Top Chef All-Stars: Contestant Preview
By Kim Hollis and David Mumpower
December 1, 2010
Tiffany Derry: When we recapped a few episodes of Season 7, we were (too) vocal about our dissatisfaction with the overall competition that season. There was one notable exception and her name was Tiffany Derry, a woman planning a wedding who wanted to get Bravo to foot as much of the bill as possible. Derry could have paid for next year’s royal wedding of Prince William with the money she earned during Season 7. She won two Quickfires and two elimination challenges, all of them garnering cash as the first place prize. Then, Tiffany tried to honor the integrity of a NASA-based challenge and was quite arbitrarily eliminated for it, one of the most shocking results in the history of the show. In a pretty lousy season of chefs, the two that were invited to All-Stars are both ridiculously skilled with Tiffany proving herself more consistent than the other one.
Tiffani Faison: Although Tiffani was one of the cast members of that first season, where the show was getting established and before it became a sensation, she had a solid season that saw her get to the final against Harold Dieterle. Yes, she was a low finisher three times in elimination challenges, but she also had two elimination wins, a quickfire win, and finished in the upper tier for elimination challenges on three other occasions. She’s somewhat of a frustrating contestant, as it’s clear that she does have talent, but she also has some self-destructive tendencies as well as a tendency to, well, nag. The infamous line “I’m not your bitch, bitch” came when she pestered Dave Martin to the point that he blew up at her. Still, we know that she is highly respected by the likes of Tom Colicchio, Daniel Boulud and Todd English, and she has returned for two separate Top Chef specials and finished on the top spot in each one of them. Here’s hoping that she’s learned better how to play nicely with others – one of the primary reasons she is believed to have lost out to Dieterle is that the contestants assigned to be her sous-chefs in the final round expressed their opinion that working with her had been miserable and that they believed Harold was more deserving of the win.
Carla Hall: The most heartbreaking aspect of season 5 was watching Carla Hall implode during the finale. The classically trained French chef showed tremendous poise and confidence in her craft by suppressing the urge to overachieve. This may seem like a trivial accomplishment; it’s not. Many Top Chef contestants have been eliminated due to their self-esteem needs making them attempt to create dishes outside their skill set. Occam’s Razor applies here. Food is supposed to taste good. When a chef loses sight of that in their attempt to create a legendary dish, an inedible meal is the frequent result. Carla had the belief in her abilities to ignore such temptations. All she did was deliver delicious meal after delicious meal, much to the frustration of other chefs who kept getting beaten by what they felt was inferior due to its basic nature. The judges kept siding with Carla on the point, which is why she won two Quickfire and three elimination challenges prior to the final meal. At that point, sous-chef Casey Thompson of Season 3 talked Carla into using a technique with which she had no experience. Her initial attempt to sous-vide her protein was predictably lacking in skill. This ultimately cost her the title of Top Chef, unfortunate since she was the clear favorite heading into the finale. This is a particularly interesting turn of events since Casey is also competing on Top Chef. Whether there is any lingering resentment over the finale remains to be seen. What is clear about Carla is that she makes simple food that tastes great. We do find ourselves wondering if that will be enough for the judges this go around, though. What helped her in the past may be deemed too basic in a competition of the best of the best of Top Chef. Then again, she may continue to infuriate others by making delicious food while they overreach.
Mike Isabella: Hearsay is a factor when we evaluate the respective chefs. When someone like a Voltaggio brother considers Mike Isabella a brother in arms, that means more to us. Talent tends to cluster and water tends to find its level, by which we mean that the Voltaggios know the other chefs who can keep up with them. If they consider Isabella to be such a person, that is the culinary equivalent of praise from Caesar. We are taking this into consideration when we look at Mike’s body of work during Season 6. With only two Quickfire wins and no elimination challenge victories to his credit, he doesn’t look like a top flight contender. There is where the degree of difficulty of the chef’s season comes into play. Who is to say that Mike would not have dominated Seasons 1, 3 or 5 if he had been on one of those instead? We said at the time that we thought Mike was clearly the fifth best chef yet he only finished seventh during Season 6, losing to rather dreadful chef/mortal enemy Robin. How does that translate to Angelo’s success in Season 7? This has been the source of much debate. We –think- Angelo is a slightly better chef but we will not be surprised if Mike proves otherwise. What would shock us is the idea that Jen and Mike are early eliminations during Top Chef All Stars. That would actually reduce Season 6 a bit retroactively from our point of view. Fortunately, we envision little chance of that occurring.