Top Chef’s Panna Cotta Curse is Over! All Hail Stephanie!

TOP CHEF -- "Colossal Coliseum Kaiseki" Episode 1710 -- Pictured: (l-r) Padma Lakshmi, Sherry Yard -- (Photo by: Nicole Weingart/Bravo)
TOP CHEF -- "Colossal Coliseum Kaiseki" Episode 1710 -- Pictured: (l-r) Padma Lakshmi, Sherry Yard -- (Photo by: Nicole Weingart/Bravo) /

The stakes grow as Top Chef All Stars LA heads down the homestretch.

After watching this week’s episode of Top Chef All Stars LA, we have two questions–Why was Brian Malarkey wearing clamdiggers during the Quickfire Challenge and why doesn’t Stephanie Cmar get the props she deserves? Discuss.

In pondering the former, we can only surmise that the clamdiggers were just another manifestation of Malarkey’s schtick, while the latter was likely remedied by her performance in the kitchen.

When Top Chef is on its game, which is most of the time, there truly is no better food competition program and the latest installment was Exhibit A in our evidentiary file. From soup to nuts, the show simply delivered on every level.

The Quickfire Challenge took the cheftestants out of their comfort zone.

As this recap’s title sort of suggests, Top Chef All Stars LA competitors are often like ducks out of water when challenged to prepare desserts, and the Top Chef LA All Stars were no different if their reaction to seeing renowned pastry chef Sherry Yard enter the Top Chef Kitchen is any indication.

After tackling a blind taste test first–the chefs were given five minutes to sample 20 ingredients, with those displaying the most discerning palates earning more cook time in the actual QC.

The aforementioned Stephanie excelled, earning 60 minutes with which to make her dessert. “I crushed it, no big deal” said the chef, who was joined by Gregory in having the most time to work with. Melissa and Bryan earned 45 minutes each, while Karen and Brian had just 30 minutes in which to cook.

Despite the shy, retiring Malarkey sarcastically bemoaning “What am I going to do with all the extra time? Oh, I didn’t get extra time, I don’t have time, ha, ha, ha”, his wood-fired cake earned Sherry Yard’s tip of the toque. The guest judge also loved Melissa’s olive oil and pistachio cake, saying that it was a “beautifully presented dessert, the flavors sang!”, before ultimately naming her the winner.

Armed with an advantage to be determined in the upcoming Elimination Challenge, Chef King giggled “I did it, liquid nitrogen ice cream at the last second. Ninja!”. On a night when voting began for the annual Fan Favorite distinction, we’re here to predict that the already widely popular chef is a shoo-in to win easily.

The Elimination Challenge featured the preparation of a Kaiseki meal.

What’s a Kaiseki meal you ask? We’re glad you asked, as we now know that it’s a celebration of nature and cooking with restraint. Shocking as it may seem, Mr. Subtle Malarkey’s reaction was “oh my god, that’s not the way I cook!”. Oh it is now Chef Brian, at least it is if you wanna survive to cook another week.

The EC revolved around each chef being responsible for one dish in a six-course progressive Kaiseki meal. The advantage that Melissa earned with her QC win awarded her the right to not only cook her choice of course but also to assign the other courses to her colleagues. Unlike what 99.9% of chefs would do in her shoes, Melissa opted to match each chef with the course that she thought they’d most want, eschewing the opportunity to take her competitors even further out of their wheelhouse. Did we mention that Melissa’s a shoo-in for Fan Favorite?

The Guest Judges for the Kaiseki challenge were Niki Nakayama and Carole Iida-Nakayama, Chef/Owners of 2 Michelin Star winning N/Naka in Los Angeles. Gregory in particular was openly awed by the pair, saying “I’m really freaking out” upon seeing them enter the Top Chef Kitchen.

Top Chef All Stars LA
TOP CHEF — “Colossal Coliseum Kaiseki” Episode 1710 — Pictured: (l-r) Tom Colicchio, Padma Lakshmi, Nilou Motamed, Olympian Ibtihaj Muhammad — (Photo by: Nicole Weingart/Bravo) /

Padma, Tom, and the Guest Judges were joined U. S. Olympic athletes.

With the historic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum as the backdrop, the chefs’ prepared a traditional Kaiseki meal comprised of a Sakizuke (appetizer), followed by Owan (soup), then Yakimono (flame-grilled), and Mushimono (steamed), before wrapping up with Shokuji (rice) and Mizumono (dessert).


With all of the chefs’ dishes earning praise, Bryan’s scallop dish and Stephanie’s panna cotta were the judges’ two favorites. Not only did Stephanie exorcise Top Chef’s panna cotta demons by being named the winner, which included Karen’s attempt during the Quickfire Challenge, but she also earned a trip to the now-2021 Tokyo Olympics, leading her to exclaim that “I’m the most non-athletic one here, but I’m down!”.

Top Chef All Stars LA
TOP CHEF — “Colossal Coliseum Kaiseki” Episode 1710 — Pictured: Stephanie Cmar — (Photo by: Nicole Weingart/Bravo) /

With Last Chance Kitchen awaiting its final cheftestant for season 17, the four remaining chefs waited nervously for Padma’s dreaded words.

Karen’s fire-grilled duck, Melissa’s crab custard, Brian’s soup, and Gregory’s rice dish left them standing for elimination, though at this stage of the competition, the missteps are far less egregious as the judges’ decision-making becomes more and more difficult. To illustrate that, Karen was asked to pack her knives and go simply because, as Tom said, “the precision was just a little off.”


For us, this Top Chef All Stars LA episode was all about Chef Stephanie in the best way possible. It’s not uncommon for a chef to be featured more prominently as a form of foreshadowing preceding their eventual elimination later in the same show, but not this week. From rocking the blind taste test to emotionally sharing remembrances of her late brother with Gregory to breaking what we call the Top Chef panna cotta curse to ultimately being crowned the EC winner, Stephanie showed why she’s so likable and so formidable. And we couldn’t be happier!

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Do you think that Stephanie could win the Top Chef All Stars LA crown?