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Recap: ‘Top Chef All-Stars’ Finale – And the winner is…

Whoot! It’s the finale of “Top Chef”! I’ll be honest; I’m rooting for Richard. I’m sure Mike is very talented and he only sweats into some of the food he cooks and he doesn’t steal recipes that often, but really, he’s not a contestant I can get behind. Richard has stuck-in-the-80s hair and he’s clearly so neurotic it must be hell to be married to him, but I love the fact he makes crazy food that sounds disgusting but must be good, as he’s gotten this far. But enough rooting. Let’s get on with it!

Tom and Padma announce the final challenge – each of the two finalists must create the restaurant of his dreams, concocting a four course tasting menu in the process. The chefs are as excited as rabid dogs, because they are ready to COOK, dammit. Mike missed his honeymoon, so he has to win. Really? Is that some kind of reality TV show bylaw or something?
Fifteen of the chefs from this season are back! And if they want to cook with one of the finalists (and I’m not convinced they do, because, hello, free trip to the Bahamas), each one must cook an amuse bouche in thirty minutes. Then, Richard and Michael will choose their teams based on a blind taste test! Bah! What tastes like Marcel so they can avoid it?
Richard picks Spike. Spike looks sad about this, because he has jet ski reservations. Richard is worried about Spike. I can’t blame him.
Mike picks Tiffani. He’s not extremely thrilled, but he thinks she can do it.
Richard picks Angelo. Richard is psyched, because Angelo was on his wish list along with Dale and Antonia.
Mike picks Jamie. He’s bummed, because Jamie moves like a turtle and likes to cook chickpeas for hours on end.
Richard picks Antonia! Yay! He’s excited but he’s worried. She just went home, so her head may not be in the game. But hey, she’s not Marcel.
Mike picks Carla. Good choice. Mike feels like he has his three angels on his team. As in “Charlie’s Angels.” I was thinking one angel, one dock worker and a tired panhandler, but I guess that’s another TV show.
They’ll be serving 70 customers and they have to design their menus right away. Mike gets lots of suggestions from his team. He says he’s open to suggestions, but we discover in one hot minute he isn’t really. He’s one step away from telling the girls to shut up and cook, you can just tell.
Mike picks Seafire at the Atlantis as his location. Richard is opening up at Café Martinique at the Atlantis. I am guessing there wasn’t a lot of picking going on, and I don’t think it really matters, but Bravo probably needed to make a plug for the many dining options at the Atlantis.
Richard decides to make foie gras ice cream. Excuse me while I throw up onto my keyboard. Again, I love this about Richard, but foie gras ice cream sounds like it should come with its own barf bag.
Richard doesn’t think he’ll win. He says he may be that person who’s always a bridesmaid, never a bride. I want to take that foie gras ice cream and throw it at him. Shake it off, Richard! Win this thing!
Richard, in full throttle freak-out, pulls the amuse bouche when he sees that some of the oysters aren’t as beautiful as they could be. Then he decides to serve it. Yikes, Richard!
Padma introduces Richard to his judges. There’s ahef/author, Lidia Bastianaich, Fleur de Lys owner Hubert Keller, Gotham Bar chef/partner Alfred Portale, wine guy Bill Terlato Richard’s restaurant is called Tongue & Cheek, which is supposed to imply surf and turf. Okay, whatever.
Richard – Amuse-bouche
Raw oyster with crème fraiche pearls & salsa verde
The amuse bouche is a hit. The judges agree it’s fresh and cool and delicious. Score one for Richard! Richard has Spike reporting back to him about everything that happens in the dining room so he can be fully neurotic and freaked-out as he prepares each course. That Richard, he thinks of everything!
Richard – First course
Raw hamachi with fried veal sweetbreads, garlic mayonnaise & pickled celery
Lidia thinks there’s unity. Everyone seems to enjoy it. So far, so good.
At Michael’s Restaurant Iz, we meet another fleet of judges. Art Smith, chef/owner of Art and Soul; “Top Chef Masters” host Curtis Stone and Gail and Tom will be eating Iz. Or something.
Michael – First course
Spiced beets with mozzarella, truffle & chocolate vinaigrette
Tom thinks Mike is off to a good start. But there are no raves. And really, chocolate vinaigrette sounds kitschy to me.
Michael – Second course
Halibut with kumquat marmalade, cauliflower puree & pancetta crumbs
Tom thinks it’s the best cooked piece of fish he’s ever had on the show. Looks like Mike will take this round, given the oohing and aahing.
Richard – Second course
Pork belly, black cod cutlet, bone marrow, beets, Brussels sprouts & kumquat
What’s with the kumquats? Richard is terrified that the judges aren’t eating. We don’t spend a lot of time with the judges, so maybe he’s terrified for a reason. I don’t get the impression anyone disliked it, but there’s not a lot to go on.
Richard – Third course
Beef short rib with mushrooms, red cabbage marmalade & celery root horseradish puree
Atale thought it wasn’t creative but really good. The consensus seems to be that it’s a good dish, but not a great dish. Uh-oh, Richard. This and foie gras ice cream could be your undoing.
Michael – Third course
Braised pork shoulder with pepperoni sauce, roasted cabbage & turnips
Mike calls it his Tom dish, because Tom likes glazed, braised meat and not just because it’s rhyme-y. Cursti thinks it a nice plate of food. Tom thinks it’s as good as anyone’s food in the finale. Gail looks like she’s going to wet her pants over the pepperoni sauce.
Michael – Fourth course
Rosemary caramel custard & pine nuts with citrus, celery & apple
Tom thinks it’s overcooked custard. Curtis thinks it’s his weakest dish by far. It looks like some crap you’d find in an old candy box given to you by a distant relative who’d run out of leftover fruitcakes to regift.
Richard – Fourth course
Cornbread with foie gras ice cream & whipped mango
Lidia isn’t a fan of the foie gras. It’s crumbly. Richard says this is on purpose, but it looks like chunky drain cleaner or something. Blech, blech, blech.
Hubert thinks Richard did a great job, but the dessert was not a winner. Tom thinks everything was great at Mike’s restaurant except the wait time between the first and second course. I really don’t know who won this. That damn Bravo and its creative, tension-enhancing editing!
The judges switch off, with the first team going to Michael’s restaurant and vice versa. Same kinds of comments, but this time Richard, Spike and Angelo have tried to improve the foie gras ice cream. And good thing that they did, because the second set of judges likes it a whole lot more. Good save, Richard! It’s still a gross idea, but good for you!
The last judges table! Eeeek! Tom says it’s the best food he’s had at any finale. Richard felt like he was having a breakdown. Michael was really proud of himself. Boy, that about sums up these guys, doesn’t it? Gail thought Michael showed some real finesse. Tom thought his fish was flawless. Gail thought the pepperoni sauce was crazy business. I’m not making that up; that’s exactly what little Miss Nutty said. Hubert says he should put it on the menu when he opens a restaurant. Tom says the custard cooked at too high a temperature too fast. And it looked like it belonged in a Russell Stover’s box at your local drugstore. Okay, he didn’t say that, but he should have.
Gail tells Richard that he hit them with the most intense, extraordinary flavor course after course. Tom says the hamachi was his best course. Tom says the beef dish was safe but perfectly done. Richard tells Tom how he changed the foie gras ice cream.
Mike really wants to win. Richard thinks this is the biggest moment of his professional career. Then he gets weepy. C’mon, judges, give it to Richard or the top of his head might blow off and you know you don’t want hair with that much product in it acting as a missile.
Mike tells Richard that if Richard wins he’ll feel like bleep. Gee, that’s a nice sentiment. Just when I was thinking, well, Mike’s not all bad he has to go and convince me that, well, actually,  he is. Family visit! Richard’s wife is too pregnant to come, but his uncle visits. Which is sweet, but probably has something to do with the free trip to the Bahamas, too.
The judges dismiss the chefs and hash it out. Richard takes the first course. Richard takes second. Go Richard! But Gail loves that pepperoni sauce, so she gives Michael the third course. Hubert likes Mike’s dessert, but Gail and Tom pick Richard’s because they had the non-crumbly ice cream. It’s looking like Richard, but okay.
Tom says the first two courses go to Richard, the last two to Mike, although that doesn’t really seem to be the case. Gail points out that if these were real restaurants, she would eat at Mike’s restaurant during the week and Richard’s on the weekend. Oh yeah, I think Richard’s got it.
The Top Chef is… Richard! Yay! He cries on Padma’s shoulder. Mike looks pissed. His wife also looks pissed. I’m sure they’re just disappointed, but I’m a little worried that Richard will go to his room and Mike will beat him with a rolling pin and a can of liquid nitrogen. Pouty Mike says that he feels like he beat Richard, but just didn’t get the prize. And he’s basing this on what, exactly? That his food sounded better than Richard’s? It’s not like he tasted it. For all Mike’s nattering about being more mature and grown-up, he clearly hasn’t learned how to be a gracious loser, at least in the heat of the moment. Then again, Mike did quit his job to appear on the show (and skipped his HONEYMOON, please tell us that AGAIN, Mike), so sour grapes may be in order. But the important part is, Richard won! Look for icky foie gras ice cream at a fancy restaurant near you soon!
Do you think Richard deserved to win? Would you have eaten foie gras ice cream? And do you now have a sudden desire to vacation at the Atlantis?
By Liane Bonin – Richard and Mike both earn raves from the judges, but who won?


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