Top Chef All-Stars: Should There Be Punishment for Breaking 'Chef Law'?

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!

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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38 Comments
  1. SaraK says:

    Might I suggest Bravo bring some cameras along and turn the vacation into a one-off Top Chef special?
    That would be hilarious!

    Tiffany or Carla will be ousted next week, I’m sure. Gonna be a good final 4!

    • Laura says:

      I would watch the heck out of that show, if it existed. I have developed an unhealthy love for both of these guys. (It doesn’t help that there’s a channel here in Canada that has been rerunning Fabio’s original season for the last couple of months.)

  2. danrydell says:

    If you read Dale’s exiting interview, he said that the dish isn’t only Richard’s that others have created it, and that the idea of Chef Law is absurd. Dale said he thought it was stupid for Mike to say that’s where he got it, though.

  3. famous artist says:

    i don’t know about chef’s law but it sure was a slezoid move. i think people will remember this.

  4. Deb says:

    If Mike’s reputation is only worth 5k, he better spend it wisely. Culinary plagiarism is very real and it can ruin a chef’s professional career. As far as Dale’s comment goes, the problem was the videotape from earlier that morning. Comment or no comment, he took another contestant’s idea without permission and in chef land that is bad.
    Since Richard has been so helpful to his competitors all season I thought it was surprising that this was his reward.

  5. mgb says:

    I wish it had been Mike eliminated this week, then Dale and Tiffany. Mike’s theft of Richard’s recipe, then the audacity of keeping the money, is grounds for producer elimination in my opinion. That is bordering on cheating in my book. Whatever happened to honesty and integrity? Oh yeah, Richard has it. P.S., I miss Fabio. He needs his own show.

    • Tammie Phillips says:

      I agree! Fabio needs his own show! I can’t believe some of the losers they give shows to! At least Fabio is well liked with a fun personality.

    • Donna says:

      Mike did not steal any recipe. If you go online you can pull up a lot of recipes for chicken oysters. Both of them were talking and Mike remembered the idea of chicken oysters. He had his own recipe and he made it. There are many other chefs who get ideas and run with it. I think this was blown way out of porportion. Even Richard Blais said on his twitter account that Mike did NOT steal his recipe. Mike also gave credit that he was inspired by Richard. He did not use Richard’s recipe. Just his idea of chicken oysters. So many true chefs out there know that they get inspired by each other.

  6. Nina says:

    It’s supposed to be AGAINST the rules for the Chef’s involved with Top Chef to bring or have any cook books or recipes with them while they are competing.
    That has ALWAYS been my understanding of the rules of Top Chef.

    So what was Blaze doing with the recipes to begin with ?
    AND how STUPID of Richard to be showing all of his recipes to Mike !
    Or anyone really.

    I mean looking at a book of recipes is going to inspire a chef.
    It’s just the nature of the beast.
    That’s how they get some of there ideas.

    Was Mike’s recipe EXACTLY what was written in Blaze’s recipe book or was it just similar ?

    I mean a chef can’t lay claim to EVERY recipe with a certain ingredient that is somewhat similar to their recipe .

    The whole thing with Mike did smell somewhat fishy ( and Mike is a bit of a douche) but perhaps the Top Chef producers didn’t think Mike’s dish was EXACTLY the same.

    But as I said I was stupid of Richard to show his recipes to anyone this is a competition !

    IMHO Dale should NOT of been the Chef eliminated last night.

    Carla should of gone home last night !!!
    She has been in the bottom 2 for 2 weeks in a row.
    Also she not only bombed in the quick fire she then decided to use the fish AGAIN and totally ruined it a second time.

    I mean come on !
    This hooty ho shtick can only go so far, I’m sorry.
    This is Top Chef not a popularity contest.

    • Milly says:

      It was a cookbook though, it was Richard’s personal recipe notebook. All chefs on the show have one. It was blank at the beginning of the competition, but now is filled with stuff they’ve brainstormed since being on the show. They are still chefs, they are still thinking of dishes outside this competition. I’m not saying Mike copied the idea completely, but Richards notebook is not against the rules.

      • Nina says:

        You maybe right about the Chef’s being able to jot down recipes ideas in a notebook while they are there but I really feel it was a dumb move for Richard to be showing his idea’s to anyone because it’s a competition.
        Especially MIKE !

        I bet he won’t do it again.lol

        At least he won the trip and $5000 in the elimination challenge.

        • Milly says:

          Of course it was dumb, but I think most of these chefs kind of forget their in a competition when they’re at home and they discuss recipes with each other. Richard seems to like helping others, though partially I think that’s b/c he likes showing off. Angelo liked to help people as well, and often times it sent people packing b/c they couldn’t pull off what his ideas. I don’t think it’s necessarily fair to say Mike cheated, but I also think Mike made himself look like a jerk. And with celebrity chefs, all you have is your reputation. You can be a dick about pretty much anything (Gordan Ramsey is a perfect example of this) except what many chefs consider food integrity. Ultimately, I think Mike did himself a disservice in the end.

    • ? says:

      It’s not a cookbook or recipe book – he came up with all the ideas while being in the top chef house. He didn’t bring anything from home.

  7. San says:

    I hate Mike, but a lot of the chefs engage in “culinary plagarism.” Dale’s winning cookie was a clear copy of the compost cookie from Momofuku Milk Bar in New York. And deep friend mayonaise is something that Wylie Dufresne does at WD-50. Still, he is a real jerk…

    • K_Sull says:

      Well sure, there isn’t a whole lot in the food world that hasn’t been done before. I think the point here is, Mike had never heard of conceptualizing the dish that way, saw Richard’s notes, and then made the dish exactly like Richard had planned it out. That’s pretty stinkin’ bad.

  8. Rob says:

    There already IS a penalty. All the other chefs stop talking to you and won’t help you with your ideas and dishes.

  9. Rasha says:

    Chef Law or not, stealing an idea or a recipe isn’t illegal and I don’t think the producers should have stepped in as it’s a competition and Richard willingly showed Mike his ideas. Recipes (and ideas) are not covered until copyright, so he was well within his rights even if it was the sleaziest way to win. As kindhearted as Richard is, he really needs to protect himself and his ideas, because all is fair in love and when $250k is on the line.

    I take bigger issue with everyone from the judges to the patrons, raving about how perfect and amazing Antonia’s food is and then she ends up losing. I’m sure it’s all just editing, but it’s really annoying. She’s a great chef and she should have won about three times now. :\

  10. Blake says:

    I think Mike took the pea puree too.

  11. Daisy says:

    I was just thinking how great it would be to see pictures from the Fabio/Blais-family trip. I’m imagining Richie with a hot-but-commonsensical wife and an adorable genius kid, filling the pool with liquid nitrogen* and whipping up a round of levitating mai tais with edible umbrellas, while Fabio picks up every woman in Barbados. Kind of like Two and a Half Men, but better, and without the rising sense of dread.

    As for The Case of the Stolen Oyster Concept, while I agree that Mike is totally Steal-y McLamerson, the talentless douche, for what he did, I don’t think they could realistically institute any sort of penalty for it. After all, everything in cooking is influenced by something, and trying to tease out theft from derivation would be too subjective for the reality show format. But yeah, that sucked.

    *This would actually kill you.

  12. allie says:

    Mike is a tool. I read the exit interview and while Dale might not think there is a “Chef Law”, Richard, Carla, Antonia and Tiffany certainly did. Even the Senior Editor for the show thought it was a sleaze bag move. Carla is worrying me – she is losing it a bit, I think. Hopefully Mike will crawl back into his hole next week but we lost a good one in Dale. The finale won’t be the same w/o him in it.

  13. Sabrina says:

    From problems in the past, my understanding is that unless they bring the problem to the judges attention then the judges don’t even know about something like Mike stealing an idea from Richard. And in the end, they could say that was a lame move but he cooked the dish and they liked the flavors he cooked. So probably nothing Richard could have done. May try to find Coleccio’s blog see if he addresses it.

    Mike just annoys the crap out of me, I really want him gone. I like Carla and hope she pulls her head out of her butt next week.

  14. Bryan says:

    Mike lost his integrity, but then probably never had any to begin with. His gloating afterward said it all. We know what kind of a person he is. He should not have been able to keep the money.

  15. Rachel says:

    What Mike Izzy did was bad, but why isn’t anyone addressing what Marcel did?? He purposely sabotaged Tiffany’s dish… http://foodiegossip.blogspot.com/2011/02/top-chef-all-stars-bromance-renewed.html

  16. Buffy Freak says:

    The only reason Dale doesn’t believe there is a Chef Law is because he’s probably been guilty of breaking it…

  17. darclyte says:

    Here is what Chef Tom Colicchio wrote about “Oyter-gate” and “Chef Law” in his blog about the episode. Click on my name to read the entire blog:

    “…intellectual property laws do not govern dishes. Menu items that appear in one restaurant can be reproduced in another. Even recipes that appear in a published and copyrighted cookbook can be made in any restaurant in the world. In fact, if a chef changed one single ingredient, s/he could even reprint the recipe in his/her own cookbook. Furthermore, Richard had an idea, and ideas are neither copyrightable nor trademark-able in any discipline. I beg to differ with the cheftestants about “Chef Laws.” How often have we heard the chefs say that they were making dishes inspired by dishes their grandmothers used to make? In Quickfire Challenges, sometimes the chefs create a new dish on the spot; sometimes they do something inspired by other dishes. Yes, it’s bad form to lift a competing chef’s concept so baldly, and it is rotten for Richard that Mike did so, but Mike still had to execute the concept well. There’s no Intellectual Property law governing such a move, and no Top Chef law against it. It was poor form. From now on, I’m sure Richard will keep his diary under lock and key.”

  18. Kaiulani says:

    I sure hope Carla pulls it together for the final episodes. She is my favorite. I totally believe that Mike “stole” the idea form Richard. I do feel sorry for Dale, but at this point, one mistake will send you home. Tiffany’s line about “white shrimp” had me rolling on the floor. I love your idea of the Fabio/Richard Barbados vacation. Can not wait to see how this season ends!

  19. Juan says:

    Rooting for Carla, and am I the only one that thinks Antonia is totally undeserving of being on this season?
    She annoyed the living hell out of me in her original season and she still does now.

  20. Sarah P. says:

    There definitely should be a Top Chef special of Blais/Fabio family vacation. Mike was just out of line and Chef Law should be enforced. Go Carla! :)

  21. Linda says:

    Carla’s my favorite from all the seasons, so I was thrilled when they brought her back for this one! But she can sabotage herself. I sure hope she can pull it together, and cook from the heart, because that’s what she does the best.

    As far as Mike …. I firmly believe “What you sow, you shall reap” or “What goes around, comes around”. I think him behaving this way on national television will come back and bite him in the end. And it’s not JUST Richard’s idea he stole, either ….. in the elimination round, he used Tiffani’s idea for grit-coated shrimp and them said “I had an original idea” during the critique. He’s a liar and a thief – a person with no integrity. If a prospective employer/ investor watches this show and sees this is the way he is, they won’t trust him. So I believe it will hurt him in the end.

    As far as Richard showing off his ideas …. foolish, foolish, foolish! I know he likes to share and that he’s generous. But this IS a competition and he’s foolish to forget that. Be helpful, give some of your onions/ garlic/ cilantro … sure. But don’t give your original ideas away. I hope he learned something from this.

  22. Seth says:

    Ok, weather or not you like what mike isabella did, recipes can’t be copyrighted. There is no way to prove that you are the first person to put together those ingredients or flavors. While I don’t condone what mike did, richard should have known better.

  23. Beth says:

    Mike has obviously spent a great deal of his life living what we see on the screen – and it is pretty sad. He has certainly proven to be amoral (what’s good for Mike is good) and even lies to himself. I am sure he believes this is his dish.
    It is shameful and some sort of action, even just a dressing down by Tom C, should have been taken.

  24. nicole says:

    my favorite line of the night is when richard was explaining his and fabio’s friendship and was telling the story about how fabio said that richard reminds him of his ex wife lol

  25. Dorian says:

    Come on people. That wasn’t Richards dish. I have seen that at restaurants in both San Diego and Miami and sure its been done many times over across the world. The whining was made for TV, nothing more.

  26. Telraven says:

    Actually, from what I saw, it looked like Richard had put the notebook down on the table and Mike picked it up, and was all: “Oh, what’s this?”

    It didn’t seem like Richard was trying to show it to him to show off or anything.

    I really want to see Mike go. He’s a total Summer’s Eve.

  27. Donna says:

    I just love Mike and I hope he wins. I think he is funny. People just do not know when some one is joking. They take things too seriously. As for the recipe, even Dale said that he used a recipe he saw at a cookie place and he used it and won the $10,000 prize. Mike and Richard were both talking about recipes that morning. It wasn’t all Richard. Mike said he inspired a thought. He did not steal any recipe. I would not watch the show if it wasn’t for Mike Isabella. He makes the show fun to watch. It seems all of his other chefs think the same thing. There is a lot of them hanging out and tweeting each other after the show. If he was so bad, I do not think that they would stay close and say how much fun they have with each other. I even saw a video where Fabio and Mike and Richard, were all hanging out together walking down NY to have dinner together. It is just a show and made for drama. Even Antonia was out to lunch with Mike and Fabio and they were giving her a bad time about the mussle win. It is not as it seems. All chefs are a little bit cocky.

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