'Top Chef All-Stars' finale: We have a winner (and a really, really sad loser)
After several false alarms, the actual "Top Chef: All Stars" finale kicked off with Richard Blais and Mike Isabella indulging their self-congratulatory soliloquies about deserving to win. Then, they both proceeded to explain why they're the underdog.
(Wait a minute... Let's get one thing clear. Richard Blais is not the an underdog. He went into this competition as the most likely to succeed. Most of us were probably surprised that Mike Isabella was even cast. Just saying!)
To decide on which of the 15 fallen "All-Stars" would help out the final two in their restaurant challenge, each cooked a dish for a blind taste test that Mike and Richard would pick from to choose their sous chefs. That's right. They have to compete to prolong their embarrassment.
Richard picks... Antonia, Spike and Angelo.
Mike picks... Carla, Tiffani and Jamie (ha!).
They plan their menus and come up with the restaurant names. Richard settles on "Tongue and Cheek" and Mike picks "Iz." Superficial advantage: Blais.
Because this is a truly epic finale, we even get a live interlude from a Los Angeles hotel. Padma is yelling compliments at Antonia and Fabio. Really, why is she yelling?
The split up in their respective kitchens, where the judges will visit in separate groups.
Tongue & Cheek
Poor Richard. Homeboy could not be putting more pressure on himself over this, but at least he's not cracking. He offers up a meal of raw hamachi, black cod, braised short rib and cornbread with foie gras ice cream -- the latter of which he retools for the second group of judges. (Padma and co. were not impressed.)
The food looks great, and we're happy to see no big snafus, but the real winner here is Spike. Abandoning his sous-chef to gauge judge reactions, the editorialized game of telephone that plays out when he reports back to Richard is fantastic. Why wasn't he this funny earlier in the season?
"I don't know if anyone would have picked you getting here..." Tom tells Mike while he's cooking the most important meal of his life. Um, us neither, but we certainly wouldn't choose now to tell him. (Tom spends his time out of the kitchen as a freelance parade-rain-on-er.)
As for the food, it starts out a little weak (beat salad, nondescript fish), but it picks up with a pepperoni-glazed braised pork shoulder and a magical flan-esque thing. The judges eat it up. Food pun!
Before deliberating the meals course by course, the judges share some pretty spot on observation. Tom briefly crawls out of his garbage can on Sesame Street to pronounce it "the best food of any finale." The much sweeter Gail observes that she would choose Mike's restaurant on a weeknight and Richard's restaurant on a weekend. Hmm... portentous.
Since it's the finale to end all finales, Bravo flew out the duo's respective families to watch their shining/humiliating moment. Richard's wife isn't there -- because she's so freaking pregnant.
But lucky her because she's having a baby and a winner. Richard wins, making every annoying elimination of the season suddenly worth the journey. This was his season to lose, and his ample tears make us forget every time we ever questioned that.
We love you, Richard. Now drop a little of that $200k on a razor and nix the Jersey turnpike facial hair.