Top Chef All-Stars Finale: Would You Rather Eat at Iz or Tongue & Cheek?

Wednesday night’s Top Chef All-Stars finale was billed as a battle between crippling neuroses and delusional bravado — but in the end, it came down to raw hamachi with fried veal sweetbreads, garlic mayo, and pickled celery against a braised pork shoulder with pepperoni sauce, roasted cabbage, and turnips. And honestly, that’s exactly the way it should’ve played out. Because at the end of the day, when we go out to eat at a restaurant, we generally don’t care about the personality of the person who’s dreaming up and executing our dishes, we care about the food on our plates.

That said, I was all kinds of thrilled to see nervous nelly Richard Blais emerge as the ultimate winner over chock full o’ ego Mike Isabella. It’s not a big surprise, really. Despite Richard’s aggravating insistence that he was the underdog, he held an 8-4 edge over Mike in challenge wins, and what’s more, the Top Chef editing team seemed to be working overtime to set up his giant-headed foe for a fall. “I’m a better cook than he is. Period,” Mike boasted at the start of the episode. Then, later, he dropped that irritating cliché “second place is the first loser.” Really, Isabella?

But I digress: The two finalists were tasked with creating four-course tasting menus at their “dream restaurants,” along with help from three previously booted cheftestants. I I loved the sadistic way the producers forced Richard and Mike to choose their sous chefs based on a blind taste test of amuse-bouches, rather than on their knowledge of the chefs’ résumés or personalities. Both guys wanted Jennifer — can I admit I still haven’t recovered from her early ouster? — but Mike wound up with Tiffani, Jamie, and Carla, while Richard snagged Angelo, Antonia, and Spike. Nobody drew the Marcel card, so everybody was happy.

After an hour of menu-planning and five hours of cooking, here’s how the tasting courses shook out.

Tongue & Cheek (Richard)
* Raw oyster with creme fraiche pearls and salsa verde (bonus amuse-bouche course)
* Raw hamachi with fried veal sweetbreads, garlic mayo, pickled celery
* Pork belly, black cod cutlet, bone marrow, beets, brussles prouts, and kumquat
* Beef short rib with mushrooms, red cabbage marmalade, and celerey-root horseradish puree
* Corn bread with foie gras ice cream and whipped mango

Iz (Mike)
* Spiced beets with mozzarella, truffle, and chocolate vinagigrette
* Halibut with kumquat marmalade, cauliflower puree, pancetta crumbs
* Braised pork shoulder with pepperoni sauce, roasted cabbage, and turnips
* Rosemary caramel custard and pine nuts with citrus, celery, and apple

The judges seemed to say both Mike and Richard threw down worthy tasting menus, but it was pretty clear things were headed Richard’s way — even though the arrival of his uncle was a lot less dramatic than having Mike’s mom and new wife on the scene. To my eyes, Richard’s raw hamachi and pork belly dishes looked incredible, though his foie gras ice cream resembled cat food. At Iz, the pepperoni sauce on the pork shoulder sounded delish, while the poached halibut looked so succulent I believed Tom’s remark that it was the best-cooked fish he’d had in Top Chef history. That caramel custard, on the other hand, looked like something I could get from the display case of my local Hot ‘N Crusty.

When Padma cooly uttered the verdict, thought, it was Richard taking home the $200,000 prize, and his tears of sweet relief convinced me his “I think I’m gonna choke” insecurity was the real thing, not just a put-on for the cameras or to psych out the competition. And then there was Mike, somehow managing to declare himself the winner, too. “I feel like I beat him,” Mike said of Richard’s glorious victory, “I just didn’t get the prize.” Whatever gets you through the night, dude.

What did you think of the Top Chef finale? Were you happy with the results? Did you get choked up at the end? And which restaurant would you rather eat at: Iz or Tongue & Cheek? 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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  1. George says:

    I was glad to see Richard won since he seems to be an extremeley talented chef…but I’m also glad he won for his own sanity ;)

    • Ba Ba Booey says:

      Haha, yeah, totally.
      If Mike promised Gail that he’d make a bottle of that pepperoni sauce and send it to her anytime she asked, and all she had to do was show him her boobs just once…would she do it?

  2. C says:

    I was super happy he won! I wish we could have heard more of the phone call to his wife, although I like that it cut off at her going “What?”. heh.

  3. Jessiekins says:

    I really thought Blais would have a nervous breakdown if he lost. I was pulling for him for years. I am so glad he had this chance to redeem himself. Both menus sounded amazing…I can’t believe Mike did so well. I loved the episode, but the right man won, and Carla totally deserved FF.

  4. H says:

    I didn’t watch the finale. Couldn’t stomach more Mike I. He’s such a repugnant character. It seems like most of the other All Stars were able to improve their public persona with this season, however, Mike just seemed like even more of a dirtbag. Glad Richard won, but still bummed Mike was second.

    Yeah, it’s supposed to be about the food, but I couldn’t get over the personality.

    • Josh says:

      So agreed! As there were less and less chefs, I couldn’t watch the show because of how much screen time he had. I think he is beyond arrogant. I couldn’t believe how he hounded Antonia about her mussels. Mike was in the bottom three, so tell me how it mattered? It’s a shame the people he outlasted.

  5. ladyhelix says:

    Great Show, great season, great winner (Yea Richard)!!

    I loved that the focus on the food and the positive aspects of what’s happening between contestants – rather than on the drama or mean/uncomfortable interpersonal b.s.

  6. Lisak says:

    great finale … and I can’t wait to eat in Mike’s restaurant!

  7. Deb says:

    I have been a Richard fan since the Chicago season, so I loved the outcome. I also loved that it was the food that won the night and not the contestant persona, even though the right persona won IMO.
    I would have preferred to have Antonia or Carla in the cook-off, but you can’t have everything. I’ll happily take my favorite winning over getting the entire line-up in the “right order.”
    That said, I would eat at either place as they both sounded amazing and got great reviews.

  8. jef says:

    I wouldn’t knowingly eat anything touched by Mike ~ that creepy, dirty, recipe-stealing chauvinist lout. Wanna know how I really feel? :)

  9. Skitty says:

    I am very happy that Richard won. You’re correct that when it comes to eating, chef personality is not relevant, But on TV personality is key and either Mike is a blow-hard jerk or the producer wanted us to see him as such.

  10. Laurel says:

    I would rather eat at Iz.
    I want to try that Pepperoni Sauce that Gale LOVED so much !
    And the Halibut was a beautiful dish as well. I love steamed fish.

  11. the girl says:

    The way these competition shows play out, second place is actually the last loser. There were plenty of other people who lost before Mike Isabella.
    Congrats to Blais. Between the two, he was the one who totally deserved to win.

  12. Amber says:

    So happy Richard won! Now I would love to see him in Kitchen Stadium to redeem his loss from a few years ago against Bobby Flay.. instead of being Cat Cora’s Sous Chef.

  13. muspirit says:

    OH yes I am so glad Richard won. If he didn’t, I would have thrown a chair through the TV! I loved this year and it finally felt good to have a good guys, great chef win..

  14. time for a bath says:

    Even more than personality, Mike’s problem was his (lack of) hygiene. I would NEVER eat anything he had touched.

  15. navybeandog says:

    V. happy to see Richard win. Have been cheering for him since his first season. But to all of you Mike haters – I’ve had his food and it is awesome.

  16. Angie says:

    Congrats to Richard. While his being Eeyore got a bit annoying, you could tell what high regard the other chefs had for him. He was willing to offer assistance, but in a way that wasn’t as offensive as Angelo during his 1st season. Also, last night, he considered the input of his sous chef’s. He definitely deserves the title of Top Chef.

    As for Mike, the judges’ blogs say that it was apparent that Mike’s cooking improved greatly from his 1st season. Yes, he was like an obnoxious kid at times. I don’t think he sweats as much as previous contestant Howie.

    I’d eat at either of their restaurants. Went to Collichio and Son’s a few weeks ago and it was fabulous. Still need to check out Perilla and Volt.

  17. Ashley says:

    I am so thrilled that Richard won. He is a class act and although he is entirely too filled with self doubt, I also find his self-deprecation humbling and charming at times. He also seems like such a genuine guy. It doesn’t hurt that I find him pretty sexy too.

  18. Kira J says:

    Short ribs? Fried cod? I’m at Tongue and Cheek all the way.

    Richard worked so hard, played the game honestly and even helped his other teammates. He deserved to win. I’m very proud of him.

  19. Teresa says:

    I never watched this show until about 2/3 of the way through the All-Stars season this year, part way through the show with Loraine Bracco. I’m the last person who would ever like a cooking show, but it is obviously so much more than that–I DVD’d the rest of the season b/c I was instantly hooked. I wanted Carla or Antonia to win, but in the end, so glad that Richard won over Mike, although both were obviously talented. All you have to do to see the better chef is to look at the little challenges, like the ferry to Ellis Island–would you rather eat Rich’s hot dog creations, or Mike’s hot dog bun cheese soup? Rich is also obviously more of an artist, since all of his food must look as good as it tastes. Plus, to me, it sure doesn’t hurt that the guy who won was humble. (Speaking of which, how did Marcel get his own show on SciFi?)