Congratulations, Top Chef. On the heels of your first Emmy you have produced your best season to date. Even in an episode which presumed to have high drama at the end leading up to a plot twist, but really was something that I thought was coming a mile away, you still made one of the more compelling episodes of the season. Amazingly enough, they did it using one of the more conventional gimmicks in reality shows – the Survivor classic “visits from home.” These episodes are built-in tear factories as the exhausted and lonely contestants always break down upon seeing their spouse, kid, parent, sibling or other loved one. However, this Top Chef edition produced what may have been my favorite one yet.
It was the added twist of hiring a top genealogist to research the backgrounds of the final five chefs that did it. They deposited them on Ellis Island and used the landmark’s history of immigration as the springboard for this challenge. The family members come out with the results of the genealogy research and the show takes off. I assume all the All-Stars got one of those background checks since it probably took a lot of research and effort, I wonder if they all got it. Those take time, and no one knew whom the Top Five would be, it would be a fairly nice parting gift for those early boots.
That’s when we learned so much about these five, in an intimate, darkened simple sequence with each of them pouring over their family history with their loved one. Blais and the gorgeous, five-months-pregnant Mrs. Blais discovered that he has butchers and chemists in his past. Incredible considering the Mr. Wizard-like chef he has become. Carla and Tiffany learned all about their past – and as African-Americans it obviously had some tragic roots. Carl’s great-great-grandfather fought in the Civil War and was one of the last slaves freed his part of Tennessee. He was also a small business owner, just like Carla. Antonia and Mike each learned more about their Italian roots – and interestingly enough were informed of a potential link in their family history through the name Antonacci. As Antonia stated, her Crazy Arch Nemesis and she now may be cousins. Hysterically, the two seem to instantly become infinitely closer after this revelation, weeks of conflict melted away.
The biggest reveal of the family visit was the humanization of Mike. Of course, he’s a human, but he acts like such an ass sometimes that it’s hard to remember that old adage that everyone has a mother and someone who loves him or her unconditionally. Mike revealed that his grandma was the inspiration to his love of cooking and since her death he has struggled to cook Italian food. In fact, he hasn’t done it at all professionally. Which is incredible to think about. The challenge parameters requiring the chefs to cook the meal inspired by their background meant that he would be cooking his grandma-inspired food for the first time in years, with a trip to All-Stars Finale on the line. Compelling stuff.
The best part of the whole journey of the super-sized episode – the chefs stepped it UP! Dish after dish came out and rocked. Perhaps the judges were hesitant to criticize the really important meal in front of the chefs’ loved ones, but in actuality it was just amazing cooking. As it went on, I wondered if they would eliminate an All-Star for a nitpick right before the Finals. The editing was odd, no criticisms were given to give you a sense of who would be top and bottom. Antonia’s mom joked with her daughter after the meal that she suggested a Final Five, and while the show did it to tease, but kind of laughed it off, I said instantly that this was going to happen.
I hate it when they kick off a chef who clearly made a great dish just because they have to. I would much rather they do these impromptu non-elimination episodes and just install a makeshift double elimination the next time out instead. I’d even be for a sudden-death challenge at Judges Table to break a tie. But in this case, the only logical decision was to bring all five to the finals and not eliminate a well-constructed dish made during an emotional challenge.
By the way, the least mentioned about that Quickfire the better. Yuck.