Greetings, my fellow lovers-of-food-p0rn-who-also-enjoy-watching-grown-people-cry! And welcome. I’ll be your recapper for this season of Top Chef, because Julie is taking some time off for intensive, inpatient therapy to recover from recapping the absolutely terrible Top Chef: Just Desserts and Sarah died…and went to higher-paying blog-gig heaven. SCREW HER. AM I RIGHT, MATTIN?
Okay, okay. You’re right. That was mean. We all love Sarah and miss her very much. But y’all are in MAH RECAPPING HOUSE NOW, BITCHES.
On the heels of the culinary abortion that was Just Desserts, we have another not-quite traditional season of Top Chef. The All Stars! All of your favorites except for probably a couple of your other favorites! Plus a lot of obnoxious douchenozzles you were happy to see gone the first time around! And now they’re back. Like zombie cockroaches, in a way.
Theme music! NanananananananaNANA!
Usually, the first episode of the season is a confusing mass of interchangeable faces and white coats, where the cheftestants elbow each other in an effort to become distinguishable from all the other fauxhawks and tattoos and I’M HERE TO WIN types. But these chefs have an even bigger battle — they each have an entire seasons’ worth of preconceived notions to either overcome or live up to. So let’s start with dumping all of them back into their predetermined little boxes, shall we?
Tiffani and Stephen from season one, which I admit I did not watch, aside from the occasional rerun and the chefs’ appearances on various reunion cook-off specials and such. I know Tiffani was considered to be quite the unpleasant personality and difficult to work with. I also know I ate at winner Harold’s NYC restaurant and sense that the win was rightly awarded to the right chef. She’s here to “cook her nuts off” this time.
Oh, and Stephen is a tremendous douchebag. It’s even in his little flashback quip and everything. OBVS.
Elia and Marcel from season two. Never has a reality show contestant fallen so quickly out of my viewing favor as Elia did in the final two episodes of that season, where she turned Sudden Asshole and joined Team Ilan to gang up on Marcel. Nice to see her hair grew back okay, I guess.
And Marcel? He’s the most inevitable one of them all. He couldn’t NOT be here, if you know what I mean. He and Elia have an awkward reunion on the stairwell here and Elia says she hopes he’s matured. Marcel thinks all of his interpersonal problems during season two (and from the flashbacks we are reminded that there were MANY) stemmed from him being too much of a threat.
Casey, Tre and Dale from the mostly snooze-worthy season three. Inoffensive and unmemorable. Still are, mostly.
Oh my hell. From season four, we have Richard Blais, Antonia, Spike AND Dale. One or both of the Dales are gonna need to be okay with a snarky nickname, STAT. Let’s see. Richard should have won that season but thoroughly choked in the finale (he now describes it as his saddest professional moment). I always found Antonia kind of obnoxious and overrated. Spike has opened a burger and a pizza joint in my hometown and my husband is wondering why he needs to come back on the show, and I’m completely blanking on Dale Two there. Oh right! He was the angry little peanut who punched lockers and shit.
From season five, CarlaHOOTIE!, Jamie “I’m Really Into Sustainable Food So I Made You Chilean Sea Bass” Lauren and FabioThisIsNotTopScallop.
Jamie looks much cuter than I remember. Season five was one of those seasons with a lot of grease-face going on, right? Now she’s powdered and lipglossed and hair producted.
Marcel manages to piss off Fabio within the first five minutes. The producers smile knowingly and whisper something about it all going according to plan.
Carla was the underdog we all fell in love with (after overcoming our fear of her crazy eyes), but I must sadly report that she’s been at several food/wine charity events I’ve attended here in DC and her food? Is really not good at all.
From season six, Jennifer and Mike I. Jennifer was my early pick to win that season but she got sick and rattled and sort of gave up after awhile. I’m actually really glad to see her back for another chance.
Mike I. was a total dickwad, but he can cook. I saw him at his restaurant here in DC (which is very, very good) and while I personally hid behind my menu because OH SHIT WE ALL CALLED HIM A DOUCHE ON THE INTERNET ALL THOSE TIMES, he was very gracious about coming out of the kitchen to greet and pose for pictures with a table of little old ladies nearby. They were all very excited. He’s trying to open his own restaurant and so I guess this is a good PR move? Hey, remember me everybody? You do? Including what a prick I am? Yeah? Shit. Sorry.
AND FINALLY, from season seven, the very recently departed Tiffany and Angelo. I cannot stand Angelo. Cannot. Stand. I lie down in protest over having to deal with him again.
Holy SHIT, you guys. I know we know all these people already, but this still seems like an EXTRA LARGE boatload of chefs. We need to start chopping people, STAT.
And for that? We have Padma (and Tom). Thank God. If there’s any lesson from Top Chef Masters and Top Chef Just Desserts, is that you CANNOT mess with the hosting/judging dynamic. It’s just not the same.
She reminds us of the prizes — the grand prize money is now $200,000 instead of $100,000. Marcel reveals that as runner-up in season two, he won absolutely zero dollars. That sucks, and I wonder if the show has fixed that, because seriously. Pay the little people something, Bravo.
Quickfire! The chefs will work in teams (divided by season) and cook one dish inspired by the city their season was filmed in. The entire winning team gets immunity.
Season four (Chicago) decides to do a sausage dog. Season seven (DC) is doing a crabcake and rockfish. Season five (NY) is going with an apple theme, but with each person doing their own separate dish. Season three (Miami) is…I don’t know. Miami flavors! Cha cha! I get bored with keeping track after this, but please note that people on the street come up to EACH AND EVERY SINGLE CHEF FROM THE SHOW to tell them their season was the best season. Which makes it true! Science-y!
Tiffani confesses that Stephen seems a little rusty in the kitchen. Richard is making mustard ice cream with liquid nitrogen. Angelo and Tiffany’s rockfish falls on the floor so he hacks the crap out of another one. Everyone starts losing their collective shit.
BREAKING! Quickfire Challenge is quick, challenging.
Padma and Tom come in to judge. Bottom teams: Marcel and Elia’s shrimp tacos with guacamole and apple wrappers; Tiffani and Stephen’s cioppini gazpacho; Angelo and Tiffany’s “crabcake essence” bullshit; and Fabio, Carla and Jamie’s schizophrenic plate of three separate apple-themed dishes. Tom liked Jamie’s soup, but the other two components were just so-so.
Top teams: Tre, Casey and Dale’s pork dish; Richard, Spike, Antonia and Angry Dale’s Chicago dog; and Mike and Jennifer’s bucatini something-or-other.
Team Chicago wins! Four whole chefs now have immunity.
(Imma gonna have to take the judges’ word on the Chicago offering being delicious, because this photo looks exactly like something my dog left behind after getting into a combination of the trash and a box of crayons.)
Covered trays are brought out. The chefs check the contents and…HA HAAA! It’s the ingredients from each of their “final” dishes, i.e. the one that got them eliminated once before. The challenge? Remake your losing dish…only this time, make it a success. You can improve on the dish but not stray too far from the original concept. That’s actually pretty fandamntastic. I wonder if any of the chefs obsessed over the dish and have mentally remade it over and over…or if they all simply tried to forget about it and avoid those flavor combinations ever since, because they TASTE LIKE FAILURE-SCENTED TEARS OF SAFFRON.
Three hours. Go!
Spike gets the frozen scallops — like the ones he found in the guest judge’s walk-in, which led to a pretty uncomfortable back-and-forth at the judges’ table when he was called out by the dude about the quality of his ingredients.
Angry Dale has to remake his infamous disaster of a concept: butterscotch scallops. He admits that yeah, that was some damn bad idea jeans, right there.
Fabio doesn’t think there was anything wrong with his original dish and is proceeding accordingly. Elia has a similar opinion of herself and is only barely modifying the dish. Stephen has to make THREE dishes, none of which were even his own creations — he was eliminated for not spending enough time in the kitchen during Restaurant Wars, and even I have to admit he REALLY got the short end of the stick for this challenge.
Jamie went home for oversalting Eric Ripert’s braised celery and fish recipe — a dish she disliked in the first place. She’s redoing it as a celery hash, and I wonder if the judges will be irritated that she still isn’t braising the damn celery correctly like she was supposed to. Still, it’s interesting to see how many chefs didn’t actually get eliminated on their own cooking merits alone — other people’s recipes, other people’s ingredients, or simply annoying the shit out of your teammates so they were perfectly happy to toss you under the bus.
Mike went home for a vegetarian dish and thinks he has the toughest challenge out of everybody’s because wah wah waaaah vegetables are boring. Even though they are actually not. Jennifer oversalted her duck dish which is an easy enough problem to fix.
Oh my God, I totally forgot that CASEY was Carla’s sous chef in her finale and more than a little responsible for Carla’s loss. Awkward. Casey suggested stuff that was way out of Carla’s comfort zone and Carla stupidly went along with it. She doesn’t blame Casey, but she’s not going to make that mistake again, she earnestly promises us, and I nod furiously because I just want her to stop looking at me like that.
Interstitial mid-commercial moment takes us back to MarcelHeadShaveGate, and Elia’s Britney-head-shaving moment. She admits that she was young and immature back then. Thanks, Editor Obvious! Gee, maybe later we’ll get to hear about how some of these chefs enjoy eating food and miss their families and stuff.
Two hours to prep at the Russian Tea Room. The kitchen is small, so they’ll be cooking in teams of nine at a time. When they aren’t cooking, they’ll be tasting the other groups food with the judges. They can comment, or not. Be an asshole, or not. Their call.
Bourdain! He’s finally a regular judge, as it always should have been. And Gail, who looks fabulous as ever but whose stock has admittedly plummeted for me thanks to Just Desserts. (Seriously, can you tell how much I hated that show? I hated it so, so much.)
Stephen is really scrambling and even gets some help from Tiffani-with-an-i in order to get his plates done in time, while Richard gets some grumbling from the others because he continues to plate and garnish after time is up — though in his defense, it sounds like he misunderstood that he wouldn’t be allowed to add foam to the plates “to order,” rather than cheating or running out of time.
Surprise! There’s a TV with audio so the chefs can watch and hear reactions from the judges and fellow cheftestants. Elia chooses not to watch, because she’s turned into quite the sensitive delicate little flower since we saw her last.
There’s much praise for Richard, Angelo and Angry Dale, who “unfucked” himself with a complete redemption of the godawful butterscotch scallops. The two Tiffanies and Tre get middling reviews, while Stephen, Elia and Fabio don’t fare so well. At all.
Everybody switches. Mike and Jamie still hate their dishes, while Jennifer says for about the seventh time that she thinks she’ll be on top. Which means the opposite of what she thinks it means. Fabio openly goads Bourdain for insulting his pasta and everybody wisely starts drinking. Back in the kitchen, the second team realizes that OH SHIT, TEEVEE. THEY HEARD IT ALL! WOE.
Antonia gets praise from everybody except Tiffany-with-a-y, while everybody approves of Spike’s frozen scallop dish, which he basically remade to completely upstage the scallops. Bourdain realizes what he did and calls him the “craftiest motherfucker ever.” Bourdain is really on a roll with the f-bombs tonight. Mamapop approves, fuck yeah!
Jamie’s celery and Mike’s leeks get good reviews, while nobody likes Happy Dale’s dumplings. Carla gets a so-so review while Casey and Marcel get praised…and Jennifer’s duck falls way below expectations.
Stew room! Judges’ table!
Several chefs bring up Richard’s plating time limit problem…just before he gets called out with the first (and presumably top-tier) group. Burn!
But then! Tom informs him that sorrrrrreeeeeee, they know he went over (Richard seems surprised) and is thus not eligible for the win. Double burn! Richard apologizes in rush and hustles himself back to the stew room, clearly annoyed as all fuckout. Tre looks extremely smug.
So our REAL top three, now that Richard and his probably-winning pork belly dish are out of the running, are Jamie, Angelo and Spike. And our winner is Angelo, for HIS pork belly dish. He’s all, “MEEEEE?” like there’s three other Angelos in the room or something. Whatever. Still on my list, man. You’re still on my list.
Our bottom three are Fabio, Stephen and Elia.
Stephen’s dish was a three-way disaster, and I sense the dude never belonged on this show in the first place, much less on the “All-Star” edition. He’s a sommelier and a front-of-house man. Maybe most season one chefs have simply moved on and weren’t interested in a re-do?
Elia’s steamed fish was practically raw and she admits she didn’t check any of them that closely. They don’t believe she even attempted to improve upon the dish. Considering she already interviewed that she thought it was just fine the first time around…yeah.
Nobody liked Fabio’s dish, and he’s still smarting from Bourdain’s comments during the meal, so he — oh lands — confronts Bourdain and tells him they’ll “have a problem” if Bourdain continues to “make fun of him” instead of offering “constructive creeeeetizism.” And then basically argues with everything Bourdain says from that point forward, constructive or not. Bourdain looks like he’s on the verge of cracking up a little, like BRING IT ON, LITTLE MAN. I dunno. Is Fabio’s pride really that fragile or does this strike anybody else as being a tad bit staged? Fabio’s playing to his established character a little too much, too soon. Elia makes a quiet, final plea not to be eliminated.
…It falls on deaf ears, unfortunately, and she’s the first to go home.
This season on Top Chef All-Stars! Tennis! Screaming! Paula Deen! Jimmy Fallon! Elmo! More screaming! Wahhhmbulances! Intrigue! Mouthiness at the judges’ table! Oh, and like, cooking and food and shit.