Real Time Web Analytics Foodie Gossip: Top Chef All Stars Finale (Episode 16) Recap: Richard Blais vs. Mike Isabella

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Top Chef All Stars Finale (Episode 16) Recap: Richard Blais vs. Mike Isabella

Richard Blais and Mike Isabella
The Top Chef All Stars Finale episode 16 was AWESOME. It was the ultimate culinary showdown between Richard Blais and Mike Isabella. And I couldn’t have asked for better guest appearances. After all, who doesn’t love Hubert Keller – and seeing the full cast of Top Chef All Stars was a great reminder of season 8’s beginnings.

And now here is the Top Chef All Stars Finale recap:

The opening scene begins with Richard Blais and Mike Isabella reconnoitering the second part of the Elimination round (Top Chef All Stars Episode 15) between Antonia Lafaso and Mike. According to Mike, it was really close, but Antonia’s flavors were just a bit too strong. Mike is convinced he’s a better cook than Richard and he’s set on taking the win. Richard seems to have some string concerns about whether he can take the Top Chef title.

Tom Colicchio and Padma Lakshmi walk into the room and inform Mike and Richard that there won’t be any twists or turns in their next challenge – and THANK GOD!! My biggest complaint of this season has been that there were so many “twists and turns” it was hard to tell which chefs were actually the better cooks. Many of them were sent home because of a “twist or turn” that caused them to slip. I’ll leave Jamie Lauren’s name out of thi… Whoops.

Anywho, Tom and Padma inform Mike Izzy and Richard of their next challenge: The chefs must create the Restaurant of Their Dreams!! What an awesome challenge – and Richard Blais has Goosebumps. The chefs must create a four-course tasting menu that will prove to the judges without a doubt that they deserve to be “Top Chef”. The chefs will meet Padma in the kitchen the next morning for the details.

Back at their hotel room, Richard refers to himself as the “underdog” and Mike reviews the number of wins they each have and tells Richard he’s wrong (Richard still worries about choking). And for all of us just viewing this now – we know Richard is wrong, but I wish he’d keep his insecurities to himself.

Padma Lakshmi & the TCAS former Cheftestants
The next scene opens in the kitchen and the entire cast of Top Chef All Stars is there!!!  Marcel Vigneron has a crazy satchel hanging from him. Padma tells them that some will be helping Richard Blais and Mike Isabella as their sous chefs, but to determine who that will be…

The Quickfire (They don’t say it’s a Quickfire, but if it looks like duck…)
The former cheftestants will have 30 minutes to make an amuse bouche for Mike Isabella and Richard Blais to taste. Richard and Mike think they actually have a definitive choice in who their sous chefs will be, but the dishes are unlabeled and have to be judged by quality of food and not quality of chef…
  • Richard picks Spike Mendelsohn's ceviche of squid – but seems disappointed to have Spike on his team (Spike calls him out on it).
  • Mike picks Tiffani Faison’s yogurt curry. While Mike thinks Tiff can be tough to work with at time, he thinks her pedigree is top-knotch. 
  • Richard picks Angelo Sosa's chicken wing and he’s happy with his choice – says Angelo Sosa is a thoroughbred… All my gay boyfriends say “absolutely!”.
  • Mike picks Jamie Lauren's pork tenderloin. His expression says “oh shit” but he welcomes her to the team with a smile and keeps an open mind (one of the reasons why I secretly love the Mike Izzy).
  • Richard picks Antonia Lafaso's egg dish as his final choice. Richie has mixed feelings, but he’ll need to suck it up. Antonia is a Super VR Warrior. Nothing’s gettin’ through that girl (yes – I just quoted Jerry McGuire).
  • Mike picks Carla Hall’s tropical salsa as his final choice. Hootie!! It’s “Mikey’s Angels” and he’s soo happy with his girls.

Everyone hugs and the unselected chefs depart. Padma tells Mike Isabella and Richard that they have one hour to plan their menus and will have 5 hours to cook the next day, before opening their restaurants and serving seventy customers, plus a panel of judges.

Mike Isabella and his "Angels"
Mike wants mozzarella and pancetta dishes and Richard decides to name his restaurant “Tongue and Cheek”. Richard gives Angelo the first course and Spike is to take dessert + manage the front of the house…  Really? I would have totally switched the two. Mike listens to suggestions from his girls, but decides to make dessert himself – I would have handed dessert to Tiffani Faison and then had Carla Hall help him with the main dishes, while giving Jamie Lauren the first course – something involving fresh mozzarella. But then again, what do I know?

Is Richard Blais really making Cap’n Crunch ice cream?? No. He decides to make foie gras ice cream instead…  (yes, I’m making a face that involves tongue).

Mike Isabella prepping his Top Chef Finale meal
Tom Colicchio walks into the kitchen to check in on the chefs and tells Mike that nobody “thought he’d get here”. Mike agrees, but says he knew he’d get here. For once, I’m glad Mike stood up for himself. It almost seems like Tom didn’t actually want him in the finale… Tom visits Richard and asks how he’s dealing with the pressure. Richard is clearly going strong.

Richard is thrilled to see his sous chefs collaborating. We see Richard delegating the responsibilities among his sous chefs with ease, while Izzy seems to take more of a micro-managing role.

The judges arrive at Richard’s restaurant, Tongue & Cheek, and among them is one of my favorite chefs of all time: Hubert Keller!! Also in attendance are Lidia Bastianich, Alfred Portale and Bill Terlado. (They’re all fabulous, but I’ve been crushing on Hubert’s cuisine for years).

Richard Blais add final touches...
Richard debates whether to start with an oyster amuse bouche, but decides to go with his instinct and serves away (with Spike playing the not-so-stealthy part of the secret operative):
  • Raw Oyster with Crème Fraiche Pearls & Salsa Verde.
  • Raw Hamachi with Fried Veal Sweetbreads, Garlic Mayonnaise and Pickled Celery.
The judges love both dishes (as Spike reports). At Mike Isabella’s restaurant (Restaurant Iz) Carla Hall greets Padma, Curtis Stone (host of Top Chef Masters – airing next week), Gail Simmons, and Chef Art Smith, as well as some of the former castmates: Marcel Vigneron, the lovable Casey Thompson, Jen Carroll, and Stephen Asprinio.

Mike’s first two dishes are…
  • Spiced Beets with Mozzarella, Truffle and Chocolate Vinaigrette.
  • Halibut with Kumquat Marmalade, Cauliflower Puree and Pancetta Crumbs.

Tom thinks that Mike’s first dish is off to a good start, didn’t like the lag-time between dishes, but loves the second dish. The cheftestants are really happy with the second dish as well.

Back at Richard’s restaurant, he serves:
  • Pork Belly, Black Cod Cutlet, Bone Marrow, Beets, Brussels Sprouts and Kumquat.
  • Beef Short Rib with Mushrooms, Red Cabbage Marmalade and Celery Root Horseradish Puree.
Everyone loves his dishes – including the cheftestants: Tre Wilcox, Tiffany Derry, Dale Talde, the adorable Fabio Viviani, and Elia Aboumrad.

Mike serves his next two dishes:
  • Braised Pork Shoulder with Pepperoni Sauce, Roasted Cabbage and Turnips.
  • Rosemary Caramel Custard and Pine Nuts with Citrus, Celery and Apple.

Mike’s braised pork shoulder blew the judges away – Gail Simmons says “Pepperoni Sauce” a few times with so much affection, but his rosemary caramel custard got mixed reviews: great flavor, but the texture sucked.

And finally, Richard serves dessert:
  • Cornbread with Foie Gras Ice Cream and Whipped Mango.

Nobody is feeling Richard’s foie gras ice cream, so Richard and Spike try to make changes to it for the second round of judges…

The judges switch restaurants and all seem to love the food at both restaurants equally. The second version of Richard’s foie gras ice cream seems to go over well. If Mike Izzy had a spy, he would have been able to correct his dessert as well.

Top Chef All Stars Cast
Richard and Mike arrive back at the hotel and both go through their own personal neuroses before walking to the judge’s table… Hubert Keller joins Tom Colicchio, Padma Lakshmi and Gail Simmons at the judge’s table.

At this point, i won’t drag out the review any further (they drag out the deliberation for the last 15 minutes of the show – filling it with empty chat, chefs reuniting with their families, and more commercials than any person can bare. The chefs rejoin the judges table, with their former cast mates and families cheering them on, Padma ** finally ** says…

“One of you will take home $200,000… and the title of Top Chef…”

And follows with…

Mike Isabella and Richard Blais
Richard, you are Top Chef.”

Richard Blais wins Top Chef All Stars and sheds tears of joy and Mike Isabella sheds tears of disappointment. Watching this finale leaves me with mixed feelings. I’m happy Richard didn’t choke again. He brought his best to the table throughout the season. But in the history of Top Chef, I can’t remember anyone working as hard as Mike Isabella did for the title of “Top Chef”.

Though Mike Izzy was soft to start, probably because he never thought he could make it that far. As soon as he realized he actually had a chance to take the title, his cooking evolved faster than mold in a petri dish (forgive the comparison – I was a science major). Can’t wait to dine at Graffiato.

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