I don”t think it”s possible to be too excited about “Top Chef: All-Stars,” which promises to be a smorgasbord of fabulous food, long-simmering hostilities and chefs melting down faster than a block of Velveeta on microwave nachos. Like on any reality all-stars competition, the returning competitors know exactly what to expect (more or less) and who they”re up against (at least if they”ve been watching the show), so we get to skip over some of the more boring “getting to know you” episodes and cut right to the chase. Likewise, let”s get to it!
First up, we”re re-introduced to all the chefs with the occasional educational flashback, but let”s just sum up by saying everyone really, really wants to win and pretty much everyone seems to be exactly the same as they were in their individual seasons. I am curious to see if Spike really has grown and emerged from kitchen rat to a classy chef, but as long as he keeps wearing those little hats, I”ll always have my suspicions the kitchen rat isn”t far from the surface.
The early stand-outs are Richard and Angelo, though I do have a fondness for Carla, the super nice chef whose insecurity got her eliminated in her season. Plus, she occasionally calls out “hooty-hoo” for no apparent reason. How can you not root for an underdog like that?
On the flip side, Fabio and Mike always seemed to have more faith in their abilities than was completely deserved (although, egos aside, they always seemed like nice guys). Marcel, however, still seems like a twerp. But speaking of Fabio, I”m sorry his far more talented buddy Stefan didn”t make it back, but I guess he needs to keep an eye on Stefan”s at L.A. Farm (where he serves those dessert lollipops that got him eliminated on “TC,” so I”m guessing he”s not feeling much love for the judges anyway).
For the Quickfire Challenge, the chefs divide into teams according to season, then must create a dish inspired by the city where their season was hosted. Oh, and they have 25 minutes to cook, as it is a Quickfire, after all.
Season four”s team members decide to make a Chicago dog in tribute to, well, Chicago, which strikes me as a horrible idea, but they do have Richard on the team and he”s talking mustard ice cream, so it may actually be kind of awesome.
Season seven picks crabcakes to inspire Washington D.C., which sounds better than what I think of when I think of D.C., which is pee and poverty, which probably do not taste so great.
Season five goes with a trio of apples in tribute to the Big Apple. I”m a little worried, as Jamie for thinks she”s the strongest chef of her teammates, even though Carla made it to the top three and Jamie didn”t. Carla being Carla, she just goes along with the plan in her “let”s all play nice” way. Oh, Carla!
Season three, which was in Miami, picks Cuban food, which looks tasty enough.
Marcel of Season two picks fish tacos to conjure up Los Angeles. As he points out, they”re really easy to make. Which is exactly the problem. I mean, I can make fish tacos. If these aren”t extremely interesting, deconstructed, reconfigured fish tacos, well, they”re in trouble.
Season one is San Francisco, and they pick cioppino, which sounds fine as the only food I associate with San Franscisco is Rice-A-Roni (the San Francisco treat, remember?). Las Vegas (season six) picks lobster. Jen points out her team is intimidating because of her. I would say Jen has an ego problem, but she really is a strong cook.
Of course, with so many chefs running around and freaking out because NO ONE wants to go home first, even on the All-Star season, something is bound to go wrong. Which it does, as Angelo gets bumped and drops his fish and has to start over with three minutes on the clock. Tre”s pork isn”t cooking, which is also a problem, because you can”t get pork sushi for a reason, people.
Season one”s cioppino looks super fabulous, but season two”s dish? That shrimp taco better taste incredible, because it looks like crap, boring shrimps slopped in pea-colored baby food (I know it”s guacamole, but it has no texture to it). Season three”s Miami cuisine looks good, but I”m really hoping Tre managed to get the pork cooked through, because giving the judges trichinosis is a really bad idea.
I”m not sure what to make of season four”s Chicago dog, because we skate past it so quickly you don”t really get a feel for whether the ingredients work together. Season five”s three apple dishes I”m a little skeptical of, as I”m pretty sure strong, conflicting flavors as blue cheese and curry are not going to mesh, unless you”re blending them together to make a vomit ice cream flavor.
Season six”s lobster pasta carbonara looks delicious, but I”m not sure it”s creative enough to win. Season seven”s crabcake essence with rock fish looks tasty, but only if they cooked it right. With fish, you never know,
Tom delivers the bad news first – the season two shrimp was bland. Season one used too much garlic. Season five only had one good dish out of three and season seven sucked it.
The winner was… Chicago, season four. That”s all about Richard”s mustard ice cream, by the way. I”m putting my money on Richard to win this whole thing, honestly, as long as the show can keep him in nitrogen or whatever other weird chemical stuff he”s into this week.
Padma doesn”t waste a minute before bringing out the elimination challenge. Each chef is presented with the ingredients that sent them home, and worse, they must make the dish that got them eliminated, but obviously, they have to improve on it. Oh, yuck. The chefs do not look happy, and I don”t blame them. Spike must be relieved he has immunity, as he”s working with frozen scallops.
Padma then informs the chefs Anthony Bourdain, the Simon Cowell of the food world, has joined the judges table. Mwahahahaha!
Angelo”s dish possibilities probably look the most appealing, since he wasn”t eliminated but simply got sick and was sent home to recover. He isn”t stuck making anything truly gross, like steamed fish or boiled leeks.
Another twist – the chefs will be divided into two groups, and each group will get to sit with the judges and eat the other team”s food. Even better, and what they don”t know until they enter the kitchen for their turn, is that the opposing team gets to watch the chefs tear their dishes apart. Elia is too sensitive to watch and refuses to gather around the TV with everyone else, poor lamb. I understand why she doesn”t like this aspect of the competition, but you”ve got to think no one”s going to be blowing smoke up Anthony Bordain or Tom”s butt, so the criticisms will be pretty accurate. As in, she might learn something. Come on, Elia, man up.
At the judges” table, everyone loves Richard and Angelo”s dishes. Anthony Bourdain says Dale unbleeped his dish, but he doesn”t say bleep, but either way it”s still saying something, as he made butterscotch miso scallops again and this time they didn”t make anyone want to throw up. Unfortunately for her, Tiffany”s fish is declared meh.
Stephen blows it, and Fabio”s fish stew is really, really, really hated by Bourdain, who calls it an inside-out animal. Fabio intends to tell him off. Really? Oh, Fabio, just accept that your dish was gross twice in a row and move on. Elia”s dish is also loathed.
Antonia scored, except with Tiffany, who”s just cranky because no one liked her fish. Spike”s ceviche is okay with Anthony Bourdain, except for the scallops, but then he discovers he wasn”t supposed to like frozen scallops anyway and he”s actually impressed with crafty kitchen rat Spike. Jamie also scored, as did Mike. In other news, Dale”s dish delivered a meh dumpling and Carla served up nerve endings to Angelo. Casey and Marcel scored, but Jen”s duck wasn”t so great. Jen is floored, as she thought she was heading to the finals without a bump. Focus, Jen, focus!
Padma calls in Spike, Jamie, Richard and Angelo. I”m thinking they”re the best of the bunch.
And they are, except Tom informs Richard that, because he went over the time limit, he can”t win this challenge. This is news to Richard, who is pissed but reluctantly accepts that yes, the rules do apply to even super genius chefs like himself. The winner is… Angelo. He gets ten grand. I”m glad for Angelo, but it seems odd to me that someone who wasn”t really eliminated wins this challenge, as he never served an f”ed up meal.
But on to the losers. Up on the block are Fabio, Stephen and Elia. No surprises, given the reaction at judges” table.
You would think the chefs, having seen the show before, having BEEN ON the show before, would know that arguing gets you nowhere. But Stephen still tries to convince Anthony Bourdain that he makes great dumplings. No one”s buying. Elia seems shocked to learn her fish was rare and attempts to convince Gail otherwise by repeating “medium” over and over. This, too, is unsuccessful.
And yes, Fabio decides to puff up his chest and declare the judges stupid as well! Fabio is stunned that Anthony Bourdain thought his food was gross and then tells him to stop making fun of him. Tom steps in to tell Fabio to get over himself, as his food blew.
Before she”s instructed to get out of the room, Elia begs for her (cooking) life. That might work. The judges don”t like to be told they”re stupid, but they aren”t heartless.
Fabio goes backstage, still railing against the judges. I have to say, Fabio is almost unrecognizable from when he was last on the show. But back to food. Anthony notes that while he was eating Stephen”s dish, his mind was drifting back to his last colonscopy, so he thinks that one sucked, too.
And yet, Padma tells Elia to pack her knives and go. Wow, really? Her dish seemed bland but inoffensive, while Bourdain declared Fabio”s dish dog food. Please tell me this show isn”t suffering from Project Runwayitis, in which the producers convince the judges not to kick off the real losers if they”re good TV. But I will say, Fabio is good TV, even if he makes a brown, wet, ugly fish stew.
Elia feels humiliated, which is not surprising, and slinks off the show, bested by banana leaf-wrapped fish. But at least she can say she was a “Top Chef” all-star, if only for a moment.
Who do you think will win? Do you think Elia deserved to go home? Do you think it was fair that Richard was disqualified from winning?