Word of Mouth

Top Chef All-Stars: Life's a beach!

Something weird and vampiric is happening to Mike Isabella and Richard Blais on Top Chef: Mike is getting chubbier and cockier by the week, while Richard shrinks visibly, becoming ever thinner and more irritable, muttering that he hates, hates, hates everything he cooks -- and this after receiving praise from the judges for his food. He's here to win, says Michael. He's here to win, says Richard.

At this point, I don't much care who wins, though I entertain a sneaking hope it'll be Antonia. Because she seems calm and competent and, despite several wins this season, she's been so consistently underestimated by bloggers and their coterie of commentators -- I'm guessing because she's female and not very flamboyant.

Not that Antonia did well last night.

The contestants are now in the Bahamas. For the Quickfire, they had to cook against the winning chefs from their respective seasons, which meant that Kevin, Stephanie, Colorado's Hosea Rosenberg and man of iron Michael Voltaggio were back. Hosea beat an increasingly flustered Carla; Tiffany won against Kevin; Antonia and Richard both cooked against Stephanie, and both won. And Mike beat Michael.

Repeat: Mike Isabella beat Michael Voltaggio. Grinning irrepressibly, cheeks visibly inflating, he savored the news, while Richard's countenance darkened by the second.

It was nice to see the old winners, and I'd liked to have seen quite a bit more of them -- what are they doing now? What are they thinking? But all they got to say was that they were there to win -- imagine! -- and then they cooked and were whisked off. Though Hosea did manager to mutter about answering the "haters," who didn't think he deserved his season's win. I'm with him on that: I can never quite figure out the certainty with which bloggers pronounce on the merits of cooks whose food they've never personally eaten, particularly given how little serious analysis the dishes get on the show.

The chefs were told that the Elimination Challenge involved cooking for Bahamian royalty (was Queen Elizabeth on her way, I wondered), and their thoughts turned toward the refined and upscale. But the royalty in question was the king of an extraordinary Bahamian festival called Junkanoo -- something like Mardi Gras. The king ate with the judges and his comments were thoughtful and good-humored, but we never learned anything about the tradition, or even the man's name. He and his cohorts apparently served just as decoration.

The chefs had a hard time. A deep fryer caught fire, and the food they'd prepped was lost. Antonia and Richard decided to change their dishes; the others stuck with theirs. Mike won again. Richard's dish was the second favorite, but he was furious with himself, anyway.

Tiffany, Carla and Antonia stood before the judges facing elimination. Antonia's shrimp was overcooked, and her dish simply hadn't come together. Tiffany had made an entree that was tasty but uninteresting. Carla's pork medallions were unevenly cooked, and the rest of the dish too sweet. (I checked out Carla's winning chicken pot pie recipe on the Top Chef site, and it called for two tablespoons of sugar in the crust -- much too much for my taste, so I'm thinking she might be a little overfond of sweet.)

And it was Carla who was sent home. She accepted her elimination with intelligence and grace.

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Juliet Wittman is an investigative reporter and critic with a passion for theater, literature, social justice and food. She has reviewed theater for Westword for over a decade; for many years, she also reviewed memoirs for the Washington Post. She has won several journalism awards and published essays and short stories in literary magazines. Her novel, Stocker's Kitchen, can be obtained at select local bookstores and on Amazon.
Contact: Juliet Wittman