to avoid Jamie and Marcel and really wants Jen. Richard would love to work with Dale, Angelo or Jen. Spike wants them to hurry up because a jet ski reservation awaits him. Of course, thatís who Richard picks first. Mike ends up with Tiffani, who saved his butt previously. Richard then picks Angeloís dish and Mike gets stuck with Jamie. Letís keep her away from all knives. Richardís last choice is Antonia, which is worrisome because she just got eliminated. Mikeís final pick is Carla. All the other prior contestants depart for beachy things.
Restaurant Wars Part Deux
Richard and Mike split off with their teams to plan the menu; Mike gets a lot of ideas from his sous chefs, but heís going to cook his food. You know both of these guys already have their menus planned out, probably for the past three months. But then I labor under the crazy conspiracy theory that this whole season has been skewed to give Richard a win. I know, Iím paranoid.
The next day, the chefs each are cooking at different restaurants and will serve two groups of judges at different shifts. Mike has Tiffani working the fish station, Jamie laboring away at cold prep, and Carla working the dessert and front of house. Richard has Angelo doing all prep for the cold dishes, Antonia working vegetables, and Spike doing the dessert and working front of house. Richard has also decided to do a amuse bouche as well as change his dessert from using Capín Crunch to foie gras ice cream, which seems ever so obvious. Who doesnít pull out goose liver to go with their morning coffee?
Tom stops by to harass Mike and Richard, wrinkle his forehead to worry the guys, and generally state the obvious. Richard knows about the pressure and it did him in before, Mikeís learning about the pressure, and being a chef means being a boss.
The Padma-led group of judges shows up at Richardís restaurant, Tongue and Cheek, first. With Padma is Lidia Bastianich, a chef/author/restaurateur, guest judge Hubert Keller, and two other guys who donít have much to say and look like casino operators. His amuse bouche is a raw oyster with crŤme fraiche pearls and salsa verde. It looks like a disgusting blob of blobs, but I hate oysters. The judging diners really like it though.
Richard has also assigned Spike to ďspyĒ on the judges as they eat the food. Yeah, the guy in the brightly colored shirt and a hat is doing the spying. He tells Richard that they liked the oyster. The first course Richard sends out is raw hamachi with fried veal sweetbreads, garlic mayonnaise, and pickled celery. The judges like it a lot, as do the cast-off contestants who got to eat at Richardís restaurant.
Meanwhile over at Restaurant Iz, Mikeís first round of judges, Tom, Gail, Art Smith and Curtis Stone, who looks like he should be hosting Shear Genius not Top Chef Masters, arrive. Mike explains that itís modern American fare with the Italian flavor profiles he grew up with. His first course is spiced beats with mozzarella, truffle and chocolate vinaigrette. They like it, and Art says the chocolate is subtle, which I was curious about. There is a bit of a wait until the second course of halibut with kumquat marmalade, cauliflower puree, and pancetta crumbs comes out. Tom is very impressed with the fish, saying itís the best fish heís ever had on the show. The past-contestants enjoy it as well, in particular Jen. But holy hell, what happened to her hair? I immediately flash to that old Friends episode when the gang follows Ross to an academic conference and Monicaís hair goes psycho frizzy. I think that happened to Jen.
Back at Tongue and Cheek, Richard sends out his second course of pork belly, black cod cutlet, bone marrow, beets, Brussels sprouts and kumquat. They really like it, but Richard goes over the food left remaining on the judgesí plates. Spike again has to reassure him that they loved the food. For his third course, Richard serves beef short ribs with mushrooms, red cabbage marmalade and celery root horseradish puree. Again it was liked, but Spike reports that some judges thought it was restrained.
Mike readies his third course of braised pork shoulder with pepperoni sauce, roasted cabbage and turnips. He cooked it specifically for Tom but everyone loves it and Gail canít get over the pepperoni sauce. For his final course, Mike serves rosemary caramel custard and pine nuts with citrus, celery and apple. Tom thinks the custard was cooked too fast and the others are all ďmehĒ on the dish.
For Richardís final dish is cornbread with foie gras ice cream and whipped mango. The cornbread is a hit, but the foie gras isnít so much. Spike reports back that the ice cream wasnít well-received and he suggests making another batch with a bit of milk in it to make it less crumbly for the next round of judges.
The two groups of judges swap restaurants and eat a whole other meal, with Richardís improved foie gras ice cream. Amazingly, there was no drama amongst any of the sous chefs, and Jamie even put in a solid workday without hiding under a table or chopping a limb off. Richard keeps yammering about redemption and getting rid of demons, but really thatís more for a therapistís office or some Thorazine. I like Richard, but heís such a drama queen. Mike feels on top of the world and that heís come a long way.
And the winner isÖ
Richard and Mike face the judges one last time; Tom announces that this was the best food heís had in any competition. Both guys feel like they put out good food but are nervous. Gail compliments Mike on the subtlety and finesse of his food and calls the pepperoni sauce a stroke of genius. Tom really loved the fish, calling it perfectly cooked in a ballsy manner. The dessert had a bit of issues, but the food was overall great. Richardís style is also likedóclean tasting, with a great cod dish and the hamachi being his strongest. Tom thought the beef dish was safe and asks about the different foie gras ice creams. He explains he heard the criticism and fixed it. Mike wants to win for his family and Richard wants to open his own restaurant with his food being all for the diners. They are both on the verge of crying and are sent away for the final decision to be made.
Richard thinks Mike has it in the bag. They go back and forth and Richard promises to give some money to Mike if he wins. Then Mikeís wife, mom, and sister show up and Richardís uncle (because his wife is about to pop out a baby) as well. Back at Judgesí Table, Tom is on the fence. He gives Richard the win on the first course (the hamachi, not the amuse). Richard may also have won the second course with his cod. The third course definitely goes to Mike and his pepperoni sauce. Gail and Tom prefer Richardís dessert, but Hubert and Padma prefer Mikeís, probably because of the different ice creams.
With a decision reached, Mike, Richard, their family members, and the prior All-Stars contestants all gather before Judgesí Table. The past contestants look more nervous than anyone, except Jen, who kinda looks stoned with that crazy hair. Tom says they are both worthy of the title, but there can be only one winner. Padma then calls Richardís name and he stands there with a ďWTF?Ē expression until she says heís the winner. He starts crying, hugging everyone, and in his exit interview says he willed the win. Perhaps heís a follower of Oprah and The Secret. Mike gets hugs too, but heís understandably bummed out.
And thatís a wrap on this long, long season where sometimes I wanted to like the TV and sometimes I wanted to choke it. Next week brings the reunion, some Elia drama, and hopefully silly outtakes. Congratulations to Carla for winning fan favorite; she was my choice (though I love Fabio & his hilarious blog).