The Ninja King Strikes Again: Top Chef All Stars LA

TOP CHEF -- "Michael’s Santa Monica" Episode 1711 -- Pictured: (l-r) Melissa King, Padma Lakshmi, Jonathan Waxman -- (Photo by: Nicole Weingart/Bravo)
TOP CHEF -- "Michael’s Santa Monica" Episode 1711 -- Pictured: (l-r) Melissa King, Padma Lakshmi, Jonathan Waxman -- (Photo by: Nicole Weingart/Bravo) /

The Top Chef All Stars waged two more challenges before heading to Italy for the finals.

With Los Angeles having served Top Chef All Stars well as a backdrop for season 17, cooking in the City of Angels wound to a close before five remaining cheftestants pack their knives and go…to Tuscany.


Befitting a challenge that’s preceding a flight overseas, the Quickfire Challenge tasked the chefs with creating an elevated airline meal, one that met the actual requirements of in-flight dining. Maybe I haven’t flown on the right carriers, but elevated airline meal sounds like an oxymoron to me. Regardless, that was the challenge and a place in the finale was at stake, so elevated it was.

Frankly, any themed challenge that sets Padma up to wield her arsenal of puns works for me. “Propel”, “soar”, and “buckle up” are just a few of the perfectly-inserted references she used while introducing the framework of the QC. Or as Stephanie quickly observed “Champagne Padma is my favorite of all the Padmas!”. Mine too.

With Padma and Guest Judge Jonathan Waxman both struggling to penetrate the papillote on Stephanie’s fish dish and then inferring that they’d need power tools to cut into Brian’s pork, the two chefs fell short.

Far more successful were Kevin, who returned from a brief stint in Last Chance Kitchen, and Melissa, who clearly put recent struggles behind her. Jonathan Waxman told Kevin that the carrots he served with his lamb meatballs “made that dish sing”, while he described Melissa’s beef curry and chilled tofu salad as “simple and elegant, something that I’d wanna eat again on an airplane” before declaring her the winner.

The Elimination Challenge sent the chefs back to L.A.’s dining scene of the ’70s and ’80s.

To honor the 40th anniversary of the legendary Michael’s of Santa Monica, the chefs were asked to serve a dish inspired by a classic from the venerable restaurant’s past. More specifically, they’d be putting their own twist on dishes originally created by such iconic Michael’s alumni as Roy Yamaguchi, Mark Peel, Top Chef winner Brooke Williamson, and Guest Judge Jonathan Waxman.

Michael McCarty is a pioneer of what became commonly known as California cuisine and though his eponymous restaurant “still looks like 1979” according to the late food critic Jonathan Gold, it remains an institution on the Los Angeles dining scene.

Also reflecting Michael’s late ’70s origins is the kitchen itself, whose size left the chefs working in cramped quarters. As a matter of fact, Stephanie’s corner of the action once served as a cashier’s nook manned by yet another renowned chef and frequent Top Chef All Stars LA visitor Nancy Silverton.

In the final Judges’ Table being held in Los Angeles, the chefs awaited news of their fate.

With no Last Chance Kitchen to fall back on, the cheftestants headed to Judges’ Table knowing full well that five of them would be boarding an American Airlines flight to Italy while another would be left waving goodbye on the runway.

In reflecting on Melissa’s reimagined quail dish, Gail told her that “Michael himself was completely blown away, there was nothing any of us would’ve changed”, earning her the EC win and a clean sweep in the last round of competition in Los Angeles. Jonathan Waxman sang the praises of Stephanie’s seared scallop dish saying that “the race was really close, you should feel great”, ensuring that she’d be joining the finalists in Tuscany.

Though not in the top two, Bryan and Kevin also earned their spot in the finals, leaving Gregory and Brian up for elimination. If you’re ever going to win a consolation prize, there are worse ones than an all-expenses-paid trip to Italy.

With only one spot left on the plane to Italy, Gregory and Brian stared down elimination.

At this point in the competition, the judges really do have to split hairs in deciding who to send home. As the field winnows, the food gets even better, making eliminations potentially dicey. In this case, Gregory suffered from having left a key ingredient off his monkfish dish, while Brian’s interpretation of his veal duo conflicted with that of the judges.

Tom commented that “the duo didn’t talk to each other”, leaving Malarkey to sarcastically mutter “they didn’t work together? They weren’t supposed to work together!”. Brian constructed his duo as two separate tastes, but Gail astutely reminded him that “when the food leaves your hands you can’t control what the diner does with it”. And with that, and after an hour of foreshadowing, the target of my season-long skewering was sent packing, sparing Gregory in the process.


Finally, Brian Malarkey has packed his knives and gone. I’m definitely not shedding any tears, as I’ve openly awaited this outcome since the first episode of Top Chef All Stars LA, but I will give credit where credit is due.

First, to the producers, who know that any great show is best served by the presence of an antagonist. And while Malarkey wasn’t the prototypical villain, he did grate on everyone’s nerves, mine included. He himself deserves the ultimate credit though, as he accomplished what he undoubtedly set out to achieve when he agreed to compete–the profound elevation of the Chef Brian Malarkey brand.

Well done Chef Malarkey. Arrivederci!

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