The shocked expressions on Carla and Tiffany’s faces when they heard the news from Antonia (see screengrab below) pretty much said it all: “Chef Law” was broken during the Quickfire Challenge on last night’s episode of Top Chef All-Stars, and things got officially Rated O…for Oh No You Didn’t!
Granted, maybe it wasn’t Richard’s smartest move to let Mike Isabella flip through the detailed notebooks in which he conceives and hashes out his recipes. And frankly, if Mike had just gotten a hint of inspiration (i.e. “Hrmmm, there’s a chicken-oyster recipe from my own repertoire that would be perfect for the challenge!”), it wouldn’t have been quite so egregious, either. But it was Richard’s concept to take the poultry parts in question (the area that lies between the bird’s thigh and body) and whimsically serve them in actual oyster shells: The fact that Mike had the audacity to take home a $5,000 prize while passing off the idea as his own wasn’t merely offensive, it’s actually detrimental to the credibility of the entire Top Chef franchise.
Which raises the question: Shouldn’t Top Chef‘s producers have taken some action against what appeared to be outright cheating by one of its contestants? Mike himself didn’t even seem to be denying the culinary plagiarism. “Richard and I talked about a similar dish this morning. He had a picture in his book, and it was kind of still stuck in my head from there. I was like, ‘Chicken oysters it is!'” Mike blithely admitted. Later, he huffed to the cameras that Richard didn’t have a right to be mad. “It’s not your dish,” he said. “It’s my dish ’cause I won the five g’s!” Um, okay, so if I hold up Mike at gunpoint, and use $500 in his wallet to buy some new cookware, then according to his logic the cookware is mine, because I’m the one who ultimately ends up with the pots and pans in my kitchen? Nonsense! As many a judge has shouted on Law & Order, it’s a case of “fruit of the poisonous tree!”
And heck, even if Mike didn’t copy the recipe verbatim, his admission that he whipped up a dish “similar” to Richard’s should be reason enough to disqualify him from the cash prize. I know Paula Deen wanted to put Antonia over her knee and whip her “cute little a**” for forgetting to make a second plate of her fried shrimp and avocado, but maybe Our Lady of the Deep Frier could’ve taken a belt to the supremely cocky, vaguely misogynistic underachiever while she was at it.
Anyhow, Oystergate left a bitter aftertaste that lingered through the remainder of the episode.
Mike became even more infuriating later in the episode by getting annoyed at Richard for giving him the cold-shoulder back at the apartment. “If you’re gonna be a winner, be a f****** winner. If you’re gonna lose, go in the f****** corner!” he said to the cameras. Alrighty then, but what’s the appropriate behavior for someone who’s a winner for cribbing from a more talented chef’s notes? Mike further embarrassed himself when he basically got his idea for grits-coated shrimp from Tiffani F, then face-planted with his idea of what makes a gumbo. “There’s potaoes, right, traditionally?” he asked. To which Tiffani blankly replied, “No. Never.” Pure poetry, people!
The elimination challenge this week was a doozy, with the six remaining chefs being asked to cook seafood dishes for 300 guests of a Greater Orleans Foundation fundraiser, and having to take on a fallen comrade (paired with a seafood) in the role of sous chef.
“I’ll take the white shrimp,” said Tiffany. “Oh, and Marcel.” Clearly, this wasn’t going to be a match made in culinary heaven, and it almost led to elimination for the sweet but slightly overmatched Texan. Carla, for the second week in a row, got stuck in her own head, and also looked like a goner. After ruining her fish in the Quickfire Challenge, she decided to recreate it for the GOF benefit. “Pride, not my heart, went into the dish,” she explained. The most delightful personality left in the competition needs to regroup, and not get psyched out by the idea that she can actually take home the top prize this season. Ultimately, though, it was Dale — coming off a double win the week prior — who got booted for a stew that featured uncooked potatoes, unrecognizable amberjack, and a creole-mustard crouton that made the dish end up tasting like “a hot dog,” said Tom.
I can’t say I was particularly fond of Dale’s personality, but from a competitive standpoint, I kinda wish he’d outlasted Mike (who’s a jackass) and Tiffany (who seems pretty burnt out by her back-to-back seasons). Imagine a final four of Carla, Richard, Dale, and Antonia? It just makes sense, no? Plus, Dale’s tearful exit speech moved me, a little. I usually cringe at the “reality TV made me a better person” monologue, but in Dale’s case, I actually buy it!
In another moment of poetic justice, Richard took home top prize (and a trip to Barbados) for his Crispy Gulf Snapper with Pulled Pork and Citrus Grits. “I only cook new dishes on Top Chef,” he boasted. “You’re not gonna see me using other people’s recipes — like Mike.” Icing on the cake? Richard hopes to take his bromance partner/sous chef Fabio to his island getaway — along with Richard’s own family, of course. Now that’s how you ought to treat your colleagues on Top Chef All-Stars, don’t you think? Might I suggest Bravo bring some cameras along and turn the vacation into a one-off Top Chef special?
What did you make of Oystergate? Was it much ado about nothing, or should Mike have been penalized for getting, um, inspired by Richard’s recipe? Did Carla make you totally nervous again this week? Can she pull it together to make the final three? And who are you rooting for to win the whole season? Sound off in the comments, and for all my reality recaps, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!