To thoroughly enjoy the glory that is Top Chef All-Stars, we welcome comedian Max Silvestri, who will be here every week to take us through the season.
Bravo is Judas, Pontius Pilate, and the Pharisees rolled into one. Didn't Christ at least have the courtesy to die after his last supper? What an insulting title and theme for last night's episode! Bravo has already jerked us around and extended this season seemingly into infinity and beyond, and they somehow have the gall to call the needlessly penultimate episode "The Last Supper." Why don't you just go ahead and call it "This Is The Last One Max Needs To Recap" and really rub it in? Also, maybe I am misremembering my Biblical history, but I don't remember Pontius Pilate pulling out a trick envelope and making Jesus wait a week. But then again I have only skimmed the New Testament.
Mike, Antonia, and Blais — our three remaining cheftestapants — head to the kitchen. A very yellow Padma and a very small Wolfgang Puck greet the chefs. Puck says, "Make a very expensive airport salad that will keep 'fresh' for up to three weeks. Put an orange in it and then say it's Asian." I am kidding you, Wolfgang. But I have been burned many times by your connecting flight bistro options and I'm never letting it happen again.
Padma says, "Today will be different than anything you've experienced in the past." Then the five of them all start kissing. No, Padma was being dramatic. What she means is this challenge will actually be a lot like other Quickfires but with slightly more complicated rules. And boy how the rules are complicated. Like, I needed reams of scrap paper last night just to keep up. I'd run down everything she is talking about but I'd need you guys to download multiple Visio documents and I'm not sure all your Gateway computers have Visio installed on them. Puck actually says, "Sometimes dee simplest challenges are dee toughest vons." This challenge will be easy, then, because it is the opposite of simple.
There are a bunch of "classic" Quickfire challenges laid out on the table: tacos, hot dogs, etc. Mike won last week's Elimination Challenge, so he gets to assign one of the challenges first. He makes Antonia cook exclusively with canned goods, then Antonia makes Richard cook with packaged hot dogs, and Blais makes Mike do the "One Pot" challenge. Antonia questions Blais' logic. She doesn't see that challenge as all that difficult, because it allows Mike to use every ingredient in the pantry. Blais remembers Mike one time wishing he had lots of saute pans. You must fill up so many notebooks with all your clues, Blais!
I bet at this point in my recap you are disappointed I don't have more rules to explain. "My love of lists of ingredients is matched only by my passion for television rules." Fret no longer, because here are more rules. Padma pops back into the kitchen during prep to assign a classic Top Chef twist. So classic! I love going on road trips and scanning through stations and then coming across a classic Top Chef twist. It's like putting on an old pair of trick jeans.
There is more assigning of twists. Blais says no more utensils for Mike, Antonia ties one of Blais's hands behind his bike, and Miss Carla shows up to go potato-sack-race with Antonia. Hi Carla! Aw, she is so nice. I suppose it's a treat to have Carla back but she's only been gone for two weeks and the wounds are so fresh they can't reopen yet, or something. I know a lot about medicine. It's pretty cool my hospital lets me take the day off to work on these recaps, but you know, we all took an oath.
It seems like Blais blew his chance a second time here. We could argue all day about the One Pot call (haha let's not), but with a dish you are making in a single pot there is not nearly as much call for utensils. Mike was already mostly done, and his salad was cut, so other than having to squish from fruit, he's fine. Think, Richy! It can't just come from here, it has to come from here. (Imagine I was pointing to his heart and then to his brain for that last sentence.)
Puck and Lakshmi (which sounds like a British detective drama I would watch) taste the dishes. Blais' currywurst on homemade roti bread is a bit too close to ketchup. Wolfgang's kids might like it. (Yikes, ya' burnt.)
Antonia made a curry coconut soup with andouille sausage and peanuts and also other things. Bold flavors! Mr. Puck likes that. He also very much liked Mike's pork shoulder with black beans and chili paste.
Mike takes the win, the final Quickfire of all their Top Chef careers. What is a Top Chef career? I don't know. I mean, I hope it's all their last Quickfire? The Real World just got picked up for a 27th and 28th season, so maybe in a few years there will be an endless string of Top Chef/Project Runway Challenge seasons where they all live in a house and get wasted and punch each other and they are famous for only that. Let's hope! Michael Voltaggio is such a CT.
The three chefs meet some special guests at the cloisters: Wolfgang Puck again, alongside Michelle Bernstein and Masaharu Morimoto. Antonia says some vaguely xenophobic stuff about Morimoto. She is scared of him because he's foreign and quiet, mostly, a " Japanese warrior." I bet he knows karate, right Antonia? Be quiet.
Our contestants must create a last supper for these three culinary icons, because after tonight, all three culinary icons will be dead. Who will kill them? Figuring that out is the Elimination Challenge. Actually, no one is going to die, and this show isn't over yet, so the only thing that actually deserves a Last Supper is my spirit.
Mr. Isabella has dramatically ramped up the intensity of his gameplay. He's got lots of momentum. With two Elimination Challenge wins, a Quickfire win, it's quickly becoming his competition to lose, despite the seeming inevitability of a Blais All Star victory. And Mike doesn't want to win on defense; he wants to take it, and to take it from Richard Blais, whom even he agrees is one of the best Top Chefs of all time. (What does that even mean?) Therefore Mike assigns Antonia to cook Morimoto's last supper, knowing it will be the hardest. He wants her gone, because he wants to take down Blais in the finale. Way to go, Mike! I don't know if I actually believe any of this, but the rhetoric is certainly rousing, and I am genuinely appreciating the drama it's adding to the finale. Blais gets Wolfgang Puck, and Mike, having disappointed Michelle Bernstein the last time he served her, volunteers to prepare her meal.
Wolfgang describes his favorite childhood meal: goulash, spaetzle and strudel. Blais becomes worried, because Blais is always worried: they aren't allowed recipes, and he doesn't know how to make strudel. You know, that is a very impressive part of this competition that doesn't get talked about much. These guys can't double check anything on the Internet! All they have is their notebooks filled with diagrams of stuff for Mike to steal. Morimoto explains how his mother would sort rice before cooking so it would all match, serving it alongside miso soup and pickles and a piece of sashimi. Mike and Michelle talk about fried chicken and biscuits on the edge of a bird bath.
All three chefs are violently anxious about this meal. Antonia is crying and laughing and I think feeling sad about her first ever boyfriend? Let it go, girl. Blais could make himself throw up if he wanted to, which is probably always the case. "Gross," says Isabella, the man with an eyeball tattoo on his hand.
After some focused prepping, it is time for dinner. Gail, Padma, and Tom join the three iconic chefs who are about to die, alongside the author/photographer of "The Last Supper" Melanie Dunea. That book is about chefs sharing their ideal final meals. (Mine would be a pill that makes me immortal and 100% resistant to any and all type of bodily or mental injury. Bam! Gotcha. I wish for a thousand wishes.) Now, this actually sounds like an interesting book, the kind I would never buy but might flip through while using the bathroom at a Barnes & Noble. But how'd Melanie get this gig, having an entire final episode of Top Chef built around her own book's premise? Good work, her publicist.
Antonia is up first, facing the Japanese warrior. This is a rough challenge. Japanese cuisine is all about simplicity, and about great product. And instead Antonia hits everybody over the head with flavor. Vinegar, salt, Scotch Bonnet peppers: it leaves Morimoto disappointed.
Mike went bolder on his interpretation of fried chicken, biscuits, and gravy. He packs an egg into an empanada to simulate the biscuit, but his sous vide chicken doesn't quite work out. The skin slides right off, and it's not as juicy as the judges would like. MIchelle appreciated it though. She thinks wistfully back to her and Mike's time by the bird bath and says "Mike grasped a lot of the parts of what I told him." Whoa. I bet he did.
Blais's dish hits the hardest: it's a beef goulash with spaetzle and frozen sour cream and an apple strudel with tarragon cream. He hits the right balance of giving Chef Puck what he wants but also filtering it through his modern techniques. It's enough to get him a pass to the final round. He is relieved. Because he's Blais. He never has to hear Padma say "Pack your knife and go" again.
Either Antonia or Mike will go home. Remember that envelope from earlier? You probably don't, because I didn't mention it. There was an envelope earlier. Now they open it. One last challenge to see who claims the final spot: 45 minutes to go back in the kitchen and make the seven diners one perfect bite.
This becomes a battle of creativity versus execution. All season long, Antonia has prepared simpler food than some of the other contestants, but she's prepared it well enough and it's brought her win after win as well as a spot in the top three. She puts together grouper with a coconut curry. Mike decides to take premium product and bring some very strong, possibly strange flavors to the table. He's tempura lobster over beef tartare with caramelized olives and a chimichurri sauce.
How do the judges feel? It is a split, with the final vote going to Wolfgang. A 4-3 divide! It could not be closer. I mean, it could be closer. A judge could have decided to blow up the building rather than pick just one winner, but that didn't happen. Today, creativity won out over execution.
Antonia is heading home. Mike says goodbye to his cousin, and Antonia sadly feels like her first boyfriend is breaking up with her all over again. Mike's plan worked, and the finale comes down to Isabella Versus Blais, just like God In Heaven intended.
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