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'Top Chef': Mike thinks cook and crook are the same thing

February 24, 2011 |  6:30 am


Catfish? More like catfight.
The personality clashes in this season’s “Top Chef  All-Stars” have been as fleeting as a cloud of steam—they vanish immediately.  But when Richard accused Mike of stealing a winning recipe Wednesday night—a charge that Mike didn’t exactly deny—it looked as if the show had its first real feud.

The dispute began in the episode’s Quickfire challenge, when guest judge Paula Deen (whose own cooking is so pedestrian she was a controversial pick as this year’s Rose Parade grand marshal), asked the remaining six chefs to deep fry something yummy.

Richard, as is his habit, went all molecular gastronomic and froze some mayonnaise, which he  then submerged in boiling duck fat. Mike made a chicken “oyster” dish that, at the very least, was inspired by a drawing Richard had showed Mike earlier, and at worst was pilfered.

“That’s my dish,” Richard said coldly. Mike said he “had seen it done before,” which given the dish’s distinctive presentation (Richard’s sketch included serving the chicken in an empty oyster shell) strained credulity. 

Like a good thief, Mike then shifted the blame—to Richard. If it was such a good idea, Mike said, Richard “should have done it himself,” which is a bit like a bank robber saying the tellers would have emptied the registers if he hadn’t.

When Richard and Mike were shortlisted for the win (Antonia, with the best dish of fried avocados, was bizarrely disqualified because she didn’t make a separate tasting plate for Padma),  Richard realized the cruel irony of Mike’s theft. “He stole my dish,” Richard said. “I’m competing against myself.”

Adding insult to injury, Mike won the challenge, pocketing the $5,000 prize. Hardly contrite, Mike turned the slow roast on his bad behavior to high broil.  “It’s not your dish,” Mike explained. “It’s my dish, because I won the 5 Gs.” Said Richard: “This sucks.”

The remaining women—Antonia, Tiffany and Carla—convened their own culinary court hearing. “This is bad chef etiquette,” Antonia said. “There is man law,” Carla said, “and there is chef law. You don’t take another chef’s idea. That’s a no-no.”

Because there is some justice not only in the world but also in reality television, Richard’s fried fish and pulled pork won the elimination challenge, which was judged by John Besh (whose New Orleans restaurant August is among the best places I’ve eaten) and Deen (whose crab martini recipe calls for 1 cup of mayonnaise).  “Sorry, Mikey,” Richard said. “This one is mine.”

But because there is injustice not only in the world but also in reality television, it was Dale—not Mike—who was dispatched from the competition. Unlike his angry demeanor in Season 4, Dale has matured greatly as a person and a chef, and his tearful farewell was actually moving.

Too bad the same can’t be said of Mike. Perhaps if Mike gets jammed up next week, he can steal someone's pea puree, as Alex did from Ed last season. After all, as Mike appears to know too well, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

--John Horn

Photo of Richard Blais in “Top Chef All-Stars”: David Giesbrecht/Bravo