Going into last night's finale episode of Top Chef All-Stars, the two chefs left standing, Mike Isabella, a jolly Italian from the Vegas season, and Richard Blais, a new dad and winner of a majority of the season's quickfire challenges, both had their strengths.
They're both likable guys who consistently make great, inventive dishes. After falling short of victory on his season, we watched Richard nervously contemplate what it would be like to taste victory, and then meet rejection too close to the end.
Last night's challenge: Create their own dream restaurant and serve a four-course meal. So much to do in so little time. In the words of Padma Lakshmi, "Whose cuisine will reign(ed) supreme?" Did Richard find redemption?
Caution: Spoilers ahead.
Yes. He. Did! It's Richard for the win! So now of course you want to know: How did it all go down?
The two chefs were given the opportunity to create the restaurant of their dreams. And to do so, they were handed a little help. Doing a blind taste test of an amuse bouche (AKA a single, bite-sized hors d'oeurve), the two men picked the three spoonfuls of deliciousness they like the best -- and the creators of those spoons would be their sous chefs. Richard ended up with Angelo, Antonia, and Spike. Mike ended up with Jamie, Carla, and Tiffani.
At first glance, it looks like Mike got the short end of the stick. Tiffani, eh. Carla, OK. But Jamie? The contestant who complained about sand in her shoes before getting sent home, Jamie? I began to pray for Mike. However, after hearing Richard ask if he was destined never to make it all the way in a camera confessional, my heart sank. This is about the point in the episode where I decide to officially sign the roster for Team Richard.
When it comes down to restaurant style, the concepts from the two chefs were totally different. While Rich's restaurant "Tongue and Cheek" had a surf-and-turf feel, Mike's restaurant "Iz" has Italian flavors (shocker), inspired by his childhood.
Ready for some food porn? Let's talk specifics. Richard made two dishes for the night that I would totally indulge in: A raw oyster with lemon horseradish ice cream and salsa verde and a beef short rib with mushrooms, red cabbage marmalade, and celery root horseradish puree. On the other end of the spectrum were Mike's dishes, reminiscent of my grandma's home cooking, including braised pork shoulder with pepperoni sauce, roasted cabbage, and turnips and spiced beets with mozzarella, chocolate, and truffle vinaigrette. Putting a little chocolate in the first course? Genius. Really, Mikey's looking good at this point.
After the tastings, the judges came together and ultimately gave the first two courses to Richard, and the second two to Mike. In a conversation with the two cheftestants at panel, they were asked what winning Top Chef All-Stars would mean to each of them. And suddenly I, too, began to get a little teary-eyed watching these two tall, likable men as their eyes welled up. Don't you love that? A reality TV star who's actually genuine and works hard for what they want?
And although I was excited to hear Padma announce Richard for the big w-i-n, my heart broke a little bit seeing Mike's face so broken up. I guess it had to be someone. There's no doubt in my mind his talents are going to take him pretty far. On Bravo's After Show, he announced his new restaurant Graffiato in Washington, D.C. Seems like he's not too shabby, after all.
If there's anything to take away from this season, it's this: Top Chef is back. The last installment of Top Chef Just Desserts made us all a little nervous. But really, there was just SO much originality this time around. In my opinion, true talent is never boring. And these two finalists really proved that. Although there's no word (yet) on what's next for the Top Chef series from Bravo, I know that I'll definitely be tuning in to the next installment.
What do you think of the outcome of this season of Top Chef All-Stars? Were you on team Richard or team Mike?
Image via BravoTV