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When Bravo got 18 former contestants together for Top Chef: All Stars we thought it would be a fun lark with some good cooking and jocular competition. That's before the show went psycho on everyone—on the first day!
As soon as the chef's are finished arriving at their New York townhouse, greeting old friends, enemies, and rivals; patting each other on the backs of their snazzy new black coats (the Darth Vader of cooking attire); and settling back into this helter skelter cooking competition, they are greeted with it: their ultimate failure. Yes, each chef had to recreate the dish that got them eliminated, but do it well. This is a brilliant first challenge for this show because it made each chef confront their greatest fear—that they are all losers. Unlike all-star seasons of other shows, there isn't one winner in the bunch and, just like all inmates say that they're innocent, each of these contestants think they should have won. But they didn't. They are literally losers. The best of all the losers, but losers still and reminding them that they got cut from the show was an amazing stroke of planning.
But we're getting a little ahead of ourselves. Naturally the episode started with a "meet the contestants" sort of segment but, being all stars, most regular viewers already know the chefs, their cooking styles, their personalities, and their flaws. It's helpful when there are this many contestants because you immediately remember who you like, who you hate, who is skilled, and who should be flipping fake potato pancakes at a Denny's in Mahwah. And many of these contestants made it to the finals and many of them are quite skilled, which is also exciting. Most reality shows are marred by "dead weight," the contestants you can clearly see aren't talented enough to win and will get cut in the first several weeks. It makes the initial slog of any show difficult and predictable.
Not here! Everyone is a winner—or thinks they are. For the quickfire everyone has to cook with the other members of their season and come up with a dish that says something about the city where their season was filmed. Of the losers the most offensive was season four which has three of my favorites, Carla "Hootie-Hoo," Jamie the hot lesbian, and Fabio, looking greasier and more Italian than ever with his long hair. They made a "trio of apples" to symbolize New York. The concept was stupid, and I hate a threeway. It's like if your boss said, "Do this one big project," and you complete your work but say, "Fuck you, that was a bad idea. I did three projects instead." You would get your ass fired faster than Tony Bourdain runs to a Thai brothel.
The winner was the Chicago season who made some sort of hot dog that wasn't a hot dog that had mustard ice cream. It looked like something an 8-year-old puked up at Wrigley Field. Nasty. Also, they had the most members, so that is sort of unfair. Whatever, they all got immunity.
Then was the big reveal. Padma said, "You all suck. You bitches have to make the shitty ass dish that got you kicked off in the first place, and don't fuck it up again or America will laugh at you. Also, you're not as good as you think you are." Well, that's not what she said with her mouth, but it's what she said with her heavy-lidded eyes.
So they cook. Cook, cook, cook. It was kind of boring. We don't watch this show for cooking. (Well, maybe some of you people do, but I made a vow in the late '90s to eat nothing more than orange Tic-Tacs, asparagus, and steam for the rest of my life so all of these culinary techniques they're always talking about are foreign to me. However, I look amazing.) What we do watch for is drama, and we got it in spatulas (which is how cooks say "in spades). The chefs would be cooking at The Russian Tea Room, notable for being the set of a Gossip Girl episode where an annoying brat was kidnapped by a Russian mafioso. Because the kitchen was so small the chefs would cook in two groups. While one group was cooking, the other group would be eating the competition's food. Me likey!
Cook, cook, cook; boring, boring, boring, now it's time to eat. Oh wait, what is that I hear? It sounds like strange voices coming from a nook in the kitchen. It's a television. Who is on the television? Oh, it's the judges and the other chefs talking about the food their eating! I don't know if Top Chef has done the reality world a favor and started hiring producers at S/M conferences, but this was a stroke of maniacal genius. Now these chefs hear what the judges are saying but also what the other contestants are saying, and they have no clue that they're on tape. Silly chefs, did you think all those TV cameras were there for show? And just like that, a Russian mafioso arrived and robbed them all of their decency, just like Gossip Girl.
Both groups of chefs got the raw end of this deal. Group one was probably more honest than they would have been if they knew they were being watched, but group two then had to sit with the judges who just dissed their dishes. And they were probably so pissed at what group one had to say that they were more cruel than they would have been otherwise. Oh, such devilish genius at play.
Cook, cook, cook; boring, boring, boring; bitch, bitch, bitch—and we're at judges table. Oh, speaking of judges when did Anthony Bourdain become "Tony?" Was it when he bought the Bada Bing? Was it when he started endorsing Frosted Flakes? Was it when he fell in love with Chachi? Oh, that was Jonie. Names are not like Thai prostitutes where you can go from one to the other and back and forth back and forth all night. No, you have to pick one name and stick to it, OK?
Alright, judges table. The top top chefs of Top Chef Tippity Top All-Star Edition of Stars! are annoying Spike, Jamie the hot lesbian, and possible sociopath Angelo Sosa. Spike made scallop ceviche, which is like the prototypical Top Chef dish. They love a scallop and they love a ceviche. I have never eaten either (since neither contain Tic-Tacs, aspargus, or steam), and now I don't think I will. Jamie had to remake some fish and celery dish that was created by foodie Jesus Eric Ripert. It looked nasty, but I love Jamie because she's hot and gay and spunky and has better hair and more tattoos than last we saw her and I say those make her better but not any more dykey because the good hair balances out the tattoos. Angelo, who has a look in his eyes like he knows way too much about shipping containers full of barely-legal women, made pork belly. What is up with so many people getting thrown out for pork belly? Hopefully now everyone has learned their lesson and won't make it anymore. Kitchen MacGuyver Richard Blais was also on top for making something that resembled food out of a paper clip, two coffee filters, and a bit of tarter sauce in a Long John Silver's packet. But he took too long to make it and got disqualified. Angelo won, and he put his palms together and tapped his fingers and said "Excellent." Suddenly he had a monocle and it was all very strange.
As for the bottom Top Chefs, we had greasy Fabio, Marion Cotillard's younger sister Elia, and Stephen. Ugh, Stephen. I fucking hate that Large Lord Fauntleroy Stephen with his spread colors and Italian knots and his nose about 27 degrees too high in the air to be acceptable. If Stephen were a dish, his main ingredient would be smarm. He had to make three Chinese dessert from his season's version of restaurant wars, and they looked nastier than the Singapore Chow Mai Fung my roommate had from Fu Xing last night. He should have taken his puffy personage and just gone the fuck home to swirl wine in the bottom of the glass and rearrange his collection of Donald Trump brand neckties.
Fabio made some thing that looked like a pizza put in a blender and served it on paper. When
Anthony Tony Bourdain called him out on it, he got all indignant and Chef Boyardee said, "What-a you care-a about the-a paper? Don't-a make-a fun of me. If-a you did this-a out-a-side-a my restaurant, me and my-a friend Guido-a would mess-a uppa your face!" Tony Bourdain laughed and then sent his Thai hooker to get him another glass of scotch.
Elia, whose sister was so good in Inception, doesn't know how to steam fish, and she made it poorly again. But she had on such a chic outfit, and her hair has grown out so nicely. She really is just pretty and classy. She's like the lyrics to "Ma Vie en Rose" sculpted together and made into a person. Too bad she can't cook fish. After getting reamed by the judges she said, "S'il vous plaît ne pas me renvoyer chez moi. J'ai encore beaucoup à prouver. Je suis mieux que ce poisson de merde je viens de faire. Et regardez, je porte une jolie robe et si vous me garder près, je vais avoir ma sœur Marion Cotillard se présenter et vous dire de gagner un Oscar!"
It didn't work, Padma said, "Bitch, who you trying to fool? Your fish sucked, your hair sucks, and I just don't need any women prettier than me around here because I still have a little bit of baby weight and postpartum depression and you make me feel bad. Comprez-VOOS?"
And just like that, Elia was a loser for a second time for the same dish. She cried a little and she packed up her things, but deep inside she was psychologically crushed. She thought she would be a finalist again. She thought she would go all the way to the top. She thought it would be just like season two when she beat out all these other people who trained at the Waffle House in Poughkeepsie. But no, this was Top Chef Tipitty Tipitty to the Tip Top Top All-Stiggity Stars edition. There were no line chefs in this universe, just a big galaxy full of stars. And when she pushed open that kitchen door to make her exit, her head bowed a little bit and her hand raised up to her mouth like a little bird launching from one branch to another. And a little sound came out of her mouth, un petit warble, a warble she thought would be a song sounding out loud against he night sky. But no, it just faltered and died, flapping its wings furiously as it was smothered out by the noise of the stars.