Last night marked the end of an epic season of Top Chef, with a satisfying face-off between longtime favorite Richard Blais and goofy underdog Mike Isabella. Who took home the win? Read on for our thoughts on the episode as well as a reveal of the Top Chef All-Star!
A glimpse into the future: Tom and Padma give the two competitors their simple challenge: serve a four-course tasting menu from the restaurant of their dreams. Each chef will pick three sous chefs from the roster of eliminated chefs, but instead of making their picks straight out — which would be largely based on personality — they must do blind tasting of amuse-bouche prepared by the contenders and pick based on their three favorite dishes. Interesting! Both have favorites and oh-please-not-him picks (ahem, Marcel), but they both end up with teams they're generally happy with. Richard picks Spike, Angelo and Antonia, while Mike ends up with Tiffani, Jamie and Carla.
"Chef" means "boss": The chefs have just five hours to make their meals, and what strikes us is how mostly calm and in control both Mike and Richard seem. While Mike doesn't want a lot of input from his sous chefs on the components of his menu, he is confident in the kitchen, giving instructions without seeming tyrannical. Richard complains about his decision to put several proteins on each plate, but he too keeps things moving smoothly in the kitchen. We like that they both have a respect for each other, which restricts the drama to the plate and keeps the competition about the cooking.
Dessert, always a downfall: Richard scraps his original plan to make a Momofuku-esque Cap'n Crunch ice cream and decides to make foie gras ice cream instead. Big mistake. The ice cream maker spits out sad little beige chunks that look too much like cat food to be very appetizing. Mike's rosemary caramel custard fares a little better, though Tom thinks it is improperly cooked. If you were on the Top Chef finale, wouldn't you make sure you could make one really fantastic dessert perfectly? Dessert doesn't have to be a disaster!
Tongue & Cheek vs. Restaurant Iz: We're a little confused by the name of Richard's restaurant and wonder if he doesn't know the phrase is "tongue in cheek." Mike's name, however, makes total sense. We can almost see it emblazoned on an Ed Hardy t-shirt. But we digress — onto the meal! Both sets of judges seem equally pleased with the dishes at both restaurants and at Judges' Table Tom pronounces it the best food they've had in any finale. The stand-out dishes included Richard's raw hamachi with fried sweetbreads, his pork belly with black cod, Mike's halibut with kumquat marmalade and pork shoulder with pepperoni sauce. "Pepperoni sauce..." Gail keeps saying, stopping just short of a Homer Simpson drool.
Minutes away from an absolute emotional breakdown: After service, Mike is all smiles, while Richard is his usual anxious self. When their family members appear in the stew room, Richard barely gives his uncle a hug. At Judges' Table, both chefs are commended for their meals, minus the desserts, and guest judge Hubert Keller says it is going to be a difficult decision. When the announcement finally comes, in front of a small crowd of eliminated chefs and smiling family members, Richard can finally breathe a sigh of relief. He's the winner!
Richard has undoubtedly been one of the most talented, innovative contestants on Top Chef and though he wasn't our number-one pick for the season, we're happy he finally brought home the title.
What do you think? Do you think the win was deserved or were you rooting for Mikey Isabella?
Related: Top Chef All-Stars: The (Second to) Last Supper