Sunday, April 3, 2011

Top Chef All-Stars - Were You As Sure As I Was Who Was Going To Win?

The final two chefs head out for battle. Luckily, Tom tells Richard and Mike that there will be no tricks or turns. This last challenge will be a straight forward cooking one – they have to create the restaurant of their dreams…in a four course tasting menu.

Back at the hotel, Richard, wearing that goofy knitted hat with the brim, asks Mike who he would want as his sous-chef. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Richard and Mike, ALL the other cheftestants have come back and are assembled in the kitchen. They will have 30 minutes to make an amuse bouche.

Richard and Mike will taste each one and pick their 3 sous chefs from the dishes they like the best. In other words, they will have no idea who they are choosing. I thought they were promised no tricks.

This busts their plans a bit, because Richard really wanted Jen Carroll, Angelo and Dale. Mike really didn’t want Jamie or Marcel.

After tasting, Richard picks Spike, Angelo and Antonia. He’s worried and asks her if she’s okay, because she was just eliminated. She says she is.

Mike gets Tiffani, Carla and Jamie. He calls them his angels. At least he didn’t say goddesses.

Richard says (to us) that Mike’s strengths are his confidence and swagger. He continues that Mike’s weaknesses are…guess what?...his confidence and his swagger.

Mike tells us that in his season, in Las Vegas, he wasn’t mature enough to make it to the finals, but now he is. (?) Ok, his cooking is fantastic, but he always has a smirk on his face, so it’s hard to take him seriously…or trust him.

Richard, who won’t stop telling us how he choked last time, says he tried to tell too much of a story last time. This time he’s just going to “cook delicious tasting food”. Good plan. And I wish he would get over the choking bit! He says it like it’s some kind of excuse.

At the last minute, Richard changes the dessert from Cap'n Crunch something or other to foie gras ice cream. He has Spike helping him with dessert, as well as being in the dining room running a bit of reconnaissance, trying to hear what people are saying about his food.

Tom comes into the kitchen to check in and he says something kind of off-putting to Mike, but Mike isn’t smart or sensitive enough to take it seriously. Tom says he didn’t think anyone picked him to be in the finals. Mike actually laughs it off and says HE was the only one to pick himself. I guess sometimes it pays not to have a brain thin skin.

Here are all the final dishes.

Several judges and special guests start their evening at Richard’s “Tongue & Cheek” restaurant, while a second group dines at Mike’s “Iz”.

At Richard’s is Padma, Hubert Keller (guest judge), Lidia Bastianich (cool!), the Terlato wine guy and Alfred Portale from Gotham Bar and Grill, who looks and sounds EXACTLY like an actor I can’t think of right now. Can you?

Spike is skulking around the dining room just as Alfred says Richard’s oyster amuse shows a lot of skill and sophistication. (Is it really a good idea for him to be wearing his fedora and untucked plaid shirt as he gathers intelligence for Richard?) Spike reports that they LOVED the oyster and thought it was really well-balanced.

Richard’s next course of raw hamachi with veal sweetbreads goes over well. (Remember Antonia’s hamachi last week went bad? And she had to substitute tuna.) Bill Terlato loves all the different elements, which Lidia says harmonize well together. The other cheftestants get to dine too and we see Tiffany smacking her lips. Spike reports that the diners licked their plates clean on that course.

At Mike’s restaurant, Gail introduces Mike to Art Smith, Curtis Stone, who has a second (non-cooking) TV gig as host of Top Chef Masters, and Tom, of course. They are super impressed with his first course of beets with a CHOCOLATE vinaigrette. That’s so ballsy and it sounds amazing to me. Art says it’s subtle. Tom says he’s off to a good start.

There is a bit of a lag before the judges get their second course – a steamed halibut with kumquat marmalade. (I’m loving his food!) Tom says it’s nice looking. Curtis says it’s beautifully cooked. Tom continues, “I don’t think I’ve ever had a piece of fish on the show cooked this nicely.” Curtis says he’s forgotten about the wait.

Back to Richard, his second course is pork belly and black cod. He’s also using kumquat. Alfred Portale proclaims it “a beautiful dish” as it’s set down in front of him. Padma says, “Wow!” Dale says, “This is Richie at his best.”

When the judges’ plates come back to the kitchen, Richard starts to obsess that they’re not picked clean. Spike yells at him that they loved that dish. For goodness sake, they have A LOT to eat in a short time.

Richard moves on with a braised short rib and red cabbage marmalade. Isn't that kind of boring? Richard describes it as “simple”. Lidia says Mmm as she tastes it. Alfred says it’s not that high on the creativity scale, “but execution is good and it’s REALLY delicious.”

Spike is creeping around some more. He tells Richard that they said the dish showed restraint and that “there wasn’t that much going on”. Should he have said that?

Mike’s third course is a braised pork shoulder with a pepperoni sauce. (HOW could that be bad?!!) He says that Tom always argues about whether something is glazed or not and he made this dish just for him and IT’S GLAZED! The judges are entranced. Curtis says, “That’s a nice plate of food.” Tom raises his eyebrows as he chews as if he’s in (hog) heaven. Art: “It’s pretty fantastic.”

I am pretty darned sure that Mike is going to win. It just seems as if things are completely going his way and his food is utterly delicious. I wonder, at this point, if there is any way he can lose.

Smiling at his plate, Tom says, “This is as good as anybody’s food in the finale. In fact, it’s better than most.” Listening to that, Mike seems to have it in the bag.

Mike’s last course is a rosemary caramel custard with pine nuts cooked in syrup and then deep-fried. Doesn’t that sound good? And it looks lovely.

Gosh, it turns out I AM a Mike fan. It took all season, but he finally got me. I am loving his food and I guess I can stand him...finally.

Uh-oh, Tom is not won over. He says it’s overcooked and cooked too fast. Unfortunately that’s the taste he’ll be left with, but I hope he remembers his reverie over the pepperoni-sauced pork. Art likes the flavor, but not the texture.

Richard’s corn bread and foie gras ice cream is served. Alfred does not like the freeze dried texture of the ice cream, which, to me, looks like tuna salad. Lidia says the foie gras doesn’t add a lot.

Spike is prowling around and tells Richard it’s a controversial dish. He suggests that they add milk to it…to make it creamier?, I guess. So they whip up a different batch for the second group of judges. Are they allowed to do that? I guess if they find the time, they can do anything they want.

Hubert loved Richard’s food, admitting, though, that dessert wasn’t as good as the rest of it.
At Mike’s restaurant, Tom says the wait between two of the courses was the only problem. Mike is definitely winning.

The judges switch restaurants. Alfred says Michael’s chocolate vinaigrette is very clever. This group also loves his fish. Mike tells us he feels awesome at this point.

Curtis and Tom are impressed by Richard’s oyster amuse bouche with the frozen crème fraiche. As they taste, we have Richard telling us that he’s been haunted for 3 years by not winning Top Chef.

REALLY, if anyone should be haunted it should be Stefan for losing to Hosea. I guess Richard did flounder, but, at least, he lost to someone good, although Stephanie was never really expected to win, I don’t think.

Tom says “beautiful textures nice flavors about Richard’s Hamachi. Bill Terlato says he can really see a grandmother’s influence in Mike’s restaurant and NOT in the foie gras ice cream, as a bit of a dig at Richard.  I can’t see Mike NOT winning.

Tom and Gail love Richard’s short ribs, but they don’t go on about it as much as Mike’s pork with pepperoni sauce. They all really like the changed foie gras ice cream. Tom says the entire menu was nicely balanced.

Back at their luxurious version of a stew room, Mike giggles that it’s all over and asks Richard if he’s going crazy again. Richard asks him, somewhat incredulously, “You’re cool?” Mike says, “I did everything I wanted to do.” He’s super confident.

Ah-ha, is that earlier remark of Richard’s going to come home to roost, where his strength is his confidence and so is his weakness? I don’t see that as a problem, though, because he was so strong.

At Judges’ Table, Tom says it was the best food they’ve had at any finale. Padma asks Mike if it was harder than he thought this time around. He says the whole season “top to bottom” was tough.

Tom asks Richard how he feels after the last plate goes out. He says he’s a sentence or two away from an emotional breakdown. Gosh, Mike would have answered that question so differently.

Is it good or bad to have a chef that cares so much? Richard IS his food. I guess it’s good for the person eating the dish that’s Richard feels so deeply about it, but I can’t help feeling that he’s going to have a tough road ahead of him in the kitchen if he continues to over-emote over every single dish.

Oh, Tom does ask Mike the same question. He says he felt really happy and he was happy to have served his guests and that they left happy. That’s normal.

Tom and Gail heap praise on Mike’s fish dish (Tom:  “Can’t find a flaw with it”) and his sensational pepperoni sauce. Richard is looking sicker and sicker. Hubert says he has to leave that dish on his menu when he opens his restaurant.  Tom does mention his less than perfect custard.

Hubert says Richard’s amuse was brilliant. Tom says his hamachi was a really successful dish and his beef dish was “safe” but perfectly done.

Padma asks Mike why his restaurant should earn him the title Top Chef. He says he really wanted to get there and show them who he had become. Then he gets sentimental (still with a big smirk) and says something about his wife and wanting this more than he can say.

Richard answers that he hopes his restaurant that night showed them some creativity and  his “new-found understanding of the pleasure principle”. Huh? He adds it’s not about him, but about the guest.

My money is on Mike.

Richard adds that the money would give him the opportunity to open a restaurant and do what he would want to as a chef. Is $200,000 even enough to BEGIN to open a restaurant these days? You could probably outfit a really food truck with that money.

Hubert says to Padma, “It’s going to be a tough one.” Richard says to Mike in the stew room that ‘There was heavy petting going on for Mikey Isabella. “

Then their families arrive. Mike’s wife, sister and mom are there. Richard’s uncle is there, because his wife is very pregnant.

Back in the room with the judges, Tom says he’s on the fence and he’s really not quite sure yet who won. Hubert says it’s amazing that they only had 5 hours to put it together.

Okay, let’s get to it. They analyze each course and it still seems even. Tom says both of them have a long career in front of them. Padma says she thinks they have a new Top Chef, even though from listening to their comments, we have NO IDEA who they’ve chosen. I still think it’s Mike, based on what they said as they were eating, although at Judges’ Table, it seemed closer.

And here it is. Tom says either one of them is worthy of the title. And the new Top Chef is…Richard. He looks SHOCKED! Mike looks down cast. Padma and Gail hug him like he’s a little boy, who just scraped his knee. Mike says (to us) he feels like he beat Richard and he just didn’t win the prize. We see a strange moment when he calls his wife and says. “I won Top Chef.” She says WHAT? And then we don’t hear anything else. Weird.

On the really poor after-show (they need a Real Housewife or two), Richard and Mike are in NY live with Andy. They both look awful. Richard’s hair looks dreadful and Mike looks like he needs to go on a spa retreat, although he IS quite jolly. In fact, he’s a lot jollier than Richard. It just goes to show, however many prizes you win, you need to feel worthwhile from the inside out. Mike has no need of a title to feel valuable. Richard, in spite of the title, seems to always need validation. 


Tracy said...

I respect Mike as a chef, but not sure how I feel about him as a person. When Richard was telling him who he'd pick as his sous chefs, I was sure Mike was going to pick the very same people Richard mentioned, just to throw him off. And I think Mike would have done that.

Even though Bravo's editing was misleading (as it often is), I was glad to see Richard win.

astheroshe said...

I live in ATL and have eaten at FLIP.. I love Blais! so I am soo happy he won.

I also think Izzy cooked his heart out. I was happy to see him give it his all. Watching the show, i never thought he had the chops. However, he does!, and proved it.

I just hate it is an "all or none" win. It would be nice for the second place, to get at least 50k. I think it would ease the sting.

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

Mike is still a jerk, but I would eat that pork with pepperoni sauce in a heartbeat. I think they definitely set it up to make it look as if he would win.

I'm still trying to decide if I think foie gras ice cream would be disgusting or divine.

Did some of the loser chefs in that final scene look sort of bitter? Fabio had such a sourpuss look on his face.

Anonymous said...

I didn't really think it was fair with Richard fixing is ice cream. It wasn't technically cheating, but it was more than just dishes of food going out that were cooked differently. He totally changed the recipe between judging based on the first group saying they didn't like it. I read Tom's blog, and he said the dessert course was a toss-up; if Richard hadn't fixed his ice cream, maybe Tom would have disliked it as much as the first group, and that would have tilted it to Mike. Most likely not, but it just left a yucky taste in my mouth (as much as the actual ice cream probably would've!).

I also thought it was weird that Richard said the money would help him open a restaurant where he could serve what he wanted. Um, you already own a restaurant. Why open one where you can't cook what you want? Just save the money and then open it. If his restaurant flops, he's going to take it personally.