Welcome to this week’s recap of “Top Chef: All-Stars L.A.!” We’ve made our way down the mountain after last week’s trip to camp and, somehow, there are only six chefs remaining!
My name is Daniel Trainor and I don’t remember my life before writing these recaps.
And my name is Sam Stone. Before we started doing these recaps, I thought Voltaggio was a type of rare cheese.
SS: Seems like just yesterday there were upwards of one thousand chefs whose names I couldn’t remember burning fish on a beach somewhere in L.A. in our first elimination challenge, and look at us now.
DT: The episode starts with a shirtless shot of Brian Malarkey, something I neither hated nor thought lasted long enough. I’ve been inside too long. I cannot be trusted with decisions. I haven’t touched a man in years.
SS: Does that qualify as an early frontrunner for Most Iconic Moment of the Episode or whatever deranged thing you’ve created?
DT: It’s actually Most Iconic Moment of the Episode™. You can expect to hear from my lawyers for that copyright infringement. And also….yes.
SS: All the muscles in the world can’t make up for the hat choices I’ve seen this man make.
DT: We find out that Stephanie’s brother recently passed away after a battle with addiction and I absolutely cried. She’s the rare “Top Chef” contestant who I think I’d actually be friends with in real life.
SS: We jump into the kitchen to meet our guest judge, pastry icon and cake legend Sherry Yard, who’s made desserts for the Oscars which, I guess, matters?
DT: Sherry Yard sounds like a make believe London neighborhood where you pay for things in gold coins.
SS: Sherry Yard is coincidentally the drag name I take on whenever I do landscaping work.
DT: Padma informs the chefs that they’ll be making pastry for this Quickfire Challenge and they react as if they’ve been asked to get to the moon with a paperclip and a pomegranate.
SS: She quips that the challenge will be “a piece of cake” and the chefs guffaw so enthusiastically it’s like she’s pulled out a gun off camera and told them to laugh.
DT: The twist (and there always is one!) is that the chefs have to do a blind taste test to earn the ingredients they’re allowed to use. Those who guess the most correctly will have the most time to work on their dish.
SS: Gregory somehow guessed guava paste correctly, which was erotic.
DT: We get into the challenge and, oh god, here comes Malarkey and his ridiculous pants back to flirt with the ice cream machine again.
SS: It’s a love affair for the ages, but the centerpiece of Malarkey’s dish is a cake he describes as having a “hard crust” which is the most unappetizing combination of words I’ve heard thus far in this gorgeous journey we call life.
DT: Melissa, meanwhile, seems to be taking the more inventive ice cream approach by pouring a bunch of chemicals into a mixing bowl.
SS: Liquid nitrogen ice cream seems so much easier than using that insane machine, but leaves me with some questions: Does Malarkey know that this much easier method exists? Also is Melissa a scientist? What exactly is nitrogen? And where do I get some?
DT: I skipped science day in high school. Malarkey and Karen have their time expire first and, unfortunately, Karen’s panna cotta has panna notta set.
SS: Sorry, THAT is the most unappetizing combination of words I’ve ever heard.
DT: Melissa excels with her olive oil cake, meanwhile Voltaggio struggles again in the Quickfire because he insists on throwing dust on a plate instead of cooking.
SS: Last to be judged, Gregory and Stephanie both do well, but don’t get any major accolades. Voltaggio and Karen find themselves in the bottom.
DT: Voltaggio’s little smirk face every time he fails in the Quickfire is so boring. Stop making shit like coconut sand, you fuckin’ weirdo!
SS: Bryan, if you’re reading this, and I am positive that you are, it sounds like Daniel is challenging you to a fist fight. If you’d like his home address and a list of his greatest vulnerabilities, let me know.
DT: BRING IT ON. We get into the Elimination Challenge and are introduced to our absolute bad ass guest judges, Niki Nakayama and Carole Iida-Nakayama from n/naka in Los Angeles, two women who I’m pretty sure could kill me with a glance.
SS: The two of them teach us, and our chefs, about a traditional Japanese dining style called Kaiseki, in which six progressive courses are presented, each utilizing subtle natural flavors, and created with extreme attention to detail.
DT: Malarkey wastes no time insulting Japanese culture and tradition, saying he doesn’t like using tweezers. Not surprising considering this is a man whose strongest cultural reference point appears to be, I don’t know, hats?
SS: Or Shrek? This man is an enigma.
DT: As the Quickfire winner, Melissa assigns everybody their courses. Padma informs the contestants that the winner of the Elimination Challenge wins a trip to the Olympics in Tokyo, which are famously no longer happening. This is only slightly less upsetting than when Gregory won a trip to the “Trolls: World Tour” premiere.
SS: If you think about it, the Olympics are the “Trolls: World Tour” of sports.
DT: The chefs get very excited about the fact that they’re going to cook for some Olympic athletes blah blah blah blah. I’m ready to talk about the real moment of this episode.
SS: What’s happening here?
DT: We get back to the mansion and…Karen is wearing a Powerlifting vs. Everybody shirt while deadlifting on the patio. This woman is a mirage. This woman is the sun. This woman is the moon. Karen is a weightlifting former cheerleader who studied musical theater and cooks for a living while stanning Kelly Clarkson.
DT: The Powerlifting vs. Everybody t-shirt is quite a conundrum because, well, it makes no sense. Who exactly is Powerlifting feeling oppressed by? Can an activity have an enemy? Where do I get one?
DT: Where did these weights come from? Did she bring them from home? Did she have them delivered? Has she actually ever used them before?
SS: Do I call someone?
DT: Call the police because I’d like to report a murder and the person who committed that murder is Karen and the thing she murdered is my heart.
SS: This seems like something we’re gonna need to unpack off-recap, so let’s move on to the Elimination Challenge.
DT: The chefs arrive at the L.A. Coliseum for the cook. Karen is in the weeds, while Malarkey won’t stop talking about how pretty things are an affront to his personality.
SS: The service begins, and in addition to our judges’ comments we’re treated to the thoughts of the Olympians who say things like “I thought it was fresh and also…refreshing”. Poetry.
DT: Malarkey’s soup was cold, Karen’s duck was cooked unevenly and Carole Iida-Nakayama found a piece of shell in Melissa’a chawanmushi. She reacts as if she wants to throw hands with Melissa in the Coliseum parking lot.
SS: The star of the meal was Stephanie’s panna cotta, though. This is the second panna cotta featured in the episode, and you really have to give it up for panna cotta’s PR team here. Huge victory for panna cotta today.
DT: Not only is it a huge victory for the concept of panna cotta, it’s a huge victory for the concept of Stephanie, who wins the challenge and will not be attending the Olympics.
SS: Voltaggio also gets high marks but, unfortunately, our powerlifting princess wasn’t able to burpee her way to victory.
DT: Karen leaves us by saying “Goonies never say die,” a confusing exit line for a confounding, beautiful woman. We will miss you, Karen.
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.