Hello, everybody! Welcome to the official AwardsWatch recap of Top Chef: All-Stars LA. My name is Daniel Trainor and I will be one-half of your weekly guide through all things quickfire, all things cutthroat and all things aioli. So much aioli. I have seen every season of the show and I’m very ready for more. Last week, I scared a friend when I suddenly shouted “we need to appreciate Padma Lakshmi more!!!!” But it’s true and I’m no longer friends with that person!
My name, dear reader, is Sam Stone and I’m thrilled beyond words to be working on a recap of a show that I have never seen! Top Chef is a brand new experience for me, and I couldn’t have asked for a better guide than the seasoned (pun……….) Top Chef expert and aioli queen, Dan. Without further ado, let’s jump in.
The world is ending and somehow the Emmy-winning Top Chef’s 17th (?!) season is just beginning. Like little baby birds, we’re here to drink it up. It’s a very special season, too. All our chefs have competed before, and are now back to claim that elusive title, not to mention the largest cash prize yet – $250k.
DT: The episode kicks off with Padma, Tom and Gail at the Griffith Observatory, famous for many things including that scene from La La Land and being a place I take my aunt when she visits me on vacation. My immediate thought is that these people are standing too close together.
SS: And my immediate thought is that we need to take a moment to appreciate the incredible rainbow vertically striped jumpsuit Nini is bestowing on us all. Dan, how many perfect outfit choices can I expect to see this season? A million?
DT: I fear this may be the only one, outside of Joe’s hat which inexplicably reads “Eat Pasta, Make Love.” This turns out to be some foreshadowing, but we’re not there yet.
SS: We meet the chefs, and I quite frankly can’t remember anyone’s name (just like in real life), and then our chefs SPRINT AT TOP SPEED to start their first quickfire challenge which is I guess…chopping or whatever.
DT: Look at you, already learning the lingo! So, our first quickfire is a “mise en place challenge” wherein the contestants have to break down artichokes, segment oranges and shell almonds. The chefs react to the breaking news about almonds like they have been asked to perform brain surgery.
At one point, Tom Colicchio blows a whistle and yells “the choke needs to be out!,” which is a lot for an afternoon at the Observatory.
SS: It felt like a lot of whistle blowing and all in all it was reminiscent of the time I was forced to play flag football in high school for twenty minutes before faking a broken pelvis.
DT: Kevin, Jamie, Joe, Melissa and Bryan (Team Red) are ultimately really good at cutting artichokes or whatever, so they get to head back to the kitchen and start their dishes first.
SS: Joe begins to make pasta which I guess is like a huge thing for him. I’m happy for him and his pasta, and I wish everyone would be nicer to him (read: I like his mustache and thought he seems ok!).
DT: Nini, Lisa, Stephanie, Karen and Brian make up Team #2 (or Team Blue), while Lee Anne, Gregory, Angelo, Eric and Jennifer (Team Green) took forever shelling their damn almonds, so they’re the last team back to the kitchen.
Upon arrival, Lee Anne decides she wants to fry something. The fryers, however, are already being used! OF COURSE THEY ARE, LEE ANNE! HAVE YOU NEVER SEEN THIS SHOW?!
SS: I think we need to actually examine the systemic problem here, and ask ourselves why there’s only one fryer for 15 people. We cannot blame Lee Anne. We must stand with Lee Anne.
DT: You’re right. She’s already hard enough on herself. And the judges are ultimately very hard on her awful-looking artichoke tempura. Both she and Joe (and Joe’s hat) had the judges’ least favorite dishes.
Despite the pasta, the Red Team wins and Bryan gets the solo victory (his first ever, which everyone rewards with adulation typically saved for a Kennedy Center Honor). The Red Team become 5 team captains and get to pick their teammates for the first Elimination Challenge.
The teams break down as follows:
AQUA – Bryan, Eric and Lisa
BLUE – Kevin, Jennifer, Nini
YELLOW – Jamie, Gregory, Stephanie
RED – Joe, Lee Anne, Brian
GREEN – Melissa, Angelo, Karen
SS: Brian ends up being “bossy” in Joe’s words, but really just asked people what they were planning on cooking and made helpful suggestions.
DT: My favorite moment of prep was when Lisa shouted “HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT CITRUS?!” I just don’t know how you’re supposed to answer something like that.
SS: And that’s why you’ll never be good enough for “Top Chef,” you neanderthal.
SS: I’m sorry Daniel. I lost my cool for a second.
DT: It’s fine. You were being a real Brian Malarkey, but this season is all about redemption, so I forgive you.
It’s the end of the day and the chefs arrive at their cavernous mansion. The place looks like the set of “I Love New York”, but modernized by a set decorator who had a $300 gift card to West Elm.
SS: And has a bunk bed fetish.
DT: It’s very disconcerting to see a grown man get out of a bunk bed and immediately put on a chef’s coat.
SS: Almost as disconcerting as watching Brian hype himself up on an elliptical alone at 5am.
DT: We get to Cabrillo Beach, and the elements come into play immediately. Wind! Sand! Lee Anne pouring olive oil over an open flame!
SS: Joe bravely decides to make a clam flatbread situation that also includes uni, approximately one thousand other ingredients that make no sense, and finishes it with an aioli. Aioli is perfect, but on a flatbread? I’m calling the police.
DT: It’s time to eat. We’re introduced to a very esteemed panel of guests and it was very hard to pay attention to anything other than Marcus Samuelsson’s hat.
SS: What hat do I have to buy to be invited to a judgmental beachside luncheon with Padma?
DT: Jamie, Gregory and Stephanie win the challenge. Guest judge Jeremiah Tower, who I cannot stress enough is an actual person, gives the win to Gregory and his peaches.
SS: And then we all get to rag on Lee Anne for her amateur olive oil snafu. I retract my earlier statement. We must not stand with Lee Anne.
DT: Ultimately, Joe gets sent home for his war crime of a flatbread. May he and his mustache rest in peace.
That wraps up the first episode. What did you think, newbie?
SS: I feel changed. I feel new. I feel the same way Padma described Joe’s pasta dish. “Doughy, dry, and chewy.”
Daniel Trainor is writer, podcaster, son and friend from Los Angeles, California. Originally from Michigan, his love for all things pop culture started early, once using pancakes to bribe his way onto the Oscars red carpet bleachers with his mother. In addition to writing for AwardsWatch, he is an huge sports fan and hosts the LGBTQ sports podcast “Same Team.” One day, he hopes Jane Krakowski will win an Emmy.
Sam Stone is a writer and actor based in Brooklyn, New York. He writes humor, culture, and travel among other things, and spends his free time reading about all those things. You can find him on twitter @sam_the_stone or on Instagram @samstone000.