Top Chef All Stars LA Finale in Review: A Love Letter

TOP CHEF -- Episode 1714 -- Pictured: (l-r) -- (Photo by: Ernesto Ruscio/Bravo)
TOP CHEF -- Episode 1714 -- Pictured: (l-r) -- (Photo by: Ernesto Ruscio/Bravo) /

Top Chef All Stars LA’s finale proved yet again why it’s the best food competition show on television.

Top Chef, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. (I’m guessing this is the first Elizabeth Barrett Browning cameo in a Top Chef recap.)

Like so many others, I have an insatiable appetite for Top Chef. And after 17 seasons, the same secret sauce that I discussed with Gail Simmons in my recent interview ensures that it continues to enjoy its lofty perch atop food competition show rankings.

The Top Chef All Stars LA finale served up a visual feast for viewers. Three amazing chefs, breathtaking Italian scenery, and passionate food experts combined to create near-perfect television.

So about counting the ways…

Chefs Melissa King, Stephanie Cmar, and Bryan Voltaggio comprised a melange of talent, camaraderie, class, passion, and focus that made them arguably the most popular final group in Top Chef history. At once supportive and encouraging while also competing with one another, these chefs helped close out season 17 in stellar fashion.

Top Chef All Stars LA finale
TOP CHEF — Episode 1714 — Pictured: (l-r) — (Photo by: Ernesto Ruscio/Bravo) /

Can we talk about Italy and Tuscany? Whether Florence in the finale or Parma the week before, the visuals and experiences were spectacular. The finalists’ reverence for those same surroundings only magnified the reasons why I feel producers nailed the finale’s locale.

Top Chef wouldn’t be the acclaimed success it is without hosts Padma Lakshmi, Gail Simmons, and Tom Colicchio. Their chemistry and obvious respect, both among themselves and with the cheftestants, is truly the heart of the show.

Even the returning chefs embraced their sous chef roles with grace and aplomb.

I’ll admit, when I saw previews of the finale that focused on Brian Malarkey working with Stephanie, Lee Anne apparently overzealously suggesting ingredients to Melissa, and Kevin reuniting with good friend Bryan, my default assumption was that Stephanie was doomed, Melissa would be hamstrung, and Bryan would coast to victory. Therein lies the beauty of deft editing and promotion, as reality didn’t mirror perception.

I’ve made bashing Brian Malarkey a weekly exercise in these recaps, but have to give credit where credit is due. He brought it for Stephanie, as a sous chef, as a cheerleader, and as an emotional rock. He delivered the goods AND the line of the night, telling Stephanie that “I’m your bitch!” in embracing his role.

What felt like a pushy Lee Anne in the preview turned out to be a chef who was simply trying to help Melissa win. Floating suggestions and ideas, then taking Melissa’s lead, made Chef Wong a great ally, even being on board with the idea of starting from scratch on the tiramisu dessert that felt a bit off in its initial preparation.

Bryan benefitted by having close friend Kevin at his side, as Chef Gillespie wasn’t new to the pressures of being in the finale. A finalist himself in season 6 and falling just short this season, Kevin remained a calming voice throughout Chef Voltaggio’s final cook.

The last Judges’ Table of the season left no doubt that all three finalists had excelled.

With the straight-forward charge to create a progressive four-course meal, Melissa, Stephanie, and Bryan produced dishes that earned them effusive praise from the judges. With Stephanie’s veal course seeming to fall just short, I was left to wonder whether the third time would finally be the charm for Chef Voltaggio or if Chef King would ride her season-long wave to the $250,000 prize and title of Top Chef.

In the end, Chef Melissa King stayed true to her mission of combining her Chinese roots with local Italian cooking and was rewarded with the words all 15 original cheftestants longed to hear from Padma, “you are Top Chef!”. The San Francisco-based chef, a finalist in season 12, not only took home the title Top Chef, but was also labeled Fan Favorite after weeks of online voting.

Unfortunately, the crowning of a new Top Chef means we’re now left to begin our vigil anew for season 18, which can’t come a moment too soon. So Bravo and Magical Elves (the show’s producers), do tell, when can we expect to see the next season of TV’s best food competition show? I for one can’t wait!

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What did you think of the Top Chef All Stars LA finale? Are you hungry for more Top Chef?