updated 03/30/2011 AT 5:00 PM ET
•originally published 03/31/2011 AT 8:00 AM ET
After weeks of toil, twists and tight competition, Richard Blais and Mike Isabella were both left standing, seeking redemption and victory in Wednesday’s Top Chef All-Stars finale.
Over the course of an especially rigorous season, in which the two competed against fellow Top Chef alums, all of whom came just this close to winning their respective seasons, Blais and Isabella distinguished themselves with their invariably impressive and high-level cooking.
Blais, a master of molecular gastronomy, led with his intellect, serving playful, high-concept dishes and showcasing a variety of sophisticated techniques. Isabella, meanwhile, really stepped up mid-season, displaying expertise and confidence with Italian and Mediterranean cooking that afforded him an early lead in the final challenges.
So which chef was named the ultimate winner? Keep reading to find out.
“When there’s a will, there’s a way – and I willed this,” Richard said, wiping away tears. His wife, who was pregnant at the time, wasn’t able to join him, and he called her from his interview booth on camera to share the great news.
Acknowledging his tough competitor, Mike exuded confidence, even after the final decision. “I feel like I beat him,” he said. “I just didn’t get the prize.”
Restaurant of Their Dreams
As for their challenge this week, the chefs had to design the restaurant of their dreams and serve a four-course menu for a discerning panel of judges. Each also had three of their former competitors to aid them in the cooking. Their sous chefs were selected blindly, and Richard was matched with Antonia, Angelo and Spike, while Mike worked with Carla, Tiffani and Jamie.
Richard’s restaurant Tongue & Cheek offered dishes with multiple components, many proteins and, for dessert, a foie gras ice cream, which he perfected and tweaked as the night wore on. Mike’s restaurant, Iz, focused on refined Italian-inspired cooking, and wowed diners with a beautifully poached halibut with pepperoni sauce, as well as a glazed pork shoulder cooked to perfection.
At Judges’ Table, the panel conceded the choice was difficult indeed – “I’m on the fence, and I loved both meals and I’m not quite sure yet who I think won,” Tom Colicchio said – though Richard felt that Mike handily won.
But as the judges deliberated, Richard seemed to be a frontrunner. His oyster amuse-bouche was a textural delight, and his first course, a hamachi, won, as did his second course. From there, discussions ensued, and the judges argued that Mike’s latter two courses were slightly better.
But in the end, it was Richard’s night. And he summed it up succinctly: “I’m Top Chef.”