Every season of Top Chef gives viewers a wide variety of culinary masterminds, jaw-dropping dishes, and Tom Colicchio's enigmatic smirks, but Top Chef All Stars: L.A. in particular ran on all cylinders. Some of the most talented runner-ups in Top Chef history were in contention for the crown, but only one chef's name was called out in the end: Melissa King. Having first joined the show in the Boston-set twelfth season, King oozed more confidence than ever against her fellow All-Stars, steadily honing her ever-intriguing style of fusing Chinese and Italian flavors and techniques.
Clearly, Top Chef's judges and globally renowned guest diners felt that Melissa King's food soared that much higher than those of fellow finalists Bryan Voltaggio (Season 6, Top Chef Masters Season 5) and Stephanie Cmar (Season 11), and she went home the latest Top Chef champion. CinemaBlend was lucky enough to talk with Chef King after the big win, so read on to see what she had to say about the show's importance during self-quarantining, what stressed her out, and what her ideal Restaurant Wars team would be.
How Melissa King Feels About Winning During The Pandemic
The joy in watching this season of Top Chef was drastically different from the emotions that past seasons were able to induce, largely because much of the U.S. has been in self-quarantine mode for the entirety of the all-star season. Viewers have gotten to live rather vicariously as contestants were traveling across L.A., running around Whole Foods, and hosting social gatherings where no one needed to worry about social distancing. I asked Melissa King for her thoughts on pulling off this huge victory before the world went into lockdown mode, and here's what she told me:
Thankfully, the quarantine process didn't stop Top Chef viewers from reaching out to contestants in order to show support. In fact, it sounds like Melissa King has been able to interact with her growing fanbase in ways that she wouldn't have been able to before. With the restaurant industry having taken a sharp downturn, King found other ways to make money and put her skills to use, such as by giving virtual cooking instruction to those seeking hella tasty dinners. As well, she started crafting her own line of sauces, which she is selling in small batches.
Not that everything has been 100% positive. The global spread of the novel coronavirus has led to a seemingly sizable uptick in xenophobic behavior from those who actively blame China for the virus getting out. Given that Melissa King's parents both immigrated from Hong Kong to Los Angeles before she was born, I asked the Top Chef winner if that socially heinous side of the pandemic factored into how she felt about taking the top prize. In her words:
I certainly hope that victory keeps inspiring and propelling Melissa King to greatness, considering it was precisely her Chinese-Italian fusion concept that secured her the victory. Her dessert even made the iconic eight-generation Italian butcher Dario Cecchini cry as he tried voicing his appreciation for how much she respected her Italian influences while also elevating them with her own flavors. That maybe be the one exception to King's "we're all the same" sentiment, since I definitely haven't had that experience...yet.
The Most Stressful Thing (And Hardest Cook) Of The Season For Melissa King
The Top Chef powers-that-be are always coming up with unique and interesting challenges for the chefs to try and conquer, and All-Stars L.A. was no exception. Among other nerve-rattling elimination challenges, the chefs had to cook a Sunday brunch for wine-loving hundreds of moms on vacation, and also had to prepare meals for the widow of the world-renowned restaurant critic Jonathan Goldman, as inspired by the restaurants he loved the most. For Melissa King, the most stressful aspect of the season wasn't a particular elimination round, but rather trying to survive the entire shebang while up against the lofty pedigrees of her fellow contestants. Here's how King put it:
Though several chefs had already unsuccessfully competed in multiple seasons of Top Chef and its spinoffs, that probably didn't make Melissa King much more confident about taking them all down. After all, can anyone feel legitimately comfortable when cooking against Bryan Voltaggio or Lee Anne Wong in any situation? (Not that Top Chef hasn't had its share of unfettered egoism among all the kind-heartedness.)
It would be easy to think that Melissa King's biggest culinary hurdle this season was the four-course meal in the big finale, considering that was the one that earned her the victory. However, when I asked about the hardest cook actually was, the chef barely hesitated, saying:
As a longtime Top Chef fan, I look forward to the Restaurant Wars episodes more than any other ones, since it tests the chef's culinary skills, their creativity, and their ability to work well with others on the fly. Naturally, those episodes almost always feature memorable meltdowns, mini-clashes between team members and extremely questionable thematic choices. This season actually made things a little more streamlined having all the contestants pitch their restaurant concepts in the pre-Wars episode, with the two elimination challenge winners getting to bring their ideas to life. Melissa King told me the chefs were all surprised by that change-up as well, and she enjoyed the opportunity to have all the chefs pitch their ideals in a single episode.
Melissa King's Restaurant Wars Dream Team
Once the subject of Restaurant Wars came up, I could have spent the rest of the afternoon talking about the ins and outs of those signature Top Chef experiences. But since nobody had that much time on their hands, I asked Melissa King who her candidates would be for a Restaurant Wars dream team, choosing from anyone that has ever competed the Bravo series' 17-season history. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the chef drew upon her direct experiences when forming her answer.
If there's any justice in the world, Top Chef will one day bring in Brian Malarkey to be an all-time front-of-house representative for each team competing in Restaurant Wars from year to year. Of course, it would currently suffice just to know if there will be more Top Chef seasons in the future, so that Melissa King can return as either a guest judge or a non-stressed meal attendee. Fingers and knives crossed!
Top Chef All-Stars: LA is now over, sadly, so now the wait is on to see what the next season of the show might look like, assuming it does indeed go on in its current form on Bravo. In the meantime, stay tuned for updates and keep track of all the upcoming premieres and TV returns – food-related and otherwise – with our 2020 Summer TV premiere schedule.
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Nick is a Cajun Country native, and is often asked why he doesn't sound like that's the case. His love for his wife and daughters is almost equaled by his love of gasp-for-breath laughter and gasp-for-breath horror. A lifetime spent in the vicinity of a television screen led to his current dream job, as well as his knowledge of too many TV themes and ad jingles.