Top Chef All-Stars: Just Like Mom Used to Make

Fidel Gastro recaps the latest but not the last in this drawn out Top Chef season. Does a guest judge show up tanked?

Like the 100% additive free American Spirit, Top Chef All-Stars continues to burn slowly.  We’re getting closer, but we’re still not done.  This week, we are first graced with the presence of Wolfgang Puck, a celebrated chef who has been there and done that so many times that he usually does these cameos with a liter of vodka coursing through his veins.  Hell, by the time I’m his age, I expect to be drunk at least 90% of my waking hours, too.  Alas, the Quickfire was filmed early, so the jolly Austrian was stone sober.  Boring.  In the absence of new ideas, the producers decide to resurrect some of the more challenging Quickfires of seasons past and present, and the cheftestants get to pick for each other.  Since Isabella’s been on a winning streak, he picks first, giving Antonia canned goods.  She, in turn, gives Blais hot dogs, and Blais makes Mikey cook with one pot.  As if these aren’t difficult enough, halfway through cooking, Padma comes shows up to layer on a second handicap, and this time the picking’s in reverse.  Antonia frees Isabella of utensils and Mikey cuts off one of Blais’ hands, leaving Antonia to Siamese up with  an always-eager Carla.  All handicaps notwithstanding, the cheftestants put together some decent dishes.  Wolfgang, hopefully with at least one bloody mary in him by this point, makes a backhanded comment about Blais putting ketchup on a hot dog, says that Antonia’s soup is too concentrated, and ultimately chooses Isabella’s well balanced “pork and beans.”  This guy’s on a roll (and I think I just heard Blais poop his pants).

With nary a break, the cheftestants are introduced to the architects of their elimination challenge, Masaharu Morimoto, Amy Sedaris look-alike Michelle Bernstein, and a still-disappointingly sober Wolfgang.  The task is to cook each of these superchefs’ last suppers.  Because he won the Quickfire, Isabella gets to assign chefs to cheftestants.  He royally screws Antonia by pairing her up with Morimoto, and screws Richard a little less royally by pairing him up with Puck.  I would agree that the most accessible of the three would be Bernstein, and this becomes evident when she says, “my last supper would be fried chicken and biscuits because I’m a Latin Jew.”  While Isabella contemplates how easy this will be, Antonia is being told that she’ll be preparing a traditional Japanese bento box with sashimi, polished rice, pickled vegetables, and a bowl of miso soup, “just like his ma used to make after baseball practice.”  I used to live with this Japanese dude and he said that miso soup recipes were like fingerprints in Japan, meaning that Mama Morimoto’s miso would be virtually impossible to recreate.  Yup, Isabella really shafted poor Antonia.  Blais has an equally difficult task, making Mama Wolfgang’s goulash and strudel, the latter of which he’s never made before.

After discovering that the yellowtail is minutes from turning rancid, Antonia has to flip the fish script, but I’m pretty sure she was done before she even got started.  Not surprisingly, Morimoto didn’t like her soup, nor did the rest of the diners.  The rice was executed well, but the rest of the dish fell flat.  Next up is Mike, who probably should have checked with Matt Levin on how to properly sous vide and fry chicken before attempting the technique.  It wasn’t a total dud, but it wasn’t a slam dunk, either.  Chef Bernstein was appreciative of the creativity, but not much more.  Finally, Blais gets a little bit of redemption with his riff on Puck’s last supper, and the diners are so pleased with his performance that he is immediately advanced to the final (like that wasn’t going to happen anyway).

For the last two standing, there’s one more chance to cook their way into the final.  A mystery envelope states that the remaining cheftestants get 45 minutes to cook a single bite, and the better bite gets the golden ticket.  Isabella opts for the classiest of dishes, surf and turf, while Antonia goes for bold flavors with a seared grouper in a lobster coconut curry.  Votes go around the table, and the decision is split (big surprise) when they get to a (hopefully drunker) Puck.  After the things the diners had to say about each of the dishes, I really thought that Isabella might go home, but since this thing’s been fixed from day one, I wasn’t surprised when Antonia was asked to pack her knives, and I won’t be surprised next week when they say, “Richard, congratulations, you are Top Chef.”  Then again, I’d be bummed if Isabella took the whole thing.  Not that I wouldn’t have  a few beers with the guy, but I do think that Blais is the better chef.  Here’s hoping he doesn’t choke again.