It's the first real All-Star season, and the competition looks intensely fierce. Seriously, I could maybe pick five people that could win it, but narrowing it down beyond that is impossible, and I would probably be wrong about those five. There are very few duds in this cast, and I hope that makes for a great season. The thing that's most exciting to me is that even some of the weaker cheftestants have presumably spent the years since their season working and getting better, so it's really an even field. Plus, some of my favorites are back -- Carla, Blais and Jen -- so I'm thrilled. I don't know that they're the best chefs, but I enjoy watching them work.
Quickfire Challenge: They're divided into teams by season and must make a dish representing the city where their season took place.
Season 1 from San Francisco (Tiffani and Stephen) make cioppino gazpacho with sourdough. They don't serve wine, so maybe Stephen has lightened up on that.
Season 2 from Los Angeles (Marcel and Elia) make shrimp tacos with guacamole and an apple wrapper. Marcel tries to get Tom to say if he likes it, like Colicchio's going to fall for that.
Season 3 from Miami (Casey, Dale and Tre) make pork tenderloin, avocado lime puree, tostones and habanero sauce.
Season 4 from Chicago (Blais, Spike, Antonia and Dale T.) made pork and black pepper sausage with mustard ice cream, a take on the Chicago hot dog. Really, mustard ice cream?
Season 5 from New York (Carla, Fabio and Jamie) made a trio of apple, curried apple soup, pasta with bacon and caramelized apple, and ribeye with apple, walnut, and blue cheese slaw. They were the only team to have each person make his or her own dish instead of collaborating.
Season 6 from Las Vegas (Jen and Mike I (blech)) made bucatini with bacon lobster carbonara
Season 7 from DC (Angelo and Tiffany) made crab cake essence with rockfish, lemongrass, jalapeno and Old Bay. They probably had the easiest time working together, since they just finished their season before filming began.
Tom thinks the worst are Seasons 1, 2, 5, and 7, but the problems are all really minor, like seasoning. So the best are seasons 3, 4 and 6 and the winner is Season 6. Tom loved the mustard ice cream, and they get immunity in the first challenge.
Elimination Challenge: Each chef has to redo the dish that got him or her eliminated. Padma also explains that the judges this season will be her, Tom, Gail and Anthony Bourdain. The people who seem to be in trouble early on are Elia and Fabio, who didn't think there was anything wrong with the dish in the first place; Jamie, who hated the Eric Ripert dish she had to make and still does; and Stephen, who got eliminated during Restaurant Wars, so he has to make three dishes that he's never even made before.
Because the kitchen where the food is served is so small, the cheftestants are split into two groups, and the non-cooking group gets to eat the other group's food. The first group doesn't know that the cheftestants get to see and hear what the diners are saying. Yikes.
Blais: braised pork belly with bread and butter radishes, mirin and cheddar. He keeps plating after time was called, so he gets disqualified and can't win. Luckily, his dish is good enough that he also doesn't get sent home. In fact, a few people think he would have won.
Angelo: homemade ramen with sweet glazed pork belly and watermelon. Bourdain said it was one of his favorites.
Dale T.: butterscotch miso scallops with crispy long beans and spicy eggplant. Bourdain, who previously called it the worst dish in the show's history, likes it.
Tiffany: pan-seared halibut, coconut curry, steamed rice balls and pea tendrils. Steamed Rice Balls is the name of my punk band.
Tre: cured wild King salmon, grapefruit gelee and a salted macadamia cookie.
Tiffani: crispy branzino, black olive pappardelle and spicy fennel.
Stephen: lobster harumaki, Kumamoto oyster sabayon and deconstructed crab soup dumplings. He had three dishes to make, none of them were his to start with, and the diners don't like it regardless.
Fabio: handmade caserecci, crawfish and crab stew. Bourdain is very vocal about how much he hated it.
Elia: red snapper steamed in ti leaf with snapper jus. The diners think the fish is underdone and the jus is watery. Elia is so stressed that she can't even watch them eat it.
The second group has the luxury of knowing that the others can hear them. Fabio thinks he has to confront Anthony Bourdain for his harsh comments and Bourdain clearly thinks Fabio is beneath him, because he is. I mean, seriously. He's Anthony Freaking Bourdain.
Antonia: sausage with cilantro, pigeon pea puree, and roasted cherry blossoms. The diners, save for Tiffany, praise it.
Spike: pickled mushrooms, scallops and lime dressing with hearts of palm salad. The diners are all amused that Spike managed to make the scallops extraneous, since he was eliminated the first time for using frozen scallops.
Jamie: pan-seared black bass, celery, green peppercorn and herb salad. She made it her own, according to Colicchio.
Mike: melted leeks, carrot puree and salt-crusted potatoes. Dude, did he make salt potatoes? I live in Syracuse, the capitol of salt potatoes. And if you've never had them, you really must. They're just small white potatoes cooked in salt water, and then served in a pool of melted butter. I never knew they were a regional dish until I moved to Michigan, and people were like, "Salt potatoes? Never heard of them. Here, have a paczki." Anyway, it gets good reviews.
Dale L.: curry poached lobster dumplings, chanterelle, corn and bacon. Everyone agrees that the dumpling was too pasty.
Carla: grilled strip steak, smashed potatoes, tarragon butter and red wine sauce. I would like that it my mouth right now.
Casey: molasses-glazed pork belly, pickled peaches and whipped crème fraiche. Gail asserts that Casey's food is much-improved.
Marcel: uni and caviar, Meyer lemon gelee, fennel cream and kalamata olive dust. It looks like a bowl of alien eyeballs.
Jen: duck, squash, foie gras, apple cider vinaigrette and micro arugula. The duck isn't cooked perfectly, so points are deducted.
Judges' Table: Spike, Jamie, Blais and Angelo are the top four, but Blais is told that he's disqualified for going over time. He seems shocked. Did he not hear the timer? It looked pretty clear-cut. And then Angelo is the winner of $10,000 and the honor of being the best of the best in the first week.
Fabio, Stephen and Elia are called in as the bottom three. Elia is shocked to hear that some of her fish was raw, not even in the middle, but on the top. So how could she not have noticed? Fabio butts heads with Bourdain and it seems that Fabio's ego has gotten a little out of control. And Elia pathetically begs not to be eliminated before the judges start deliberating. Seriously, it's really sad. And then they eliminate her anyway. Ouch.
It's All-Stars! And I think this is one show where All-Stars is not a cop-out season. I think it will be as competitive as always, if not moreso, and I think it will be interesting to see how cheftestants from different seasons will stack up. And also to kind of catch up with cheftestants we haven't seen cook in a while. So the first former cheftestant to return is Tiffani from Season One. That's Tiffani with an "I," to differentiate her from last season's Tiffany with a Y, who is also on this show. But their names are spelled differently, so just remember that the one that ends in I is the one with red hair. And she's not your bitch, bitch. Or you're not her bitch, bitch. That's probably more accurate. Anyway, she looks fan-freaking-tastic. She looks younger, somehow, and she promises to "cook [her] nuts off," so she hasn't lost that competitive edge. I always thought she got a bum rap because she's kind of got bitchface, and some people are just born with it.
She meets up with Stephen, the wine dude from Season One, who has not aged as well. Like most of us, he has put on a few pounds over the years. He claims that he's never nervous. He's someone that I don't know would have made it on the show in later seasons; the caliber of cheftestant just got higher and higher, and I don't know that he would have made the cut. But maybe he will prove me wrong! Probably not.
Next to arrive is Elia, from Season Two. She has a lot more hair than the last time we saw her, and somehow her English skills got worse. Has she spent a lot of time out of the country? I don't remember her accent being this strong. Anyway, she promises that she will win, and I'm sure she's right. Right on her heels is Marcel. BOOOOOOOOO! I hate Marcel. I don't hate him because he's a pretentious git, although that doesn't help. I hate him because he thinks he's such a great chef, and I really don't think he is. I'm hoping that the presence of others who are as good if not better at the molecular gastronomy thing will take him down a few notches. Here's why I hate Marcel: he claims that, during his season, he was seen as a threat, and that's why no one liked him. No, no one liked him because he's impossible and annoying and has no social skills, and has hair like Wolverine, and thinks he invented foam. Gah! I'm already all worked up.
Moving on to Season Three, we have Tre, who was eliminated earlier than he probably should have been. Marcel refers to him as a "beast," which must be the new chef compliment. Chef-pliment? Compli-chef? Marcel immediately tries to ingratiate himself with Tre, who looks like he's not interested. Here's why Tre is a million times better than Marcel: after he makes the obligatory statement about how awesome he is, he laughs at himself. Marcel has never in the history of ever laughed at himself. Also from Season Three are Dale L. (because his name is spelled the same as the other Dale) and Casey. They're BFFs right? Didn't we find that out on one of the one-off All Star things? Since I watched but didn't recap the earlier seasons, I really mostly remember Casey as being Carla's sous chef who maybe did or did not cause Carla to lose. Anyway, Dale and Casey were two-thirds of the final three in their season. The footage they show looks like someone is making a video of their circa 1973 television screen. Were things really that bad before HD? Anyway, they clearly deserve another shot.
From Season Four, we have Richard Blais (who I'm just going to call Blais, since that's what the others on the show seem to call him), who has somehow become more Jim Breuer/Carrey looking since his season. I think he's lost weight and his face looks more rubbery. Anyway, he probably should have won his season, even though I liked Stephanie at the time, but I think he was probably taking more risks than her and pushing the culinary envelope.
Spike from Season Four is also back. He really thinks he's awesome. But again, unlike Marcel, he has a sense of humor. Joining him is Antonia, who didn't make a huge impression on me at the time, but I like her more in retrospect. She was a solid chef, and probably got overshadowed by some of the alpha males on her season. Ugh, and the awful, awful Lisa. Thank God she didn't come back. But you know who did? Dale T. So they got the top four from that season, minus the winner and horrible Lisa. Interesting.
From Season Five, Jamie has returned, and I am psyched. I always loved her. And she also looks fantastic. Of course, Fabio is back from that season as well. He's changed his hair and gone for more of a shaggy look instead of his short hair; the short hair was better. Fabio reminds us that he got into a tiff with Marcel when Fabio hosted that special and Marcel was an asshole. Fabio, by appearances, seems to be morphing into an LA douchebag. Like, he probably wears Ed Hardy. I wish Stefan were there to take some of the wind out of his sails. I miss Stefan. But you know who is there? CARLA! YAY! I ended up loving Carla after not being convinced that she deserved to be there for a while. I still have the .gif someone sent me of Carla pretending to look over her shoulders and then forging ahead in the competition. It makes me happy. Plus, I feel like the editing didn't do Carla any favors. She seemed like a caterer or a home cook for a while, and then suddenly near the end, we learned that she has classic training and could bust out a French sauce. Go CARLA!
Everyone (except the contestants from other seasons) agrees that Season Six had the most talent, so who is back from that season? Jen and Mike I. Love the former and hate the latter. I love Jen because she held her own in a male-dominated season and didn't bitch about it. She just made it happen. I still hate Mike I. I've softened a little, but so has his neck. By which I mean, he's put on like a whole person since we last saw him.
And from the most recent season, we already know that we're going to see Angelo and Tiffany. I think Angelo has a chance, but I'm not so sure about Tiffany. I love her as a person, but I don't know if she can compete with the best of the best. We'll see.
Everyone dons the black chef coats, and I love the camaraderie already, and that we don't have to spend a ton of time getting to know each person, since we already sort of know them. They all head into the Top Chef kitchen, where Padma and Colicchio await. They all feel sort of sick walking back into the kitchen. Padma reminds them that they were some of the best, but none of them won the top prize. But this season will offer the biggest grand prize ever: $200,000. Plus lots of prizes along the way. Cheftestants from the earlier seasons are like, "Holy crap, we never got shit!" And they really didn't. There were no high stakes Quickfires or cars or anything.
Colicchio says that he always hears from various cheftestants that their own season was the best or the hardest or the most talented. So for this Quickfire, Padma explains, they will have to create a dish with the others from their season, representing the city where their season took place. So is Spike losing his hair? Is that why he always wears a hat? As much as the fedora he wore during his season seemed like an affectation, I think I prefer it to the backwards baseball cap he's sporting now. Anyway, the winning team members get immunity in the first elimination. Padma points out the equipment, which is another thing that cheftestants from earlier seasons didn't get. Remember Marcel and Blais having to rig up equipment because the kitchen didn't have it? That's not true anymore. There's nitrogen and sous vide and everything. Level playing field.
Padma tells them that they have twenty-five minutes and everyone takes off running to grab their proteins, probably. Season Four has the challenge of having the most participants, four, but they seem to work well together and make decisions quickly without arguing. They decide to make a Chicago hot dog and Blais is going to make mustard ice cream. Why would you ruin ice cream like that? I like m