City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
City & State or ZIP
City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
City & State or ZIP

Top Chef All-Stars finale recap: One Chef to rule them all

Credit: Bravo TV

Credit: Bravo TV

Well gang, we finally made it. Unless Bravo decides the extend tonight’s episode to next week for a sudden death round of blindfolded kumquat julienning, we will finally crown the Top Chefs of Top Chefs.

This finale is all business. We start things off with Richard lamenting about how he wishes that Mike had lost because he’d rather go up against Antonia. Mike is raring to go, confident that he can beat Blais, and Richard is concerned because Mike came back to the Bahamas as a stronger chef creatively, which used to be Richard’s advantage.


There is no Quickfire this week. Instead, Padma and Tom explain to the chefs “your last challenge contains no twists or turns…we want you to create for us the restaurant of your dreams.” It is going to be a four-course tasting menu showdown for the title.

Back at the suite, Richard and Mike argue about who is the underdog. I wasn’t sure who to believe less…Richard, because he is so obviously NOT the underdog, despite what the voices in his head tell him or Mike, who so obviously thinks that he is the best thing to slice bread since…well…sliced bread.

Then they turn to the most obvious conversation that they should be having – who among the rest of the cast are they going to choose as their sous chef?


HA! I wonder how Tom and Padma sleep at night with the blatant lies they just told?!

While the finalists stew over their Top Chef All-Stars Losers Sous-Draft, Padma informs the rest of the cast that they must whip up an amuse bouche for Richard and Mike which will decide who will be working and who will be playing on jetskis.

Did anyone notice that Marcel was wearing sunglasses in the kitchen? How is it possible that he became more of a tool in the off-season?

TWIST # 1: The first twist is that we told you that there wouldn’t be any twists! BOOM!

TWIST # 2: And you have to try 16 different amuses in a blind tasting, and select your three favorites, who will be your sous chefs. So much for keeping this one straightforward.

Watching Mike and Richard sniff their way through the dishes to try to figure out which one belongs to Marcel and Jaime is hilarious. At least Jaime thought ahead and didn’t make something involving scallop…that would have been a dead giveaway.

Spike’s snarky comment about having jetski reservations couldn’t have been more perfectly edited timed, as he is Richard’s first pick. Here are the teams:

Team Blais: Spike, Angelo, and Antonia

Team Mike: Tiffani, Carla, and Jai…BWAHAHAH!! Excuse me…let me compose myself….and Jaime.

The chefs have an hour to plan and five hours to cook for the judges and 70 guests. Richard names his dream restaurant “Tongue & Cheek” and Mike goes with “Restaurant Iz.”

As the chefs start menu planning with their teams, I’m glad to see that neither chef compromises their vision for their restaurants. I’m so sick of hearing about how someone went home because they let their sous chef bully them into doing something they didn’t want to do. No excuses this time.

The guys didn’t give me a lot of snark-fodder while they worked – both Mike and Richard were running a tight ship. Mike actually seemed to be more in control than Richard, but given some of Tom’s comments later in the show, I think that may have been editing.

I’ll save you some time and sum up the confessional commentary:

Richard: I blew it before, and I’m pretty sure that I’m going to do it again.


Editing or not, Richard struggled with indecision a little more than Mike, particularly with his extra amuse course and his dessert. I know… I was just as shocked as anyone to see Blais second-guess himself. He just couldn’t decide which Flip Burger milkshake he wanted to replicate. Should it be Cap’n Crunch ice cream or foie gras ice cream? Should he include the amuse course, or scrap it? It’s almost enough to make a guy pull his hair until it stands straight up. Permanently.

The judges split into two teams, meaning two rounds of tastings. Richard makes a genius move by utilizing one of his sous chefs’ greatest strengths: Spike is still “the craftiest mother-bleeper who has ever been on this show” and Richard employs him as both front-of-house and spy during the tasting. Spike’s recon work turns out to be a game changer.

The Food:

Tongue & Cheek (#teamblais)-

Amuse: Raw oyster with crème fraiche pearls and salsa verde

1st course: Raw hamachi with fried veal sweetbreads, garlic mayonnaise, and pickled celery

2nd course: Pork belly, black cod cutlet, bone marrow, beets, Brussels sprouts, and kumquat

3rd course: Beef short rib with mushrooms, red cabbage marmalade, and celery root horseradish puree

4th course: Cornbread with foie gras ice cream and whipped mango

Restaurant Iz (Mike)-

1st course: Spiced beet salad with mozzarella, truffle, and chocolate vinaigrette

2nd course: Halibut with kumquat marmalade, cauliflower puree, and pancetta crumbs

3rd course: Braised pork shoulder with pepperoni sauce, roasted cabbage, and turnips

4th course: Rosemary caramel custard and pine nuts with citrus, celery, and apple

Tom drops multiple “best I’ve had on this show” comments about Mike’s food, specifically the halibut and the pork. While no one was that excited about his first course of the beet salad, everyone was impressed and perplexed by the chocolate vinaigrette, but his dessert was improperly executed and had textural issues.

Richard’s food all goes over well, especially his amuse, hamachi, and black cod dishes. The short rib lacked creativity, but was perfectly executed and extremely tasty. Unfortunately, the crumbly texture of the foie gras ice cream turned off all of the judges during round one. I can’t say I blame them…I’m an absolute sucker for foie gras, but that looked like cat food. Fortunately, Spike’s fedora was hovering behind the table and gives Richard some food intel about the judge’s reaction, and he tweaks the dish for round two.

We rush through round two of the tastings, with little detailed commentary from either side.


This is just a big ole’ love fest. Both chefs get a lot of praise, deservedly so. I would kill to have had a seat at those tables…the food looked fantastic. Padma asks the chefs to sum up why they think they deserve to win top chef.

Mike: (paraphrased due to slight rambling) “I wanted to cook for you and show you what I’ve become and who I am…my wife supports me, this would mean the world to me, and I’ll probably break down if I keep talking.”

Sidenote: Am I the only one that did a double take when Mike said that he is married?

Richard: “This is the biggest professional moment of my career. For me, it would mean my own restaurant…<pauses to compose himself>…As chefs, sometimes you have to do things because of money and finances* and this would give me the opportunity to do what I want to do as a chef.”

Back in the stew room, it becomes another “no you’re going to win”, “No, seriously dude, YOU’RE going to win” compliment-off. In walk the family members, sans Richard’s uber-pregnant wife, and everyone hugs and kisses.

So here we are. It all comes down to this. The judges were split between the dishes, awarding each chef two of the four courses. I’m going to stop pretending that you all don’t know what happened, because if you live in Atlanta, the cat is probably already out of the bag.


I’m going to toss aside any semblance of objectivity, and say that I’m ecstatic over this. The tone of this post would have probably been very different had things not worked out this way. This is how it should have gone down. Not just because Richard is obviously the better overall chef, but because I live in Atlanta and that $200K that Richard just won will give me the chance to eat his food that isn’t served on a bun.

Congrats Mr. Blais. You earned it.

Notes & Quotes:

If you didn’t stay up to watch the live post show, you missed some seriously amazing stuff. Everyone, particularly Mike and Jen C, was HAMMERED. Mike was about 7 cocktails deep, eyes half-cocked, while Jen was heckling Andy Cohen and breaking wine glasses from off-camera. Granted, Cohen is insufferable as a talk show host, but he runs the network, so what are you gonna do?

“Always a bridesmaid, never a bride.” – Richard

“I mean, the one person that you don’t want is Jaime. Not just because she’s Jaime, but because she’s slow.” – Mike I

“I’m gonna beat Richard, I’m a better cook than he is. Period.” – Mike

“I tasted that before I tasted Richard’s” – Tom


*Flip Burger

- By Jon Watson, Food & More blog


- Jon Watson writes about Popular Eats for the AJC Dining Team. He also publishes his own blog, Live To Feast

46 comments Add your comment


March 31st, 2011
4:49 am

Congrats Richard. Well deserved win for sure. You made my niece look like a genius when she picked you to win. What I liked best about the post show was the response to some of those challenges. What was the hardest challenge? Mike: restaurant wars because he had to cook alongside Marcel. What top chef winner would you want to face? Richard: Mike V. ( and I like that because I consider him the top of top chef). Fan fav went to Carla. Grata to all.

Dunwoody Don

March 31st, 2011
7:20 am

My wife suggested that Richard rename his restaurant “Tongue & Chic.”

Carla Roqs

March 31st, 2011
7:43 am

jon, you mentioned the post show and did not tell me my Carla won fan fav finally!!!!!!!!!!!!!! bad, bad, bad jon!

Carla Roqs

March 31st, 2011
7:51 am

okay, now that that is out of my system. i did not watch the show last night because my nerves would not let me. plus i did not want to have to follow through on whatever personal bodily harm i threatened to do to myself if mike unjustly won. i was waiting for your recap to get the news and john beat you to it– bad, bad, john. you guys are too funny. cannot comment on the show yet, will watch it tonight. will be home in two weeks, maybe i will get to eat at blais’ place- if seats can be had after this is.anyway–yayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy, yayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy, yayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy!!!
congrats richie blais! i am so glad, cause i think he would have just keeled over if he had not won. on another note, when you wrote that mike’s wife supported him————————————- oh, sorry. ummmm, i wondered if i’d missed something– i read your every word, because you wrote it without a pause- oh, sorry. and then i saw your next line! omgosh!! poor poor woman, who knew??!!! someone needs to mail her that beach pic of mike. who would wanna marry someone who flicks nose nasties?? omgosh. married???????????????????????????????????? too much. and again, yay CARLA, you ROQ!!! hootie hoo!


March 31st, 2011
7:54 am

I near-bouts had to double up on the blood pressure meds last night … not sure why, but I was SO invested in RB bringing home the win. Maybe it’s the home-town thing, maybe it’s I actually LIKE the guy (and his food) – either way, S-T-O-K-E-D. And it was nice to see Tom almost shed a tear listening to RB kinda blabber on … :) Cute.

WTG Richard … WAY TO M***ER F***IN GO.


March 31st, 2011
8:17 am

YaY!!!! SO happy for Richard and Carla! And I’m happy for Atlanta too! And I loved ALL of your recaps, Jon! Thanks for making this a great season to watch (well, Richard had a lot to do with that too;-)!


March 31st, 2011
8:19 am

Sidenote; yes. I was shocked that Mike was married. And then when they showed her I was shocked she was so cute.

I also did the happy dance when Richard won. His “i suck” attitude is crap, but is far superior to Mike’s “I am a god” attitude.


March 31st, 2011
8:29 am

I tried to submit comments twice, but they didn’t show up, so here goes again, and my apology if all three get posted! Hooray and relief! I thought Richard was the winner when the judges discussed his improvement of the ice cream between service for the two groups of judges, a result of Spike’s recon, which was smart restaurant management by Richard. Mike was so sure he had the win, and Blais said it best, Mike’s strength AND weakness was his cockiness, confidence and bravado, yep. Curtis Stone gave a subtly sneering once over of Mike while Mike explained his dish (gross tattoos and dirty chef jacket are unappetizing…) Jon, I was stunned when Mike announced he missed his honeymoon, what wife, and did she go alone? Padma delivered the body slam moment to Mike when she announced, Richard, YOU are TOP CHEF!!! Congrats to Carla!!! That after show was annoying, but kind of entertaining with drunk Jen’s comments in the background.


March 31st, 2011
8:34 am

@ Reds – I was shocked Mike I’s wifey was so cute. I guess I didn’t give him enough cred.

And frankly, I would have scarfed everything he put on a plate at last night’s dinner. But I think the better of the two definitely won!


March 31st, 2011
9:31 am

Last night we ate dinner at FLIP Buckhead before going over to the Buckhead Theatre for the broadcast. There was a distinct hum at the restaurant and then the theatre, the vibe was awesome. During the whole show it was totaly interactive and when they announced that he won, the whole place jumped up and went crazy, THAT WAS AWESOME!!!! Congrats Chef, you did us proud! Now go open a place where you can show us all this yummy food worthy of your talents!!!!


March 31st, 2011
9:36 am

Really, Carla? You scare me.

Carla Roqs

March 31st, 2011
10:04 am


March 31st, 2011
10:12 am

No, another Carla.

Carla Roqs

March 31st, 2011
10:14 am

HOOTIE HOOTIE HOOTIE HOOTIE HOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


March 31st, 2011
10:22 am

If Mike won last night, my coworkers would be dealing with a raving beotch today. Congrats to Richard!!! TOTALLY deserved it, despite his insecurities. Now if only he can drop his new restaurant in the old El Toro location on Memorial Dr near Boulevard (come on Richard, you know you want a Grant Park restaurant!!)…


March 31st, 2011
10:22 am

Congrats to Richard, but did he really deserve to win? Mike didn’t just deserve to be there, he killed it.
Don’t know why everyone is hating on him.

Carla Roqs

March 31st, 2011
10:26 am

@a m, are you aka mike? you posted that on john’s blog as well. please read the comments here regarding mike and please read jon and john’s previous blogs on tc all stars. and oh, yeah, as ive already told you– watch the episodes prior to the island trip.


March 31st, 2011
10:30 am

BYW, Jon, LOVED your recaps!! And this weeks recap title is very clever with the Lord of the Rings hook. Does this mean you’re going to recap the Top Chef Masters that starts next week?

[...] a look at  Jon Watson’s recap of the finale as well as a look at Flip Burger Boutique’s newest location in Buckhead from [...]


March 31st, 2011
10:53 am

I was so happy to see Richard win. I don’t have to boycott Bravo!!!! YEAH!!!!

I also did a double take when Mike said that he missed his honeymoon to be there. Honeymoon….WHAT?? WHO??? ohhh her…wife…really…never would have thought that he was married.

I had to think about Mike’s comment that 2nd place is the 1st place loser…so he still won 1st place…just not the 1st place prize he was hoping for :)

I wonder if Richard is really going to give him the money to help him open his restaurant…did anyone else hear that comment after judges table?


March 31st, 2011
11:13 am

Congrats on the win, Richard! The Buckhead Theatre celebration party was a nice touch. Free burgers and milkshakes! It was like watching a football game there. Richard, your city loves you and needs your culinary vision….SOON!


March 31st, 2011
11:23 am

@Summer — yeah I heard it. Also heard that Mike didn’t respond in kind. Not sure if that was editing though. It wil lbe interesting to see if Richard does give him the cash.


March 31st, 2011
11:24 am

Now that he won, I hope that his rumored hot dog restaurant was actually a fake out and he’ll open his dream restaurant in that space instead. Next week I have to get sucked into Top Chef Masters to root for Hugh Acheson.


March 31st, 2011
11:33 am

Mike’s restaurant is close to opening — he’s been planning this for a while. Mike said the shares in the restaurant had already been sold.


March 31st, 2011
11:36 am

Go Richard! You deserve the Top Chef title. My office is down the hall from yours. You took the competition to a whole new level. We can’t wait for you to open the restaurant of your dreams.


March 31st, 2011
11:37 am

Don’t personally know Blais but was teary eyed when he was named Top Chef! Love his sweet spirit!


March 31st, 2011
11:42 am

Mike Isabella was robbed … Richard changed his dessert… sorry wrong person won….
Go Mike


March 31st, 2011
12:05 pm

@Mary, The final challenge was “Restaurant of your Dreams,” so the challenge included more than just the food. However, Richard won the food, hands down. Judges loved Richard’s oyster, not so much Mike’s beet salad. They loved Mike’s steamed fish, until Richard’s fried fish was tasted. Look at Jon’s last line above where he quoted Tom regarding his initial comments about Mike’s steamed fish being the best “I tasted that before I tasted Richard’s” Mike’s Pepperoni sauce was a hit on his pork shoulder, and Richard’s dish was safe but tasted great and was perfectly executed. Mike’s dessert fell flat, and Richard’s was lacking, but he fixed it (it was not changed!) Regarding service, the Judges noted that Mike was taking too long to get his plates out (over 18 minutes), and they noted that Richard was very prompt with service. And Richard did not change his dessert, he fixed its deficiency based on receiving Spikes recon of the judges’ dining comments, which the Judges recognized as smart restaurant management. Richard won the challenge for his food, his time management, and improving his dishes based on restaurant diners’ feedback. He won Top Chef fair and square.


March 31st, 2011
12:18 pm

Even without the dessert Richard dominated.
I was so hoping for Fabio to be his sous chef… but who cares – he WON!


March 31st, 2011
12:33 pm

So glad that Richard won and know he has been very upset at who was going to win this challenge. Richard deserves this win since he is a great chef!!

[...] you enjoy Top Chef, and all of its quirkiness, you must check out Jon Watson’s Top Chef Finale Recap.  He puts in words everything you’re thinking as you watch the show.  I’m just sorry I [...]


March 31st, 2011
12:37 pm

@ Mary, Mike was robbed..REALLY??

Richard was robbed – chicken oyster on the half shell
Tiffany was robbed – shrimp coated in grits

Those two wins were with another chefs recipes…so let’s not talk about who was robbed here.

Elvis Prez

March 31st, 2011
1:17 pm

Way to go RB. And no, Mike was definitely not robbed.


March 31st, 2011
1:25 pm

I just realized….no banana scallops!

You heard it from me first...

March 31st, 2011
1:43 pm

At last! The caveman can finally return to his cave from whence he was unearthed.

I was shocked to not only hear, but see as well, that Isabella has a wife. Bless her heart. Seriously.


March 31st, 2011
1:47 pm

Congrats to Chef Blais! The right man definitely won!

On another note, I think on Mike’s original season, when he was eliminated he mentioned he was getting married.

Anyway, I enjoyed this season, glad that Richard got his redemption, and I hope he can relax a bit. (Although I don’t think he will).


March 31st, 2011
3:56 pm

Does anyone besides me suspect that Gail went home and slathered herself with Pepperoni sauce? She said she loved it about 5 or 6 times.


March 31st, 2011
4:04 pm

Go to Bravo and read Tom’s blog, for all you who are insisting Mike should’ve won … Tom tells exactly why Richard did. (He did that every week, by the way.)


March 31st, 2011
4:12 pm

And I too, would have committed hari-kari if Mike had. Richard, despite his insecurities, was kind and helpful to the other chefs like no one has ever been on Top Chef before, when it could have been to his detriment. That shows a lot of character and class…none of which Mike exhibited the entire time. They’re both very talented but Richard is head and shoulders above Mike.


March 31st, 2011
4:28 pm

I seriously think I would have stopped watching Top Chef if Richard hadn’t won… and I’ve been a faithful fan of the show since it began.
Richard was a pleasure to watch and his humility was refreshing. Also loved, loved, loved the recaps by Mr. Watson… truly hilarious and something I reallly looked forward to… I’ll miss them!

atl eater

March 31st, 2011
6:18 pm

Did anyone else pick up that Richard just HAD to do pork belly, to make up for his choke on it in the first go round? I too was surprised Mike had a wife – everyone else had their spouse at the family dinner, but Mikey had his mommie instead of his new bride? Richard, congrats, you did the work and won!

Yay Blais!

March 31st, 2011
8:18 pm

Loved Blais back at now defunct Bazaar in the day, home of my first foie gras milkshake (served in a shot glass, it was awesome). I remember Blais came out from the back, thanked us for coming, shook our hands and chatted with us. From my impression, just a very nice guy. He will always be the man who introduced me to manchego cheese and quince paste. Good on ya, Richard. Finally getting the recognition you deserve from ATL, and everywhere. Forget Flip…we love ya from back in the day.


April 1st, 2011
7:49 am

I read both Tom C’s as well as Gail’s commentaries on the Top Chef website and watched the extended play of the judges table, and they were all very telling as to why Richard came out on top of Top Chef. One of the most exciting reasons to me was that their was a clear consensus from all of the celebrity guest chefs dining with the judges that Richard was the winner; in fact, the ONLY person that originally thought Mike should be considered as Top Chef was Gail; the other three judges even thought Richard was the winner along with the celebrity chefs.

There was even a mention that when the diners went into the two different restaurants, Mikes seemed to have a calm, home-style, feel, but when they went into Richards, the place was almost electric – full of excitement, almost like his food; there was a noticeable difference just in the ambiance that made everyone WANT to be there.

Combining the better atmosphere, service (Richards was delivered on time, unlike Mikes), and especially better food, Richard was the clear winner of Top Chef.

One last note I’d like to add…I think that Richard also showed a lot more “leadership” qualities than Mike as he put more trust and faith in his Sous Chefs than Mike did (like was given to him when he was a Sous Chef in Top Chef Masters). Trying to control every aspect of the kitchen may work out for Mike but won’t may him beloved as someone people will want to work for. Richard, on the other hand, proved throughout the season that he’s kind and generous, a teacher and inspiring, and someone who aspiring chefs will flock to. Just ask Eli Kirshtein…

Carla Roqs

April 1st, 2011
8:01 am

okay, watched the tape. spike’s recon was on point. when ive gone to restaurants and had questions or have had to send food back, the chef has come out at times to see what was wrong in case he needed to tweak (sp?) something. the manager comes out other times for the same purpose– not cheating, just excellent restaurant management– and the judges were looking for that as well. the main problem with this season is that each week it seemed the judging was based upon different principles–” today’s meal only” “great taste only” “pretty looking only” – seems to me, in the past the judging was based upon great food- taste and appearance and even overall performance during the contest. and as to why we are not mike fans? in the scene with andy cohen when both chefs were asked who shouldnta been there? mike named names and richard took the high road. indicative of the season.


April 1st, 2011
12:23 pm

i look forward to richard opening a “destination” restaurant to visit during my 3 or 4 trips to atlanta each year. i also wonder if he will actually remain in the kitchen for most of his time or become an icon a la bobby flay or emeril who seem to spend their time (understandably) promoting their culinary “empires.”


April 1st, 2011
2:06 pm

The judges have gotten on the chefs all season about not tasting the food and making changes. Richard heard there was a problem and made a change. That probably earned a few brownie points with the judges.