After two consecutive catering challenges, Top Chef: World All Stars delivered two far more inspired episodes with challenges that ultimately gave us more time and insight into the chefs, as people and cooks.
Both episodes also used their host country more, first by focusing on both biscuits and football in “Spurred Lines,” episode 4.
It opened with a biscuit Quickfire that produced firey reactions, from Gabri thirsting over guest judge Paul A. Young and saying “I’d totally date him” to Tom basically giving the challenge the middle finger and making small soft cakes instead.
The (well-deserved) British biscuit bashing was actually an opportunity for the chefs to talk about culinary traditions in their countries or regions. That’s something I’m really appreciating this season, just seeing the diversity of responses and approaches toward each challenge.
The more the pack thins, the more we get to know beyond Sylwia’s love of potatoes—though I will listen to Sylwia talk potatoes all day, and think she needs to host Top Chef: Potato Games.
Anyway, Ali won with his za’atar and orange biscuits, and then chefs had a night off, for real this time, a rare opportunity to see them interact with each other in more casual contexts.
The next day, the chefs went to Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, where they learned they’d be competing in teams, becoming immune with a win. Eventually, the team that lost twice would face off against each other.
Top Chef has done versions of this challenge before, and it’s great, as it gives everyone several chances to save themselves while showing off their skills.
I understand why they didn’t film inside the stadium, which was certainly a visually spectacular place. I also appreciate that, unlike most Food Network competitions, Top Chef leaves the studio to take advantage of its locations.
But once again, that left chefs cooking for an elimination challenge in makeshift kitchens in a parking lot, squinting from the scorching sun.
The heat presented less of a problem than walnuts, which nearly killed Victoire. While her allergy first manifested as sneezing, it got worse. She said it causes an asthmatic response.
In an interview, she joked that she was thinking: “I say to myself, ‘Finish your dish, and then you can die!” That’s commitment. After Victoire finished plating, a medic immediately took her away.
When the team arrived at the judge’s table to present the dishes, Padma Lakshmi—with a considerable amount of annoyance in her voice, perhaps directed at the producer who made her ask the question—asked the team, “Where’s Victoire?”, as if Victoire was just browsing in the gift shop and causing the group to be late.
Cut to Victoire being stabbed in the leg with an EpiPen, which is no joke at all. A producer later came over and told Victoire that her team won, and Victoire jumped up and wanted to go celebrate, and the medic was like, sit down right now.
Tangent: I’m amazed I was able to understand what was happening without Padma kneeling over Victoire and asking the medic to narrate what was happening inside Victoire’s lungs while Victoire wheezed and struggled to breathe.
With all the attention on Ali, Buddha, and Tom, and the problems Ali’s immunity would cause for that team if they lost, I was convinced they’d end up in the bottom. So I was surprised that it was Begoña, Gabri, and Luciana.
They had to cook with peas; Luciana packed her knives for her lack of pea flavor.
The “Holiday Vacation” episode 5 began with a Quickfire involving mead and honey, and more insight from the chefs: Victoire had never heard of mead, Sara has been drunk on it.
Tom won this time, perhaps because he actually followed the brief.
Padma introduced the guest judge, yet another who Gabri once again had a strong reaction to: Top Chef Mexico judge Martha Ortiz. Gabri said in an interview, “I hope you’re rooting for me, bitch.”
The chefs learned that they’d be traveling to Kent, outside of London, to film an advertisement for VRBO. They had to stay and cook in a rental home so sponsored it had a sign outside.
And of course, they had to cook in its kitchen—which was very spacious, yet for 11 professional chefs, still absurd.
The prize for winning the challenge, though, was worth it: a $10,000 stay anywhere in the world.
The chefs had to plan a family-style dinner, and had just about £90 each. So they all immediately groaned when Gabri announced that—and this was a surprise—he was going to cook mole again. It had previously given him budgetary challenges, but he insisted this would be “simplistic mole.”
At Whole Foods, of course, they all rang up their purchases, and came in with £30 to spare, and so they bought tequila. Way to use Bravo’s money!
Cooking together brought a lot of fun interplay, from Sara being asked about Christmas traditions (“I’m a Jew, I don’t have Christmas”) to Tom’s irritation over having to lean into his pastry skills (“I’ll make you guys a cake, mate. A nice cake.”).
“I’m just slicing my nuts,” Buddha said, causing Amar to laugh—and Victoire to once again face death. But this time she was prepared.
“Victorie, why are you wearing a mask?” Nicole asked, clearly prompted by a producer.
“Because some chefs are cooking with walnuts, and I don’t want to die today,” Victoire said.
We learned that tequila gives Gabri a hangover, and that Sarah is tracking the entire cast’s performance, in an offline version of this Wikipedia chart.
It wasn’t all fun, though: “I’m in the shit,” Begoña said, because she had to share a pot of hot oil with Charbel and was running out of time.
From Begoña’s stew made from leftovers to Gabri’s creation of a dish in his father’s memory to Sara’s story of a horrific tree-sawing accident that accidentally created a great dish that was left in the oven while they went to the hospital, the chef’s food was deeply rooted in their lives and experiences. That opened them up to us in a way that the pointless catering challenges did not.
And it gave us a wonderful scene of the judges and contestants all gathered around a table, eating what each other had made. “It’s love,” Victorie said. “This is the magic and power of food.”
Of course, this is still Top Chef, and someone has to win (Amar) and someone had to go (Begoña).
Padma told the chefs, “it feels so odd for me to say these are our least-favorite dishes,” and then she and Gail and Tom launched right in to their critiques of Begoña, Buddha, and Gabri’s dishes.
Buddha has been less charitable than I remember him being, fuming about being in the bottom three.
“What the fuck show am I on?” Buddha asked when Tom criticized him for being too chefy, and then the reality TV Cymbal of Emphasis illustrated his frown when Sara reminded him that Tom’s critique was mostly focused on Buddha’s failure to season his salmon.
It’s the small things that make a difference, and that’s true for Top Chef 20 too, which improved just by allowing more space and time for its chefs to show us who they are.
Wednesday 12th of April 2023
I hate to say it, but I am completely bored by the same challenges, the same... the same
I've given up on this show
Monday 10th of April 2023
Your tangent made me LOL!
At least our U.S. judges are aging naturally and gracefully, or at least appear that way. Yikes.
Saturday 8th of April 2023
The shade of it all 😆 You can't let an opportunity to shade Narrator McExposition go to waste!