Photo: David Giesbrecht / Bravo
Top Chef, how can you do this to us? Watching All Stars, the latest addition to the rapidly multiplying franchise, is like being forced to get back together with an old flame -- or, rather, all your old flames -- against your better judgment.
In one fell swoop, all of the thrills, the regret, the frustration are back. Maybe your flame was a crazed, bipolar egotist -- spicy, saucy and dripping with self-conscious sex appeal, but impossible to live with for more than a weekend (with a name like Spike, Fabio, Angelo... we could go on). Maybe the breakup was for the best.
Or maybe he or she was really, really nice but dreadfully bland. Someone to take home to your parents. Someone to watch Law and Order reruns while you both munch on plain popcorn -- you know, to watch your cholesterol and all (Elia, Stephen). But no matter how comfortable the relationship, your tastes have matured -- you're ready for something more.
Even the act of tuning in dredges up so much emotional baggage. (Angelo's psychosomatic fevers; Spike's frat-boy hats!) And, to be frank, we're ready to play the field with some new cheftestants -- not 18 almost-rans. But, that said, the first episode provided enough older-but-wiser tension, commentary and cattiness to keep us coming back for more.
We weren't the only ones having a sense of déjà vu: All of the cheftestants had to remake the dish that sent them home. As they all scrambled to cook, we jotted down a few select notes on some of them...
Spike: "Is this the craftiest motherf**ker who's ever been on the show?" judge Anthony Bourdain demanded to know, after seeing what the man did with frozen scallops. Spike's bravado may piss us off, but we must admit we were impressed with the way he used citrus and spice to leech out that tongue-numbing freezer-burn taste in his ceviche.
Fabio: The former fan favorite (and more recent Bravo web presence) with the slick hair managed to do the opposite with Bourdain. Always confrontational, Fabio more or less told Bourdain that, were they not, you know, on a TV show, he'd punch him in the face for all the "mean" things Tony said about his disgusting-looking crawfish-crab-and-pasta stew. From where we were sitting, this was the one time Tony wasn't being mean at all -- just truthful.
Elia: Oh, Elia. You couldn't even watch as the judges ate your banana-leaf steamed snapper -- always a sign a chef has done something shameful. So why go out on the floor and defend it? No matter how much she dressed it up, it couldn't hide the fact that parts of the fish were still raw. And -- maybe emboldened by Fabio's outburst, she couldn't help but demand to the judges, "don't eliminate me -- I mean it!"
Out of spite or just plain sick stomachs, the judges did, indeed, eliminate Elia, making for the first "nice" casualty in what will no doubt be one hell of a backstabbing season.