Top Chef All Stars: Finale Part 1

E: I don’t know about you bro, but my heart broke just a little bit this week.

M: Right there with you.  Not that I didn’t see it coming, but that doesn’t make it any better.

E: On the other hand, I was even more afraid for someone I think has the chance to win it all, and I guess between the two, I’d rather have the elimination go the way it did.

M: Well, I don’t know about our readers, but I’m intrigued to see who you mean.  Not sure who you’re rooting for now, but my two favorites pretty much all along have been Richard and Carla, so I still have one horse in the race.

E: All in good time.  Now, I could not be happier, seriously, with concept of the quickfire challenge.  I loved that the chefs have to compete against the winner of their own season.  I do think it’s interesting that both chefs who experienced trouble with their cooking equipment failed to meet the challenge, but still, it was a great idea.

M: I agree, great concept.  Also, having it be the first challenge of the finale, where the contestants are coming off a three plus month break, kind of evens the field for the returning Top Chefs, who haven’t competed in much longer than that.

E: Good point. It’s like a bookend to the redemption challenge in the first episode (cook the dish that got you sent home) and I appreciate the symmetry.  But for things I don’t appreciate: how do you feel about Richard declaring that everyone thinks he was better than Stephanie and ought to have won his season?

M: Look, I love Richard.

E: Oh, me too.

M: When it comes down to it I agree with him, just look at the deference of the other contestants, there are comments all the time to the tune of “Blais is the favorite” or “I’m excited that I beat Richard”. He definitely has everyone’s respect. However, come on man! You just can’t say that.  You can think it, you can maybe say it to your wife, or in the shower, but for the love of God, you can’t say that on camera!

E: Oh my gosh, right?  And he and Stephanie tied for wins that season, so it wasn’t like Stefan losing to Hosea or Angelo to Kevin.  Stephanie didn’t come out of no where.

M: She didn’t, but she, and everyone else that season, was a big underdog. Still, that was years ago, let’s move on.

E: Then there’s the challenge to cook for Bahamian royalty, which turns out to be a – what, dancer who works at a fish fry?  Which Antonia then accidentally sets on fire.

M: Ok, two things there. No, make it three. First, Antonia didn’t cause the fire, it was just faulty equipment.

E: Yeah, I know.  More fun to say it the other way around, though.

M: True, but wrong. Second, the “king” was the king of the Bahamian version of Carnivale. Weak, but twist-worthy if taken by itself.  However, third, and more importantly, I despised this twist as a whole. I usually love the twists, but I thought they handled this one all wrong. I think it would have been good if they had told them that, had them buy their supplies, and then sprung it on them, but to have them prep for hours and be at the point where all they had left was cooking their dish? On top of that, to put them in a kitchen with just a McDonalds-esque flat grill and a bunch of deep friers? That’s not going to bring out the best in them. I want to see the best, like we did in the ancestry challenge. Give them a chance to be great, at least.

E: Well, that’s certainly what you want in the finale, but that’s what they’ll get when the top three get to cook against each other. I’m sure they wanted to throw some wrenches in before then.  I’m okay with it, knowing what’s to come.

M: I’d have been ok with it if they let them know before the prep time, or at least gave them a decent kitchen.

E: So, Mike wins the challenge.  Bah.  It’s funny. I’m slightly annoyed with Richard (even thought I like him) but I actively do not want Mike to win.  Just when I think I can deal with him, he makes a crack about how Carla, Tiffany and Antonia have just been coasting during the competition and don’t deserve to be in the finals?  Gee, what a coincidence (NOT) that they’re all women.  Growl.  I know you have no patience for my issues about the female contestants, but, eep.

M: I’m actually right there with you on this one. If you recall, when I first called you out for being sexist it was by comparing you to Mike. Well, he really didn’t do himself any favors here. If he had singled out Tiffany he may have had at case (a weak case, but a case none the less). However, including Carla and Antonia, who have won 6 challenges between them, at the time when that was three times as many as Mike did, even including his theft of Richard’s chicken-oyster dish? Just wrong, almost to the point of being laughable, but not quite.

E: I agree that Tiffany – even though I like her – has gotten through without actively blowing anyone’s socks off, by being just good enough.  But like you said, Carla and Antonia won more challenges than Mike.  And even when she didn’t win, Antonia was in the top group in almost every challenge.  They earned it, big time, and for him to say that… well, I’m really ticked.

M: I’m not ticked, but any good will he had been building up is gone.

E: Tom points out on his blog that Mike (who spent the break working in every DC kitchen that would take him) is filled with confidence and on a roll.

M: He’s right about Mike being confident, though that is a double edged sword: just ask Kenny from last season.

E: I hope you’re right.  I don’t know, he’s making me nervous, and I prefer seeing the winner be someone who did well all season rather than someone who might, in a bit of a fluke, happened to make the best finale meal.  You know, like the aforementioned Hosea and Kevin.  That’s why I really want Antonia to do well, and why I was so nervous, because I definitely thought that Antonia was going home. The judges didn’t seem to like anything about her dish, not the shrimp, not the rice, not a thing.

M: I knew it was down to her or Carla. Tiffany’s dish wasn’t good enough, but it wasn’t bad enough either.

E: Yes, quite right, but I thought Carla was going to stay since they did like some aspects of her dish, and some of her meat was cooked properly.

M: If it had been the episode before where everyone else knocked it out of the park, different story for Tiffany. This time, though, she did enough to, as Mike put it, coast through. So I knew while Richard was safe, one out of the two other best chefs this season was going home, which stunk.

E: Yep.  That was utterly miserable. Of the two – much as I completely hated to say it – I think Antonia has the best shot to recover from starting off in a bad head space: she’s been the most consistent in the competition, and I think has the best shot of being on her game and so at winning.  But oh, it hurt.  It aches to say that.  Carla is without a doubt my favorite person in the competition, and I absolutely believe in her as a chef.   I only wish she trusted and believed in herself more.  Of course, some people are too self-justifying for my taste.  Like, oh, Mike. I was stunned that he managed to beat Michael V.

M: I wasn’t. Michael V is great and all, but it’s not like he won every challenge his season, and Mike had his share of success.  Plus, I think Mike was more in the competition mindset.

E: Now, Richard?  Wow, right, that he might miss the birth of his child for this?

M: Or that he practiced, as he put it, cooking every fish that swims within 100 miles of the Bahamas? That’s competitive spirit, and to think he says his wife is more competitive than him!

E: He cares so much that he’s a complete basket case, and I don’t know about you, but I’m nervous he’s going to choke again.

M: I’ve been nervous of that all season.

E: He seems way more panicked now; I thought he kept it together pretty well, but as the stakes go up, so do his nerves.  And I’m really mad that he talked about not just wanting Antonia to mess up, but actively getting in her head.

M: I know this will shock you, but I was ok with that.

E: Yes, I’m totally shocked.

M: That’s the kind of competitiveness that I like to see. Not sabotaging someone’s food, but tweaking their confidence. I used to do that playing basketball all the time to the guy I was guarding, it’s part of competition, and you have to be mentally tough. which, of course, takes us back to his mindset…

E: He used to know when his food was good, but he’s so tortured he has no objectivity any more.

M: See, I think that came out wrong. I think he knows when he makes good food and when it’s really bad, he shows that with his expressions and when he’s in the moment. I think what he was trying to express was that once it’s done, in his mind he can find all sorts of little flaws or mistakes that could lead to it being not good enough. He dissects every flavor, every detail, and overly so. It’s part of what makes him great, but in a judging situation it can drive him batty.

E: No, I think he genuinely doesn’t know anymore.  Remember what it’s like in college when you’ve pulled an all nighter and you have no idea if your paper is genius or crap?  That’s what he seems like to me.  He seems too stressed out for someone who just had a break.  I feel really bad for him, and I think he’s a great chef, but I hate this feeling that we owe him the win.  That said, I would far rather he win than Mike, and I certainly think he’s deserving.

M: Same here. I’m pulling for him, with Antonia a close second now that Carla is gone.

E: I’m mostly in Antonia’s camp right now.

M: Shocking, you choosing the woman.

E: Actually, it’s the contrarian in me: I genuinely hate being told that Richard is owed this win.  Not that I want to see him wrecked and considering himself a failure, because I certainly don’t.  I want to see him do his best, and either win, or lose to Antonia.

M: I don’t think it’s that he’s owed the win, but that he deserves it. Like we said above, he was the best his season, but bonked in the finale.

E: Okay, I did NOT say that.  I said he was one of the best in his season.  I’ll agree that he choked in the finale, though.

M: He’s been the best, or right there, all this season. The old golf saying of “the best player who hasn’t won a major” really applies here. He’s been the best.  Everyone considers him one of, if not the best, chef in the history of the show. For him to lose twice at the end would be sad. Personally, I want to see him win it for that reason, that he deserves it.

E: Well, we can’t always agree.  But of course we do agree on something else: the pain of seeing Carla go.  I love her.  I just want to give her a hug, and tell her that all of America can see what a genuine and lovely and gifted person she is and that she shouldn’t keep doubting herself!  Not that you can give anyone that confidence, but geez.

M: Well, I think that when she wins the “audience favorite” award, which she will hands down, she should get that boost. It doesn’t make up for her not being in the finale, and coming up short again, but it will be something, and is so well deserved. She’s just so damn entertaining and likable!

E: Oh, I hope you’re right.

M: I am, ZERO doubt in my mind.

E: So, to sum up.  I think that Richard and Antonia would both be worthy winners, and I’d be happy to see either one take the prize.  Tiffany would have to step it up significantly, which would be surprising but not impossible, and Mike would really have to change his personality or cry a lot over his dead grandmother to get me past his attitude.  I do think he’s a threat, though; I was unpleasantly surprised to see him do as well as he did in both challenges.

M: I think seeing Padma in a bikini, as has been played up all over the previews for last week and next, is going to be enough to throw him off his game. Or at least, that’s the way it’s playing out in my head.  He loses it, Tiffany isn’t strong enough, and Richard and Antonia both put up spectacular meals for the finale. We’ll see soon enough…

2 comments on “Top Chef All Stars: Finale Part 1

  1. joy says:

    1. I’m rooting for either Antonia or Richard for the win (and really hoping he does not miss the birth of his child).
    2. Sad to see Carla go, but feel she is definitely vindicated having against the all-stars making it to the finals making her food. And she can celebrate as she travels the world on her three trips.
    3. I think Stephanie did earn her win, but agree it would have been better if Richard had been at his best.
    4. Given how Carla and Antonia consistently out-cooked him throughout the season Mike has some nerve mouthing off. Karma baby!!

    • E says:

      1. Yep, me too! On both counts.

      2. Exactly. She proved she’s no fluke. I just hope she feels that, you know?

      3. Yes. I’d like him to at least go away feeling he did the best he could this time.

      4. Puleeze be right about the karma, please be right about the karma…

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