Top Chef Recap: Four Courses to Freedom

Fidel Gastro recaps the finale of Top Chef All-Stars, an exciting end to a sometimes arduous season.

And finally, the finale.  Two Top Chef titans square off in the capstone challenge of creating the restaurant of their dreams.  To help them realize the dream, the also-rans are taken out of the windowless room they’ve been kept in since taping wrapped and told to make an amuse bouche for the finalists.  Thinking they’ll get to pick their assistants, Mikey and Richard do some useless strategizing until they’re escorted to the kitchen, where they must do a blind test to see who they get. Of all 16, each remaining cheftestant only gets three, so the plan is not to taste on flavor but to try and figure out who cooked what, because cooking with Marcel will make that $200k disappear faster than Hung Huynh can debone a chicken.

Blais gets first dibs and picks a ceviche thinking it was Jen Carroll’s (dummy, if it was Jen’s, it would have been pronounced “sa-VEECH”).  Instead, it’s Spike’s, who would rather be on a jet ski, and the subsequent facial expressions are all too telling.  Next, Isabella gets Season 1 Tiffani, someone else neither of them wanted.  The picking continues, and Blais finishes up with Angelo and Antonia, while Mikey gets a couple more “angels” in Jamie and Carla.  Out of the gate, Isabella tries to get in Richard’s head with some confidence, swagger, and shit talk.  He’s pretty convinced he can out-cook Blais, and I would agree that the best way to do so is to make him question his decisions.

In the kitchen, both chefs are very composed despite the requisite visit from the Tom “the Reaper,” and both teams work amazingly well together.  Seemingly, this is both Blais’ and Isabella’s element.  At dinner, the judges are joined by Lidia Bastianich and her bowl cut, Curtis Stone (is this guy really a chef?), nicest Frenchman in the world Hubert Keller (he has definitely not killed a man), Art Smith, the Terlato wine guy, and another acclaimed chef whose name I can’t remember.  They split up to try each cheftestants’ tasting menu, Team Padma starting at Blais’ Tongue & Cheek restaurant, and Team Gail at Mikey’s Iz restaurant.

Blais’ amuse bouche, an oyster with crème fraiche pearls, is an excellent start.  A follow-up of hamachi and crispy sweetbreads still has him in the lead, but we haven’t seen what Isabella’s up to over at Iz.  His starter–a salad of mozzarella, beets, and frisee–is nothing special, but his steamed fish brings a tear to Colicchio’s eye (not really. He’s a robot).  Then there’s Blais’ fish–a black cod cutlet served with pork belly and bone marrow–and he pulls ahead once again.  Next up is a bevy of braises.  Dicky B’s short ribs are too restrained, while Isabella takes calculated risk with a pork shoulder that has Gail ready to divorce her husband and marry the pepperoni sauce that it’s served with, bringing Isabella back to even with the favorite.

Last up is dessert.  Blais called an audible with his Cap’n Crunch dessert in favor of foie gras ice cream, and the first round of judges got something that looked like canned tuna and didn’t taste much better.  Art Smith didn’t like how it felt in his mouth (he’s always bitching about mouth feel), and Lidia thought it didn’t really add anything.  All of this was relayed to Blais by a blatantly obvious Spike, and the poor guy looked like he was about to start hitting himself and saying, “STUPID, STUPID, STUPID” over and over again.  Isabella’s  caramel custard was a lot less risky, and while Lidia liked it, Tom said it was cooked too fast.  With these guys putting out some of the best food this series has ever seen, I suppose you have to split hairs.

At Judges’ Table, it was all smiles and praise, but there can be only one winner, so while the judges hem and haw over the smallest of details, Mikey gets to spend some time with his wife, mother, and sister, and Blais gets to hang out with his uncle Scott since Mrs. Blais was about to pop.  Then, what we all knew was going to happen since episode two, Dicky B is dubbed Top Chef, Isabella makes a really weird face, and we have made it through the most arduous season of Top Chef yet.  Congrats are in order for both chefs, but we’re happiest (as is Bravo) that with a Top Chef win, Blais can now be taken off suicide watch.  See you next season!