We’ve reached the finale of “Top Chef: All Stars LA.!”
It’s been a journey. From Indian nachos to Nini’s jumpsuits, Malarkey’s ice creams to Kevin’s questionable ode to plantation cooking. It has truly been an incredible season, and we’ve had the pleasure of spending it with you, dear reader.
I’m Daniel Trainor and while this wasn’t my first “Top Chef” trip around the sun, it still managed to move me and push me to think about things in a different light. And most of those things were food.
I’m Sam Stone, and while I had never seen an episode of “Top Chef” until 14 (!!) weeks ago, I would like to take this opportunity to ask Padma to please follow me on Twitter. Please, Padma.
For one last time, let’s get into it.
DT: Our three remaining chefs arise in their Italian villa at what appears to be 3:00 a.m., which is less than ideal, to a cooked breakfast and a note from Padma asking them to meet her on the terrace once they’ve finished, which is the most ideal thing I’ve ever heard.
SS: The terrace is layered in mist and drama, and Padma intimates that she controls the weather, which confirms a few suspicions of mine.
DT: Padma, and Tom is there too I guess, tells our chefs that, for the Elimination Challenge, they are responsible for creating the best four-course progressive meal of their lives. No biggie.
SS: They are not alone, though! Before we know what the hell and/or fuck is going on, we’re greeted with the most haunting image of my entire life: Brian Malarkey emerging from a mystical fog. He’s accompanied by Lee Anne and Kevin, all of whom have come back to assist our three chefs in their final cook.
DT: Our girl Lee Anne is wearing an absolute Etsy nightmare of a scarf made out of crocheted bacon and eggs.
SS: Where have these looks been hiding Lee Anne?! Where were these fashion moments earlier in the season, girlfriend?! I mean obviously this one is misguided but it’s SOMETHING, ya know?
DT: The chefs draw knives to figure out who their sous chefs will be. Stephanie gets to pick her partner first and, for whatever God forsaken reason, goes with Malarkey. youindangergirl.gif
SS: Voltaggio goes with his completely hetero and non-romantic best friend Kev, which leaves Melissa and Lee Anne as the finale’s odd couple.
DT: The chefs are off to shop in Florence for ingredients. On the drive, Lee Anne tells Melissa that she should put an octopus in a pressure cooker, so things are off to a predictably terrible start.
SS: Malarkey immediately jumps at the opportunity to condescend Stephanie, and begins their conversation by saying “I can’t believe you made it this far!,” which goddess Stephanie casually laughs off.
DT: He then says their partnership will make for “the best fucking upset ever,” which in classic Malarkey fashion is both encouraging and terribly degrading. The man has a gift.
SS: At the market, Lee Anne has a lot of opinions about ingredients, and Melissa is just about ready to pop off, but our queen of restraint somehow manages to bite her tongue. Even when Lee Anne helpfully asks if Melissa “wants to put nuts on anything.” Somehow, Melissa greets this dumbass question with a serene calm energy that subtly reads as “I will absolutely strangle you with those bacon and eggs if you make one more mention of micro cilantro.”
DT: Meanwhile, Voltaggio says his meal will be inspired by “delicious Mom food,” which in my experience is Kraft Easy Mac and a slap on the ass!
SS: Stephanie and Malarkey make a strangely good team. Stephanie does all the shopping and gets exactly what she needs and Malarkey runs around shouting and waving his arms like a muppet that was accidentally given speed.
DT: Once in the kitchen, the chefs begin prep for the final cook. Melissa tells Lee Anne to put more tea powder into her Hong Kong Milk Tea tiramisu, which Lee Anne interprets as a call to stage her own Hong Kong Milk Tea Party and dumps all of the tea in sight into the pot.
SS: Voltaggio and Kevin spend most of their time hyping each other up, but somehow find time to, like, grate beef for a bolognese or whatever it is that goes into a lasagna.
DT: Malarkey continues doing his schtick, which mostly consists of encouraging Stephanie while screaming about nothing in particular while wearing weird pants.
SS: Melissa has some doubts about her tiramisu, but alas, we must leave the prep kitchen for the night and hope they set well for tomorrow. Our three chefs are invited to a mystery dinner, and we find out that Padma, Tom and “food expert” Gail are the ones doing the cooking.
DT: This will sound like a joke, but the sight of Padma inside the kitchen made me emotional? What has this season done to me?
SS: It should also be mentioned that Padma chose to cook while wearing untinted aviator sunglasses, which somehow is the perfect inverse of Lee Anne’s bacon and egg scarf.
DT: Melissa tastes Tom’s squab and has the absolutely brilliant idea to be like “I’m going to copy this tomorrow!”
SS: We return to the villa and the chefs are given the opportunity to video chat with their loved ones before their final cook of the season. Melissa’s mom has the most enthusiasm and energy I’ve ever seen on a video call. Normally, I spend 95% of my time wondering if it’s the lighting or my face really looks like that.
DT: Voltaggio hops on a chat with Machine Gun Kelly. I’m sorry, I’m actually being told that it was his brother, Michael.
SS: We’re treated to an insert shot of Voltaggio scrawling down “I will win Top Chef” in his diary which was, I guess…intention-journaling? The Secret? Did he charge his crystals enough?!
DT: It’s the morning of the final cook and it turns out, as they feared, Melissa’s tiramisu is not quite right, which is tiramisad.
SS: Your use of puns in these recaps is an act of domestic terrorism, and I have alerted the FBI.
DT: Arrest me! Rain On Me! Stream Chromatica! The transition into 911!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! So anyway, Voltaggio inspects his huge ass lasagna by slamming it on the table like a lunch lady who has nothing left to live for. He likes what he sees.
SS: Melissa is messing around with some porcinis that are bigger than my head, and probably would have cyberbullied me in middle school.
DT: It’s time for judging, which is very intimidating because there are lots of people who have won awards or whatever.
SS: Included in our esteemed table of judges is, I guess, a very famous and very Italian butcher? He sits down at the table and literally says “mamma mia” – is it possible he’s a paid actor?
DT: The only possible answer is yes. Anyway, first courses are served and Voltaggio’s beet dish was called “beguiling” by a man at the table who clearly wanted to show off that he owns a thesaurus.
SS: Stephanie presents her shrimp dish, and explains how it’s a tribute to her late brother. I’m crying, you’re crying, Gail is definitely crying. Shrimp hasn’t made people cry like this since Forrest Gump.
DT: Our aforementioned Central Casting diner starts crying about Melissa’s tiramisu as if he’s been told his appearance here makes him SAG eligible.
SS: I know this is my first “Top Chef” rodeo, but does everybody always cry this much about custard-based desserts?
DT: When someone so beautifully, and intrinsically weaves two cultures into one harmonious dish? Uh yeah, ya dweeb. They do! We get to Judges’ Table and, while praising Voltaggio’s dessert, Gail says “dark chocolate is kind of all I care about,” which is a difficult look for a woman who was talking about her children earlier this episode.
SS: We hear a little bit more about Stephanie’s journey of grief and recovery and how that factored into her cooking throughout the season, and I know we are often acerbic and sarcastic here, but it was a genuinely beautiful moment, and I am now finished being earnest for the rest of my life.
DT: The judging is super close, but when all is said and done, it’s queer icon Melissa King who wins “Top Chef: All Stars LA.!” I could not be happier.
SS: And I’m just a little happier than Daniel, because everything is a competition for me.
DT: Well, you win in ruining this moment for me. With that being said, I hope you enjoyed your first “Top Chef” experience.
SS: What a beguiling end to a beguiling season of a beguiling show.
DT We get it, you own a thesaurus. BYE BABIES!!!
Bravo’s Emmy and James Beard Award-winning “Top Chef” crowned Melissa King (San Francisco, CA) the winner of Season 17 All Stars LA in an epic showdown in Italy. Melissa was awarded the coveted title of “Top Chef,” the largest cash prize in Top Chef history – $250,000 furnished by S.Pellegrino® Sparkling Natural Mineral Water and a feature in FOOD & WINE magazine. She will also appear at the 2021 FOOD & WINE Classic in Aspen. Melissa was also named the winner of the “Top Chef Fan Favorite” online poll, awarding her $10,000, furnished by S.Pellegrino® Sparkling Natural Mineral Water. Melissa plans to donate 100% of the Fan Favorite prize money to the following charities – Black Visions Collective, Asian Americans for Equality Asian Youth Center and The Trevor Project.
On her recent win, Melissa said, “I’m a proud Asian American, queer, woman. As a triple minority, winning ‘Top Chef’ means so much more than just winning it for myself. I hope my journey brings inspiration to anyone that’s ever felt challenged due to their sexuality, their gender, or the color of their skin. I hope I made my communities proud.”
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.