Top Chef: All-Stars Recap
By David Mumpower and Kim Hollis
December 2, 2010
After seven seasons proving itself as the best reality show on television, Top Chef has finally acquiesced to the frequent requests of fans by providing us with an All-Star season. The one notable catch here is that none of the seven winners of the show will participate. Instead, all of the returning contestants have something in common. They made a deep run in the game only to fall short at the end. In fact, almost half of the participants in Top Chef All Stars made it to the season finale of their respective competitions with a handful almost winning. What this means is that we have a deep roster of accomplished chefs who all have a chip on their shoulder due to their near-triumphs that fell just short.
The other aspect of this season that should make for great television is that all of the All-Stars are known commodities. The first time they competed, each of the 18 players was largely an unknown with whom the judges had no preconceived notions about their cooking. Now, some of them are as much as four years removed from their first appearance on Top Chef. There have been countless get-togethers and PR events wherein they have hung out with the judges, forming a bond over time. Once their time on Top Chef was done, they stopped being contestants and started being friends to Tom Colicchio, Padma Lakshmi, Gayle Simmons and returning celebrity judge Anthony Bourdain. People like Richard Blais, Fabio Viviani, Tiffani Faison, and Carla Hall have become key presences on Bravo TV’s interactive web site. They are established chefs who have earned the respect of their peers. How will they react when Tom and Padma, people they now consider friends, tell them that their dishes suck? For that matter, will Tom and the other judges hold back some due to their familial attitudes toward many of the players? This is a strange new dynamic that should make the show even more engaging.
The season begins with the introduction of the players as they all arrive at the $7.3 million Brooklyn Bridge penthouse where they will be residing during the season. Even by previous Top Chef standards, they have luxurious accommodations this season. Since many of the contestants are fledgling celebrities in their own right now (just ask Spike Mendelsohn to talk about himself…he’ll never shut up), they deserve a little bit of pampering. Of course, with the luxury comes the nerves. Almost everyone participating in the competition seems to be feeling a bit insecure about their place among the combined culinary greatness there. Also, everyone reinforces the idea that Marcel is a jerk. Seriously, that guy is less popular than the Unabomber.
First to arrive is Tiffani, who cannot wait to tell us how she was “neck and neck” for the first season’s championship. We remember Harold as being night and day better than her, but somehow we doubt we’d ever be able to convince her of that. Next up is fellow first season contestant Stephen Asprinio, who is dressed with the finest in London fashion…Victorian London, that is. Dude looks like he’s going to an audition to play Jack the Ripper. We are vaguely disappointed that he wearing glasses instead of the more obvious choice, the monocle. If Stephen got any more pretentious, he’d be an M. Night Shyamalan film. We have such a love/hate feeling toward him because we honestly do not think he is putting on airs. This is who he is, a smirking patrician, and he just goes with it rather than try to be someone he is not. That’s almost admirable…but not quite. The one interesting revelation here is that Stephen has been working the front of the house recently, meaning he is out of practice with his knives. Against these 17 opponents, that’s probably a deal-breaker.