Fortunately, I’m full, so watching this won’t be a painful experience — it’s always advisable to watch Top Chef with a full stomach or an ample supply of food on hand. Otherwise, you just might feel the urge for some mustard ice cream. Or not.
Anyway, it’s the season premiere of Top Chef All-Stars, which means it’s time for the all-star cheftestants to slowly make their way into this season’s house. They do so in perfect season order, with season 1’s Tiffani Faison and Stephen Asprinio leading the pack.
Of course, these entrances must be accompanied by colorful commentary about a) how each cheftestant thinks he or she is a shoe-in to win and b) which other cheftestant is a total jerk. But that’s only in the commentary — in the house it’s nothing but smiles and awkward hugs.
Initial rivalries based on the entrances? Basically, everyone versus Marcel (season 2’s whipping boy).
Enough of this cheerful, reality show-required filler. To the kitchen!
Where the cheftestants, each sporting an individual style (Really, Stephen? A tie?) learn that they’ll get $200,000 for a win this season. Not too shabby…
But first, there are the challenges. And it’s time for the first Quickfire!
The teams are, appropriately, divvied up by season, and each team is tasked with the challenge of creating a meal that matches the city of their Top Chef season. And the winner gets that oh-so-handy immunity. I am now left with the task of deciding whether a large team (like season 4’s four cheftestants) or a small team (some seasons only have two) is better. Still no decision on that.
And they’re off! 25 minutes to cook, so I suppose running is a good idea. What is everyone cooking?
Season 4: Chicago
The Chicago crowd goes with a “deconstructed” Chicago hot dog, which seems to be a fancy sausage. With mustard ice cream. They do say Richard is a genius…
Season 7: Washington, DC
Some sort of fish somehow represents the nation’s capital. If you say so, season 7. Preparations are unfortunately hampered by Angelo’s misstep: “I mother-f-ing dropped the fish!” I guess the five-second rule doesn’t apply in the Top Chef kitchen?
Season 5: New York
The New York group decides to go with three apple-based dishes. Working together isn’t a priority here. And, seriously? Apple soup?
Season 3: Miami
Miami’s cheftestants are all about ingredients, putting together peppers, pork, plantains and (sorry to all you anagram-loving chefs) mangoes to make some version of pork tenderloin.
Season 2: Los Angeles
It would seem like nothing says LA quite like fish tacos. At least there’s guacamole too.
Season 1: San Francisco
The San Francisco people are making some sort of seafood dish with a name I’m not cool enough to catch. I’m sure the hardcore foodies will mock me for this. Oh well.
Season 6: LasVegas
Because Las Vegas has “no culture” (sorry Vegas), the season 6 cheftestants decide to go with what the mobsters like. This seems to mean lobster and pasta.
Before we get to the tastings, a brief pause for the best quote of the prep time:
“I look around and I see people freaking out like we’re all going to die today.” (from Elia)
Death might be preferable to the commentary… But, like death, it is inevitable.
Tom and Padma show up to taste the various dishes in some order that probably makes sense to them. And their opinions on the food?
Team Season 2: The shrimp is too bland, and the apple slice “taco shell” is too thin.
Team Season 1: There’s too much garlic in the fancy-schmancy seafood dish.
Team Season 5: They like the apple soup (seriously?), but the others were only OK and nothing tied together.
Team Season 7: Too much salt. (This isn’t the most in-depth criticism, is it?)
Team Season 3: Great flavors. (Constructive, huh?)
Team Season 4: They love the hot dog, especially because it has mustard ice cream on it (Chefs are weird.)
Team Season 6: The judges think the pasta is good. Which may not be incredible praise since even I can make good pasta. It’s not like it’s tough. (Yes, I know they have different standards.
So with all that insightful commentary, the obvious winner is… Team Season 4! Chicago wins! I guess mustard ice cream is better than it sounds.
Enough of that Quickfire silliness, because it’s time for the…
“You guys brought us dinner! How nice!” (Fabio)
A parade of production assistants present each cheftestant with a covered tray. And then there are lots of bleeped comments as they see what’s inside. Fair enough, because it’s the ingredients they failed on in their original Top Chef seasons.
The challenge will be to make that same failed dish great without straying from the original concept. Each cheftestant will get three hours the first night, followed by two hours before the guests and judges eat it all up.
The running commences again!
Spike is sad to see scallops again. Apparently, he hates scallops.
Butterscotch Dale is concerned about his scary dish.
Fabio has some dish with an Italian name. He thinks it was fine the first time.
Stephen has three dishes to repeat. It may be too much for him.
Elia has a red snapper in a leaf. The judges found it too overpowering, but she thought it was good and is only changing a little. She’s adding bacon! Bacon is always a good choice.
Jamie had a dish with braised celery. Ick. She’s changing a little, but it’s still celery. Ick.
Angelo is making ramen-like noodles. Considering he went home for being sick, he can probably just redo stuff. Also, who doesn’t like ramen?
Butterscotch Dale is having fun with cornbread.
Mike made a vegetarian dish and doesn’t seem happy about having to do it again. Not much you can do with leeks.
Jen can’t have too much salt this time.
Carla made something that wasn’t OK for her. Now she’s only doing her own thing.
According to the other cheftestants, hiding frozen scallops with other ingredients makes Spike seem devious.
And because the show wouldn’t want us to think that cooking was the whole Top Chef entertainment experience, we now get to see the whole head-shaving craziness. Doesn’t sound like Elia wants to shave the hair again. That’s fair.
Anyway, pre-preparations finish up with little drama, and we move on to the final prep and service at the Russian Tea Room. Wait, the Russian Tea Room isn’t in Bryant Park, is it? I thought it was near Central Park. Not that I ever had the honor of eating there…
The restaurant’s tight kitchen means two cooking and serving groups. So the non-cooking group gets to taste the cooking group’s food. And the winner gets $10,000. Not bad for one meal.
Group 1 Cooks
Stephen’s still worried about his three dishes.
Angelo is very pleased.
Richard wants to plate until the bitter end.
Elia’s got some pretty steamed fish.
Stephen’s still plating and stuff with seconds to spare. He’s not pleased with the results. It looks like Richard is still finishing too. Bad boys!
The food makes it out the door with no bloodshed, but that may be still to come. Because they get to watch the whole thing on loud TV. Without the eating cheftestants knowing about it. Sneaky, sneaky show…
There’s a fish scale in Elia’s dish, but she’s not watching so the criticism misses it’s mark.
People seem to like Richard’s pork a lot.
Angelo’s food goes over well too. Pork is obviously matching the tastes of the evening.
Dale’s scallops with butterscotch seem more edible this time.
Tiffany’s halibut had some issues.
Tre’s salmon had taste problems. Not a good fish night, I guess.
Tiffani’s pretty Mediterranean dish was surprising in a good way.
Stephen’s was called “swampy and muddled.” That’s probably a bad sign.
Fabio’s pasta seems hard to understand. Anthony Bourdain hated it. Even when he poked it. Which he did.
Back to Elia, who’s still hiding on a cooler. Her dish may have been lacking in personality.
Group 2 Cooks
Still not knowing that their colleagues just heard all that criticism, the second group takes to the kitchen.
Casey has a pork belly to cook.
Jen likes her flavors.
Jamie hasn’t cooked fish this way before, which seems odd, since she’s recreating a dish. Whatever.
None of the chefs seem too thrilled about the dishes. Considering the history, that’s fair.
There’s a lot of pressure on group 1 when they’re out at the table. Fabio takes on Anthony Bourdain immediately. At least his rebuttal gets a laugh, because that is one uncomfortable table. Then they drink wine. Wine makes everything better.
High fives in the back precede the sudden realization that the others watched the earlier criticism.
Antonia’s sausage gets rave reviews from about half of the table. The other half hated it.
Spike made scallop ceviche which would have been better if there hadn’t been any scallops. But that makes everybody laugh.
Jamie’s sea bass seems to be “hers” now.
Mike’s vegetables have nice colors and are pretty.
Dale’s lobster has pasty dumplings. Bad pasty.
Carla has steak that tastes good but there are some bad cuts on the table.
Casey’s dish is “redeeming.”
Marcel has “balls,” but he might have too much vanilla.
Jen’s duck dish doesn’t have the greatest duck. The table has high duck standards.
After waiting for the results in what seems to be the supply closet, the “Yay!” group of Spike, Jamie, Richard and Angelo go to visit the judges.
Richard is declared ineligible for that past-time plating. Jamie’s fish was great, but she’s still never going to serve it. Angelo “killed” the watermelon, but the judges are excited over the melon murder. And the judges absolutely love that Spike totally ignored his central ingredient, because it was a terrible central ingredient.
And the winner is… Angelo!
Time for the “Boo!” group of Fabio, Stephen and Elia to face the judges and their stony looks.
Anthony Bourdain didn’t like Stephen’s dish, but the cheftestant defends the whole thing like crazy. Tom thinks the portions were off.
Elia tried to keep it simple like before. Unfortunately, “simple” seems to have come across as “raw.” Elia forgot to see if her food was cooked, and the judges are displeased.
The judges think Fabio’s stew was overdone and that the presentation was terrible. Fabio criticizes Bourdain’s criticism. And then they go back and forth and back and forth and…
Elia tells the judges not to eliminate her. She means it.
Judges’ deliberations: They’re not happy that Elia didn’t “improve” on the dish. Fabio’s dish was confusing and had no “nuance.” Stephen’s dish is compared to a colonoscopy.
But the loser is…
Elia. Guess the judges didn’t listen to her. Bye Elia!
So that’s the first episode of Top Chef All-Stars! What did you think? Did it meet all of your expectations? Do you have a favorite yet (or still)? Can we expect more entertaining Fabio-Bourdain comedy in future episodes? Let us know in the comments!
(Images courtesy of Bravo)