Top Chef All-Stars: Thoughts on That Last-Minute Envelope Twist?

I miss Carla! (There, I said it.) With that out of the way, let’s discuss Padma’s “the envelope, please…” moment on Wednesday night’s penultimate episode of Top Chef All-Stars.

You see, after a sadistic Quickfire Challenge made even more awful by Mike Isabella’s win, and improved only by a brief appearance Our Lady of Hootie Hoo, the final three chefs — Richard, Antonia, and Mike — were asked to respectively prepare and serve fantasy “last suppers” for superstar chefs Woflgang Puck, Morimoto, and Michelle Bernstein. I’m going to be honest: I kind of hated this method of determining which two cheftestants made it through to the final round. I mean, on some level, shouldn’t the final weeks of Top Chef All-Stars boil down to the chefs’ creativity and innovation, not to their ability to potentially excel at a cuisine that’s potentially at odds with their own personal cooking style?

Antonia was right that she drew the short straw in drawing Morimoto’s sashimi, rice, and miso soup combo, but I thought she should have worked harder to put her own twist on the dish, rather than lamely trying to recreate his mama’s recipes. As loathsome as I find Mike (and his forced bravado) (and his overt chauvinism — nice way to dismiss Bernstein as “one of the top women chefs,” rather than “one of the top chefs” in the country), I have to give him credit for not whipping up a straightforward take on fried chicken and biscuits. Dare I say his egg-filled empanada looked yummy, even if his fried chicken was awfully pale? On that count alone, he really did earn a spot alongside Richard in the finale.

But, of course, it wasn’t so simple. After Richard received passage into the final by virtue of a goulash and strudel that would’ve satisfied even Wolfgang’s late mother, Padma unleashed one final bit of cruelty on All-Stars‘ distant cousins: Despite their mental and physical exhaustion, Antonia and Mike had 45 minutes to head back to the kitchen and each create a sudden-death bite to be judged by the seven-person All-Stars panel. In the end, it was Mike’s surf-‘n-turf combo that trumped Antonia’s curried coconut grouper by a vote of 4-3. Still, with Mike’s nonstop yammering about how it was a battle of his “creativity” against Antonia’s “execution,” I was hoping he’d choke (metaphorically) on his tempura lobster.

Ah well, at least next week’s finale gives us a battle of good (albeit neurotic) against absolutely insufferable. Not to mention, Antonia goes down in defeat based on her own concoction, not on her approximation of somebody else’s food memories.

What did you think of the last-minute sudden-death cookoff? How about the final two contestants? Is anyone else appalled by the way Mike has somehow revised history to paint himself as a season-long front-runner? And do any of you think he actually has any chance to beat Richard for the Top Chef All-Stars crown?

Sound off below, and for all my reality recaps and commentary, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV.