When it comes to the annual “Top Chef” tradition of “Restaurant Wars,” it is often the team that seems most confident that ends up crashing and burning.
However, that was not the case last night on a super-sized “Top Chef All-Stars” as there were no surprises as to who came out on top and who got dragged to the bottom—kicking and screaming all the way.
But before the “Wars” could begin, there was a little matter of a Quickfire Challenge for immunity and a special advantage. Anthony Bourdain met the chefs at Eric Ripert’s Le Bernardin restaurant and introduced them to Justo Thomas, the fish butcher at the restaurant (Anthony devoted an entire chapter of his book, “Medium Raw” to Justo’s skills.).
After watching Justo work, the chefs, of course, had to the same thing Justo did—filet and portion one cod and one fluke to his standards. Justo did it in eight minutes, but the cheftestants were given 10.
When the fish stopped flying, Fabio, Carla, Tiffany and Antonia were on the bottom, while Dale, Richard, Mike and Marcel were on the top. The top four were given 45 minutes to prepare a dish—but not with what they had portioned. Instead they had to use the leftover materials from the fish. Mike and Marcel immediately started fighting, which would foreshadow what was to come in the Elimination Challenge. When Anthony and Justo were done tasting the dishes, Dale got the win and immunity.
The chefs returned to the “Top Chef” kitchen to find “Top Chef Master” Ludo Lefebvre, who told them about his pop-up restaurants, i.e. restaurants with no permanent address that just “pop up” somewhere for a limited time. Padma then told the Chefs that their Elimination Challenge would be to divide into teams and open a pop-up restaurant in 24 hours. In other words, “Restaurant Wars” was on—all-star style.
Because he won the Quickfire, Dale was made one team captain and given the right to choose the other captain. Since he didn’t want to work with Marcel, Dale chose him. Marcel got to choose first and with Richard trying to hide, Marcel chose Angelo. So, of course, Dale chose Richard. Marcel then chose an unhappy Mike, Antonia and Tiffany. Dale chose Tre, Carla and Fabio, who Dale called the “steal of the draft” because of his front-of-the-house skills.
Padma announced that for the first time in “Top Chef” history, the diners would choose the winning restaurant.
The two teams huddled to discuss strategy and job duties and already trouble started for Team Marcel as he wanted to discuss concepts, while his teammates were ready to decide on dishes. On Team Dale, it was fairly obvious that Richard was taking the lead and Dale—with immunity and still stinging from his elimination after his season’s “Restaurant Wars”—let him. Team Dale went with a Bodega theme filled with Richard’s twists and Team Marcel decided to go Mediterranean inspired.
As the teams set out to set up their outdoor restaurants, Carla worried that Team Dale, now known as Bodega, was too quiet while Team Marcel, now called Etch, was anything but quiet. Marcel and Tiffany clashed over her dish, keeping her from devoting more time to her duties in the front of the house.
When service started, it didn’t get any better for Etch, as Tiffany started bringing dishes back to be re-cooked and Dana Cowin, the editor of “Food & Wine” magazine, basically trashed their food. Meanwhile, things took an ugly turn for Bodega, as Dale’s famous temper reared its ugly head when he yelled at the servers. But a cool and calm Fabio interceded and told Dale to be nice. If only Fabio had been there for Dale in season four, maybe Dale wouldn’t have been eliminated.
Padma, Tom, Anthony and Ludo showed up at Bodega and complimented nearly all of the dishes, as well as Fabio’s excellent service and direction of the servers. The diners, however, seemed to have some complaints about the food.
But over at Etch, it was the judges doing the complaining as Tiffany was not there to greet them. She then chose to work the room rather than checking on their dishes, leaving the judges waiting for their meals. Meanwhile in the kitchen, Mike was taking exception to the way Marcel was talking to him and Angelo had to intervene. When the food did come out, the judges were largely unimpressed.
When service was over, Marcel was insistent that Etch had done a great job, which prompted Antonia to say, “Are you on drugs?” Bodega was also confident, except for Richard, who was convinced they were in trouble. And Padma seemed to concur with his assessment when she asked for Etch to come to Judges’ Table first.
But it was a fake out as it became clear that the diners’ compliments of Etch were just an attempt by the show’s editors to cover up a landslide. Only 17 of the 76 diners favored Etch. Anthony went after Marcel, asking, “Why foam? Why now?” and telling him his dessert was “a thumb in the eye at the end of service.” The rest of the team was quiet about Marcel, until Marcel decided to strike against Mike. Then, it all came out as each team member criticized Marcel’s leadership in the kitchen. Angelo summed it up best when he said, “It was a s—t show.”
Etch returned to the stew room to inform Bodega they were the winners, which elicited a sigh of relief from Richard. At Judges’ Table, Tom told Bodega, “You guys killed it.” Dale said he was the executive chef, while Richard jumped in to take credit as “the technical advisor.” Carla told the judges that Richard “helped everybody elevate their dishes.” The judges recognized that as well and gave Richard the win and $10,000. Richard was surprised saying, “An hour ago, I thought I was going home.”
The judges deliberated, allowing Anthony one more zinger at Marcel, saying prison breaks were more organized than Etch was. When the judges rendered their final decision, it was no surprise when Padma told Marcel to pack his knives and go.
I haven’t always agreed with the judges this season, but letting Marcel go was absolutely the right call. However, as great as I think Richard is, I probably would’ve been tempted to give the win to Fabio for his mastery of the front of the house and his delicious dessert.
Next week, the final nine entertain special guest star Lorraine Bracco, who is always a fun addition to the show.