How can someone be an All-Star when they begin the finale bitching about which one of the final two cheftestants is the underdog? Get in the right position and get on top, boys. Mike and Richard― this is the end.
At the beginning of last night’s Top Chef: All-Stars finale, it was clear that Richard needed some balls ― confidence, tiger blood, whatever you want to call it. “Always a bridesmaid, never a bride,” he said about himself.
Cheftestants of All-Stars past were reinstated, flown to the Bahamas to try once again to be part of the finale. Each had to create an amuse bouche, and the two finalists had to choose his favorite, and the (wo)man behind the winning one-bite dishes would play spouses for the finalists as they created their dream restaurant menu.
Mike ended up with not quite the dream team. He went on and on about how he didn’t want Jamie, not just because she’s Jamie but because she’s slow in the kitchen. Guess what? He unknowingly picked her plate. She was on his team along with Carla and Tiffani.
Richard got the better team: Antonia, Angelo, and Spike, though Spike looked annoyed that his amuse was picked first. He’d have to cook, when he really just wanted to make it to his jet-ski reservation.
The judges and guests of honor were split up in different seatings. The Padma group (Lidia Bastianich, Hubert Keller, Alfred Portale, and Bill Terlato) sampled Richard’s restaurant first. The Gail and Tom group (Art Smith and Curtis Stone) started their dinner at Mike’s concept restaurant.
Restaurant: Tongue and Cheek
Concept: A bit of whimsy, and what chefs like to eat in the kitchen
Amuse: Raw oyster with crème fraiche pearls and salsa verde
First: Raw hamachi with fried veal sweetbreads, garlic mayonnaise, and pickled celery
Second: Pork belly, black cod cutlet, bone marrow, beets, Brussels sprouts, and kumquats
Third: Beef short rib with mushrooms, red cabbage marmalade, and celery root-horseradish puree
Fourth: Cornbread with foie gras ice cream and whipped mango
Concept: Casual but with elegant food inspired by the Italian flavors Mike Isabella (get it? “Iz”) grew up with
First: Spiced beets with mozzarella, truffle and chocolate vinaigrette
Second: Halibut with kumquat marmalade, cauliflower puree, and pancetta crumbs
Third: Braised pork shoulder with pepperoni sauce, roasted cabbage, and turnips
Fourth: Rosemary caramel custard and pine nuts with citrus, celery, and apple
The only big last minute change was that Richard changed his Cap’n Crunch ice cream to foie gras. It was the wild card dish, and the one the judges liked least. He even sent Spike to be his ears at the judges’ table, and after learning that Hubert Keller didn’t like the consistency of the foie ice cream he tweaked the recipe for the second group of judges.
The judges loved Richard’s amuse, first, and second courses, but food freaks like us were yelling at our TVs that no one mentioned that his Oyster and Pearl course was a play on the famous French Laundry dish created by Thomas Keller. Although instead of oysters with white caviar it was nitrogen- (duh, it’s Richard) blasted crème fraiche balls.
The second course was so close that Tom first declared Mike’s steamed halibut as the best cooked fish he’d ever had on Top Chef, then later said he’d only declared that because he hadn’t yet tasted Richard’s cod.
Mike’s third course was clearly the favorite. It should have been, since he cooked it exactly the way Tom likes his meat: braised but still glazed, and, oh, what a glaze it was! Mike showed his Italian flavors by whippin’ out his pepperoni sauce and putting it over pork shoulder. Hot, original, and it took this main dish ’round.
Desserts are always weaksauce for chefs, and the finale was no exception. Mike narrowly took this dish-off.
The food was all quite impressive, and by the end we thought Gail’s observation perfectly described the differences: She said she’d rather go to Mike’s place on weeknights and Richard’s on weekends.
By the end, Richard was a wreck and all but surrendered, until the moment he was proclaimed Top Chef: All-Star‘s winner! He gets $200,000, redemption, and breath … we aren’t sure he would have survived not winning.
His final line, with tears in his eyes: “I didn’t think I could do it. You don’t know. And I don’t wanna be cliché, but where there is a will there’s a way. I willed this.”
Original published on sfweekly.com – Original Post