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Top Chef: All-Stars S01E16: Season Finale (Finally)

Before we discuss last night’s finale, let’s just take a moment and remember how we got here. When the show first began, just 100 odd years ago, William Howard Taft was president, the world celebrated its first International Woman’s Day, the Triangle Shirt Waist Fire tragedy gripped the nation, and George Bernard Shaw’s “Fanny’s First Play” premiered in London. Hard to believe how things have changed, but finally we have come to the end of Top Chef: All-Stars! Immediately following last week’s completely predictable elimination of Antonia, our two finalists, Richard Blais (BLAIS!) and Mike Isabella learn that their Absolute Final Challenge (hopefully, fingers crossed) will not have any twists or surprises. The two chefs must simply create “the restaurant of their dreams.” Richard Blais’s head immediately turns into a peppermint pony head, which Mike chops off with a sword made of ideas and serves on a golden platter to a 7-foot-tall elf princess with a Super Mario mustache. DREAM JOKES! Both men can barely contain their giggles and excitement. For some reason, 100 years into this show, and it is still hilarious to me whenever someone gets “excited” about a reality show elimination challenge. You guys know that you’re not ACTUALLY creating a restaurant, right? Like, you still have three hours to cook food for people who probably don’t like you with the help of people who DEFINITELY don’t like you for the chance to be humiliated on national television, right, you know that, yes? Anyway, they are excited for some reason. AND NOW FOR BED. ZZZZZzzzzzzzzzz. The sleep of the just.

In the morning, while Mike and Blais take a break from arguing over who is the underdog (this is what snooze buttons are for) to argue over who they would pick if they got to pick from the eliminated chefs, those same eliminated chefs are competing in a Quickfire Challenge to see who will have the honor of assisting Mike and Blais in the kitchen as sous-chefs. Ooh, what an honor? “You’re telling me that all I have to do is fumble my way through a rushed plate of food that will inevitably be covered in flop-sweat and in return I will get to keep cooking someone else’s food so that maybe they get all the prizes I lost. WHEN DOES MY TIME START IS IT RIGHT NOW?” Why yes it is.

When Mike and Blais get to the kitchen, all of the dishes are laid out in front of them and they will select their sous-chefs through a blind taste test. OK, fair enough. No, seriously, like, that is a good way to do this and it makes it interesting. Good job, producers. You have basically biffed it on this entire season and excreted nearly unwatchable television, but it’s possible that this season finale will be your hail mary pass if you something something I don’t know how sports metaphors work. Anyway, taste taste taste. Speaking of chopping heads off with swords made of ideas, what is going on here:

Barf. (Just to get ALL of the Marcel related material out of the way right now so that we don’t have any more barfing to do later, when he is eating food at Mike’s restaurant with some of the other eliminated contestants and everyone is talking about how delicious Mike’s food is, Marcel just sort of slithers out this tiny, snide, “yeah, it’s pretty good,” and it’s just like, MOTHERFUCKER YOU BEEN HAD ELIMINATED A YEAR AGO. Be a man. Be a nice man. Ugh. Stupid idiot. RAH! Get it, Marcel? RAH!) Anyway, Mike and Blais chose their teams:

Blais: Spike, Angelo, and Antonia
Mike: Tiffani, Jaime, and Carla

Right before getting picked, Spike makes some comment about having jet ski reservations and this makes Blais worry that Spike doesn’t have his hat I MEAN HIS HEAD in the game. Uh, your worry should be that Spike is a punk. But it doesn’t really matter because Mike’s team is complete bunk. Jaime? Ha! In his interview, Mike comes up with all sorts of reasons about why his team full of people he was just shitting on is actually great. Cool. Maybe you should serve the judges a big bowl of steamed BACKPEDALS in a bullshit reduction sauce!

For the final time: prep prep prep. Cook cook cook.

TIME TO EAT! Well, for the judges. And the eliminated contestants. And some extras. Not for us. It is our curse that we shall never feast upon the Top Chef food, and will never actually know when Tom says “this is the best steamed whatever we’ve had in 18 million seasons of this show,” whether that is true or not. (There’s an old riddle that says there is a door to heaven and a door to hell both guarded by Tom Colicchios, but one Tom Colicchio always lies, and the other Tom Colicchio always tells the truth. How do you know what question to ask the two Toms to know once and for all which government contractor created the Angelo replicant?)

In yet another interesting move on the part of the producers (who, I will remind you, have mostly made a mess of things prior to this episode) the judges are split into two groups and take turns eating at both restaurants in inverted order. I don’t know, I just like that. It seems to hedge any group-think, and if there is one thing I think we have all been complaining about for a long time it is TOP CHEF JUDGES TABLE GROUP-THINK. Hate it. Have a mind of your own, GAIL SIMMONS. (JK, love you Gail Simmons.) Anyway, in order to properly honor all of the effort that both chefs put into their Final Challenges but to not have to actually do the work of trying to seamlessly integrate it into this recap, I’m just going to provide both of their complete menus right now:

Mike’s Menu (Restaurant Iz)
1st Course: Spiced beets with mozzarella, truffle & chocolate vinaigrette.
2nd Course: Halibut with kumquat marmalade, cauliflower puree & pancetta crumble.
3rd Course: Braised pork shoulder with pepperoni sauce, roasted cabbage & turnips.
4th Course: Rosemary caramel custard & pine nuts with citrus, celery & apple.

Blais’s Menu (Restaurant Tongue & Cheek)
Amuse Bouche: Raw oyster with creme fraiche pearls & salsa verde.
1st Course: Raw hamachi with fried veal sweetbreads, garlic mayonnaise & pickled celery.
2nd Course: Pork belly, black cod cutlet, bone marrow, beets, brussels sprouts & kumquat.
3rd Course: Beef short rib with mushrooms, red cabbage marmalade & celery root horseradish puree.
4th Course: Cornbread with foie gras ice cream & whipped mango.

You’re welcome. Also: everything sounds great!

Most of the dining experience and the Judges’ Table is full of that classic Top Chef tension. Like, again, everything looks really great, and all of the joking about how terrible everyone (except Blais) is doesn’t mean I don’t recognize and respect how hard it must be to compete on this show, but I think we can all agree that it’s kind of unlikely that it would always come down every single time to a complete split decision on everything? Every time? Everyone is always the best and it is always the hardest decision anyone has ever had to make in the herstory of decisions? Sure. This makes me laugh a LOT:

Tom explains that both of the chefs deserve the title but only one of them is going to get it, which, thank God, right? I mean, it wasn’t ENTIRELY outside the realm of possibility that Tom would just be like, “this one is too close to call so we’re going to invite all 18 chefs back to start from the beginning and see if we can’t get a more clear-cut winner. Everyone unpack your knives and STAY.” Anyway, everyone loved Richard’s oyster and also his hamachi and also his cod, but they also loved Mike’s halibut and his pepperoni sauce pork shoulder. It’s (supposedly) neck and neck! TIME FOR THE WATERWORKS! Both chefs are asked to explain why they deserve to win. This is always a weird part of the show. On the one hand, it’s nice to see how seriously these guys take this stuff and how much it means to them, but on the other hand, no one DESERVES $200,000 and a tour of the Terlato winery or whatever the fuck. Someone is definitely going to get it, but, like, you BOTH love your wives. “Well, I want to have more kids than Richard does, so this will end up being more important to more people in my immediate family. Eventually. When I have the kids I was just talking about.”

Mike gets a couple more emotive points for his speech, I guess, but he seriously needs to drop the “I’ve worked so hard” thing. Everyone worked hard. With the possible exception of Jaime, who did not work hard at all, everyone else worked hard. Then again, I’m not ENTIRELY compelled by Richard’s need to redeem himself after losing his original season. Like, this IS just a garbage reality show at the end of the day. Let’s please not stake our entire sense of purpose on God’s green Earth on its outcome. And if you ARE going to do that, then you better be ready to take it to the end.

Mike’s whole family comes to cross their fingers. Richard’s…uncle…shows up? OK!

Guys, how tense is this?

Too tense?

This guy knows what I’m talking about!

And the winner is:

RICHARD BLAISSSSSSSS!

Yes. Good. If it hadn’t been Richard Blais I might have thrown my television in the bathtub. No offense to Mike, I heard that he worked really hard for it, but Blais has always been the best, no duh, and now he is Top Best! Also, Mike’s whole “impossibly cocky” thing was not that cool of a thing. How about, like, the tiniest modicum of humility even if it is false humility? You are on television, pal. NO ONE WANTS TO ROOT FOR A CASUALLY MISOGYNISTIC EGOFACE. Now, please rush Richard to the hospital and sew his head back on. HE NEEDS HIS HEAD!

Congratulations, Richard, on your win. Congratulations to the rest of us on being fucking done with this show good grief!