Thursday, March 31, 2011

Top Chef Finale: Which All-Star Topped 'Em All?

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Gentlemen, start your ovens.

Richard Blais and Mike Isabella headed into the Top Chef: All-Stars finale with grills blazing and blenders whirring, knowing that $200,000 and the title that had eluded them both in previous seasons was on the line.

Their mission if they chose to accept it: Create a four-course tasting menu for the restaurant of their dreams.

So, did Richard find sweet redemption with foie gras ice cream after coming up short in season four? Or did season-six also-ran Mike and his pepperoni sauce finally end up with a real reason to brag?

MORE: Who thinks she belonged in the Top Chef: All-Stars finale?

Actually, Richard's foie gras dessert wasn't really anybody's cup of tea, but the Atlanta family man was named Top Chef all the same.

And yes, the tears started flowing immediately, on all sides.

"I didn't think I could do it," Richard said afterward, still dazed by the victory. "You just don't know. I don't want to be clich�, but where there's a will, there's a way. I willed this."

Well, there's nothing clich�d about raw hamachi with crispy veal sweetbreads, which he served as his first course at his ad hoc "restaurant," Tongue and Cheek. The judges deemed it the hands-down best first course between the two.

Tom Colicchio, Padma Lakshmi, Gail Simmons and guest judge Hubert Keller were ultimately impressed by both finalists, but Richard edged out the other by tweaking his dessert for the second seating?meaning Tom and Gail got a creamier, less oddly textured ice cream. Mike could only offer the same overcooked rosemary caramel custard to both (though Gail flipped over the "brilliant" pepperoni sauce).

"It hurts, 32 challenges, to come in second. It's tough," said Mike, who over the course of the season won four challenges to Richard's eight.

"I feel like I beat him. I just didn't get the prize."

Sure enough, Richard Blais wins the $200,000, plus a showcase at the Aspen Food & Wine Classic and a spread in Food & Wine magazine.

Not to mention some serious bragging rights.

(Originally published March 30, 2011, at 8:50 p.m. PT)

WATCH: As they say, if you can't take the probably shouldn't be on Dancing With the Stars, either

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