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.

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45 Comments
  1. Entertainment2u-Twitter says:

    I really thought they were going to be sent to REDEMPTION ISLAND to have to fight it out!

    This is the LONGEST, most drawn-out finale in reality tv history.

    Will it ever end?

    And ps — not that it’s any surprise that Richard will win it all, but the preview totally proved it.

    • Nate says:

      Funny, to me that preview totally proved Isabella won. Top Chef always screws with the direction Padma faces from the shot.

      • Jackie says:

        I agree. Sure, it showed in the preview of judges table (the whole 3 seconds we saw) that Richard was on Padma’s right and Mike was on her left. But we don’t know if they left the room then came back or what. Bravo is super careful about their promos.

        • chris says:

          The promo gave it all away. Padma is always in the middle of
          judges table. When she said, ‘You are Top Chef’ she was clearly
          looking right, where Blaise was…

  2. Tyler says:

    #TeamIsabella

    Blaise is cool, but a little too whiney for me. I enjoy Mike and don’t think of him anywhere near as negatively as you do. Should be a good finale.

  3. Jessica says:

    Mike Isabella is simply intolerable. I am happy he took things seriously and really applied himself before coming to the finals, and I think it’s obvious that he can cook, but a front-runner? The dude is a legend only in his own mind.

    I miss Carla more than I can say.

    I think the envelope was mean, mean-spirited and missed the point. Why not have them do a naked tug-of-war to determine who gets to go to the finale? I mean, hey, it worked for the Greeks. This season has had a lot of nasty challenges, not the least of which was the Target challenge, in my opinion. I want to see competitors compete at the top of their game, not tired, emotionally drained and exhausted. It’s one thing to say that a restaurant chef has to push through to get the cooking done, but at this stage of the game and their careers, I don’t think any of these folks can be accused of not being able to push themselves. I’d much rather see them compete when they are fresh and rested.

    I also think Antonia was TOTALLY screwed over. It’s one thing to expect someone to be able to approximate a streudel, but another completely to ask them to do Japanese home cooking.

    I really miss Carla.

    • Sophie says:

      Totally agree. Now Richard HAS to win. He’s probably the best chef ever being on the show except for the voltaggio brothers.
      I can’t believe how Mike made it through to the finally while there were guys like angelo or dale. Plus cooking chicken while antonia had to make japanese food which requires more precision than any other kind of food, it’s disgusting.
      I miss carla too!

      • Caroline Bodie says:

        THANK YOU!! goodness, i was visting my mom is Orlando and we have this ritual: we get some doughnuts and watch Top-Chef. I love Richard but she thinks that Mike is so much better!Yukity yuk yuk.

  4. Terry says:

    I’m rooting for Mike to win it. I’m pretty sure Richard won though. We would of heard by now that he had a nervous breakdown or committed suicide if he had lost. Richard practically holds a knife to his wrist after every challenge. I seriously dislike that neurotic mess.

  5. mia says:

    Really wanted Antonia in the finals. Sick of the boys club mentality of Mike. Antonia has been in the top 3 almost all season. Sucked. And Richard giving “one pot”? Easiest by far with all the ingredients and huge advantage to win going into elimination.

  6. jean10brook says:

    I love the show and always watch, but I have to say, I don’t like either of them – at all and never liked them in the previous season they were on. I was hoping Antonia would have won out of the three, but I too really miss Carla and wanted her to take the crown. That’s not gonna happen, obviously, so I don’t care who wins at this point. I’m already done with this season. Can we just move on to next season, please!

  7. txvoodoo says:

    I think Blaise can be whiney, Isabella can be cocky, and Antonia wasn’t my fav in her season.

    That said, I trust Bourdain when he says that they do their judging based on the food.

    • DotDotDot says:

      I believe it too, and I really don’t think there is bias toward or against any particular contestant. That being said, to judge two chefs, one cooking fried chicken, and the other cooking Japanese food, against each other in the same challenge…so not fair.

  8. the girl says:

    Really wanted Antonia in the finale because I believe she really deserved it. She definitely got some of the hardest challenges in yesterday’s episode and while sabotage is a competitive strategy, it doesn’t indicate who is actually the better chef. I know we don’t get to taste the food but there is something about Antonia’s conviction and restraint that I admire. Her and Blais in the finale would have made for a really competitive battle about TALENT. Now the finale is going to be about how many mistakes Mike can psych Blais into making, while Mike throws the judges off the scent of his non-talent by focusing on Blais’ errors. Not talent.

  9. jef says:

    Pissed that Mike made the final. He must still be stealing other people’s recipes. Chauvinist is too nice a word to describe him.

  10. Grant says:

    Mike rocks, you are crazy. I don’t see the “posistioning himself as being a frontrunner all season long” at all. He has just been on fire throughout the finale and that is what he is talking about, it seems like he did the most prep too for carribean cuisine.

    I guess Richard deserves it more, but Mike has won 2/3 quickfires and 2/3 eliminations over the last 3 shows, with the girls sharing a quickfire win and Blaze I guess winning last night although no spectacle was made of it. Mikes just in the zone and i could see him winning it if Blaze has a bad day.

  11. Petra says:

    I can’t STAND Mike. I wanted Dale to win, but that’s another story. I also wanted Carla to win after Dale left. Also a different story. But I’m Team Richard, all the way.

  12. jeanrie says:

    I seriously can’t believe Mike Isabella is in the finale. I cant remember exactly what he was saying last night about the chefs he thought would make it, but I cannot believe he did not include Dale in that list. I’m not a huge fan of Dale’s personality, but it felt wrong for him not to be in the finale. I would have loved to see Antonia in the finale. I so hoped that envelope was going to work in her favor after she got Morimoto.
    Blais is neurotic, (way more so than the first time round) But I still love him. Especially over Mike Isabella. But, I like anyone over Isabella. Even Marcel.

  13. Bobbi says:

    I also miss Carla tremendously. Antonia really got screwed. It was important to me that the finale not be two males. Last night really upset me.

    I can’t stand either of the two remaining chefs. Mike is an obnoxious, misogynistic buffoon. Richard has become exponentially more neurotic than he was during his original season and also has become so disdainful of others that he is now a mean, paranoid mess.

    I’ll watch the finale simply because I’ve invested too much time watching to not watch, but it won’t be much fun. I have no one to root for.

  14. Jamie says:

    Can’t stand Mike. Can’t stand his attitude. Can’t stand the way he keeps calling Antonia his cousin now just because of a similar name on a family tree. He drove me nuts last night. First, he kept going on to Antonia about he got stuck with the hard dish. Hello? Fried chicken versus sorting grains of rice? I don’t think so. Then he keeps talking about his originality with his bite. Surf and turf is far from original. In fact, I think it’s done in every Top Chef amuse-bouche competition. However, I’ve noticed the editing on the show majorly vamping for Mike lately, so I had a feeling this would be the final pairing.

    I hope Richard wins. He clearly deserves it. However, my favorite or the one that appeared to be most deserving has never actually won a season of Top Chef. Not once. So I’m not holding my breath.

    I also miss Carla. But I miss Fabio more.

  15. LML says:

    Mike is a putz and is nowhere near the caliber of chefs that have been eliminated before him. Do you really think Mike is a better chef than Dale or Angelo? C’mon! Basically he’s just gotten lucky. Antonia is a much better chef and got hosed. I do love and miss Carla and Tiffany. As far as Blais, great chef, horrible attitude and sore loser. Cant take crticism and his face when someone else wins is just pitiful. Tired of seeing his stupid neurotic facial expressions. Even though he’ll probably win, it would be funny if he lost just to see him breakdown like a 2 yr old. Grow up dude!

  16. DotDotDot says:

    The Quickfire and Elimination challenges were grossly unfair. Give them the same challenge, then see who comes out on top. It broke my heart to see Antonia sent to pack her knives. She was at such a disadvantage during the elimination challenge.

    Please, please, please don’t let Mike win this thing.

    • Alpha says:

      Some of the quickfire challenges this season have been quite poor. One that comes to mind is the Staten Island ferry episode where Carla won with carrot jucie and sliced oranges. Top Chef caliber? I think not.

  17. Danny says:

    Really disappointed in the producers about last night’s episode.
    I think it would be ok if they did the “winner of the challenge decides” earlier in the finals, like when there were 4 or 5 of them. But to do it at this stage, I feel it loses some credibility. (I’d be ok if they got the challenge lottery style – cause at least it’s luck of the draw.)

    Mike really rubs me the wrong way. He has a loud mouth and he need to STFU. (Pardon me). He TOTALLY stuck it to Antonia, and to have the nerve to yap about how difficult he has it!?! Dude, one pot isn’t that tough – there’s a whole genre of cooking book dedicated to using one pot. And American cooking southern soul food – it’s easy cause it’s hard… excuses excuses. (Not to mention, I feel like he chose cause his ‘client’ has judged him before.) I’m surprised Antonia didn’t deck him on the morning of the elimination challenge.

    I feel bad for Antonia. Traditional Japanese meal is difficult because it has a pronounce impact while exhibiting subtleness (like Tom said). If she has never even done a traditional Japanese meal – can you really expect her to try to take a spin on the dish? The only redeeming quality of the episode was the envelope twist. At least Antonia has a last chance to try to make it. Unfortunately, she lost the tie-breaker… *sigh*

    I hope Richard wins!!!

    • van says:

      its weird actually in the voting antonia won! 4-3 …. wolfgangpuck voted for antonia .. so technically she should have been the one not mike!!!

  18. Kaiulani says:

    Anyone else getting a Gretchen vs. Mondo vibe? We all kept thinking that there was no way Mondao was going to lose and I feel the same way about Blais. I broke up with AI after Crystal lost and I broke up with PR after Mondo was robbed. I sure hate to do it a 3rd time if Mike wins.

    • Beth says:

      I know exactly what you mean. Haven’t quite broken up with AI yet, but PR is dead to me. Would be a shame to have to write off TC too.

  19. LissaB says:

    It should have been Dale vs. Richard. Can’t.stand.Mike.Isabella.
    Blaise FTW!!!

  20. Andrea says:

    This is the first time in Top Chef history that I really, really dislike BOTH finalist! I get that Richard is probably the best chef but his stupid “I am in trouble” attitude annoys me —-and he is such sour grapes if he doesn’t win a challenge. Mike is just overly cocky and not really that great a chef. I wanted Antonia in the finally just b/c I liked her attitude the best of the three….I think several who should be in the finale already went home earlier (Angelo!!!!)

  21. John Ruggeri says:

    I felt that the envolope twist was a way of leveling the playing field. Let me explain, they new ahead of time that some of the last meals would be easier to make then others so they put this in there so that who ever did not win would get an equal shoot to go to the finale one bite vs one bite instead of fried chicken vs complex japanese dinner.

  22. zxcvb8 says:

    blaise wins! preview gave away the outcome…

  23. CrimsonIdol says:

    Sweden calling..

    No fresh perspectives because of that, just bad language…:)
    Love T.C!
    But they certainly should tone down the gimmicks and concentrate MORE on who´s the better chef?
    Isabella did OK in season 6, in my opinion the best season evvahh.
    And it´s not farfetched that he improved since that.
    And with the gimmicks being a damn LOTTERY….can we really judge?

    Apparently Padma(yeah right!) and Tom can.

    That said:….Still Richard Blais ftw….and I will cry WITH him

  24. bambafay says:

    Doesn’t anyone read the fine print that flies by at the end of every episode? Producers AND Bravo have input into who wins each competition. It’s about ratings, not about food. If a good chef is able to get far on the show, that’s great–and somewhat coincidental.

    • CrimsonIdol says:

      I read the “disclaimers”…
      Dale, Angelo, Blais and Antonia…should be the final four.
      Obviously our own favorite psycho Blais should always be in the finals.
      Maybe Blais and Angelo?
      Maybe Blais and Dale?
      Maybe Blais and Antonia?

      Need I say more:…Blais is gonna win!

  25. Maggie says:

    I will no longer watch Top Chef if Mike wins this thing. He is an insufferable tool and he does not deserve it.

  26. J says:

    This is the longest ending to a Top Chef season ever… I feel like it’s been the finals the last 5 episodes.

    • Alpha says:

      That’s because a couple of stragglers (i.e. Carla, Tiffany) lingered and you saw relatively little quality cooking relative to the number of competitors. Beats me how some of the contestants squeaked through so far.

  27. wmcc520 says:

    I am so disappointed Antonia did not make it to the end. I thought a showdown of her versus Richard would have been phenomonal. Mike might be a decent chef but he is rude, arrogant, and obnoxious. I will be pulling for Richard. Although he too can be arrogant, I kinda like his self doubt and with all those wins behind him no one can deny the man can cook.

  28. van says:

    i don’t understand how mike won? i thought antonia won 4-3 … how did that happen? that mike got thru the finale with antonia winning in the vote???? there is something wrong there! and how come no one noticed this?

  29. Sabrina says:

    I thought the envelope would announce that they had to cook something from the other chef’s elimination challenge meal. That would have been an awesome twist. So Antonia has to go and cook fried chicken successfully while Mike has to attempt Miso soup. Truly that would have leveled the playing field and eliminated any of the “my challenge was harder than yours” accusations. We can all agree Mike had it easy and he managed to get into her head as he has so many others both this season and during his own. This is the man who rode the coattails of his friend to what top 4 of his own season. Clearly he would not have done that well on his own. As for Blais, I worry that so much of his psyche seems to be wrapped up in this show, LOL. I think they have edited it so that you will hate Mike so much you will do handstands when Richard finally wins. Richard would have to do more than choke he will have to poison the judges to lose next week. BTW, Gail and others have said that Wolfgang voted for Antonia but deliberated for a very long time, including apparently, a very long off camera discussion with Tom “I hate female winners” Colleccio. Make of that what you will…

    And please don’t use the “G” word when referring to Project Runway. I still go into irrational fits of anger and blurting out of many, many four letter words over that travesty.

  30. Karen says:

    I hate to say this, but I think Isabella wins this thing. I read his bio and he’s opening a new restaurant. Not that I’ll ever go there.

  31. Alpha says:

    My vote is for Blais. His record has been consistently better than Isabella’s, both in terms of innovation and technical proficiency. I took issue with Isabella not being penalized for plagiarizing Blais’ chicken oyster dish. Bravo TV shouldn’t be advertising that cheating is acceptable. May the better chef win!

  32. carolyn says:

    I just have one thing to say, GO MIKEY!!!

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