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'Top Chef' finale recap: Is it Richard Blais or Mike Isabella for the win?

March 31, 2011 |  6:00 am

Topchef Is $200,000 really enough to help a chef to pursue his -- in this case, it'll be a his -- culinary dreams? By the time the finale of "Top Chef: All Stars" gets underway, it doesn't matter. It's just about the competition: will it be Michael Isabella or Richard Blais?

Due respect to Mike, but I don't know anybody who's not on team Richard. Including me (Team Blais!).

Mike was kind of a long-shot whose dishes have been wowing judges late in the season, and whose ego has grown proportionally -- or maybe, disproportionately.

Meanwhile, Richard was the early star whose talents are obvious, but he's been faltering, anxious, skinny. It's as if while Mike swells, Richard shrinks.

There will be, Tom Colicchio says, "no twists or turns." The two chefs have to come up with a four-course tasting meal for their dream restaurant. "What we'd like to see," Colicchio explains, "is a glimpse into your future as a great chef."

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Was the "Top Chef" finale really that close? We taste-test the dishes.

As we've seen before, the chefs get kitchen help from earlier in the season. This time, it's determined not by choice but by  flavor. So: Richard wants Dale, Angelo and Jen. He gets: Spike (who wants to leave for jet ski reservations -- which Dale takes), Angelo and Antonia.

Michael gets Tiffany, Jamie (who he said he didn't want) and Carla. Hooray! We get to watch muppet-kooky Carla! Not enough, though. There was definitely a Carla deficit in this episode.

They will do a four-course tasting. They have five hours.

The menus -- and the winner -- after the jump.

Mike's restaurant is called Iz. His food: spiced beet and mozzarella salad with a chocolate vinaigrette. "Very clever," one judge says. A poached fish dish, which I miss as my neighbor knocks on my door, but Tom says it's the best he's had on the show (until he tastes Richard's, after which he recants). Next, a pork shoulder with pepperoni sauce that Mike says he calls his Tom dish. "With the way he loves his meat, I executed it to a T." Then a dessert: rosemary caramel custard that doesn't overly impress.

Richard's restaurant is Tongue in Cheek. His food: An amuse bouche of oysters with frozen creme fraiche pearls. Then raw hamachi with veal sweetbreads with garlic mayo & pickled celery (this is the one that sends Tom). Next, pork belly, black cod with bone marrow -- "food you wanna eat," Richard says, not realizing that some of us are still queasy about eating bone marrow. Then beef short rib, red cabbage marmalade, horseradish puree, "Creativity, not high marks, but delicious," a judge says. Finally, cornbread with whipped mango and foie gras ice cream. It's a "controversial" dish, Spike says, and Richard tinkers with it to make the ice cream creamier.

Spike, who goes to the front of the house for Richard, is excellent at reporting back on what the judges are saying about the food. Maybe Richard promised to book him a makeup jet ski session.

The judges include Art Smith, Curtis Stone, Tom C, Gail, Padma, Lydia Bastianich, Hubert Keller, Adred Porale and Bill Telato -- only Keller will sit with the regulars at the judges' table.

Everyone thinks both competitors made spectacular food, and they do a tally that makes it come out even. But soon the chefs are standing and waiting and Padma says:

RICHARD. YOU ARE TOP CHEF.

OK, she didn't actually shout. But that's what she said. Richard Blais wins Top Chef All-Stars.

During the commercial breaks, Bravo runs live commentators -- in Chicago, NY and LA. They're not so good at it -- in Chicago, at about 10:30pm, Gail says we're going to find out who the winner is in 30 seconds (minutes, Gail, minutes). Padma, Curtis Stone, Antonia, Fabio and Jamie are at the Hollywood Roosevelt. Is that where John Horn, who recapped most of this show, has gotten to? Is it too late for me to go?

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Full Show Tracker coverage of 'Top Chef'

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Michael Isabella, left, and Richard Blais. Credit: Bravo.

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