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Top Chef: All Stars L.A.: Who's Poised to Make the Top 5?

The over/under on all fifteen returning cheftestants.
  • Karen Akunowicz, Eric Adjepong and Angelo Sosa are among those returning to the kitchen for Top Chef All-Stars L.A. (Bravo)
    Karen Akunowicz, Eric Adjepong and Angelo Sosa are among those returning to the kitchen for Top Chef All-Stars L.A. (Bravo)

    After flirting with the idea of another veteran battle royale for years, Top Chef has finally produced a second full-fledged All Stars season, pitting 15 of the cooking competition's best cheftestants against each other in Top Chef: All Stars L.A.

    The cast is quite stacked, as you might imagine from a show that’s hosted as many successful restaurateurs, James Beard Award-winners, and Food Network personalities as Top Chef. But it's somewhat surprising to see some names returning for a third and even fourth time. In recent seasons, the show has offered alumni several chances to come back, including as part of the main cast (Seattle, Charleston) and through side-show Last Chance Kitchen (Colorado, Kentucky). Will those returning for yet another go-around fare better than they have in previous returns? And how will those with only one season’s worth of experience do this time?

    Ahead of tonight's premiere, Primetimer managing editor Joe Reid and contributing writer Kevin O’Keeffe sat down to calculate the odds of each player making it to the top 5, and decide whether their predicted placement falls UNDER (6th place or worse) or OVER (top 5 or better) that hump. Here are their predictions:

    Eric Adjepong: Season 16

    There’s a strong argument to make that this season belongs to Eric. For one, he was remarkably strong in his original run, taking three of the Kentucky season’s elimination challenge wins. (That’s actually one more than eventual winner Kelsey Barnard-Clark.) For another, Eric had one of the strongest personalities in a modern Top Chef season, managing to be memorable in a way we haven't seen since the show's earliest days. And then there’s the significant fact that, after 16 seasons, Top Chef has only had one Black winner. And that was 10 seasons ago, in Top Chef: D.C.. Much like sister show Project Runway, the minimal representation of Black talent in the winners’ circle doesn’t reflect the scores of impressive Black contestants who have appeared on the show over the years. Eric is just the latest such impressive chef. The winners’ circle would be lucky to have him. OVER

    Karen Akunowicz: Season 13

    We’re a little surprised to see Karen be the only competitor from the California road trip season, considering how talented that cast was. But she was probably the most distinctive personality other than Kwame Onwuachi (who came back for Last Chance Kitchen in Season 15 and failed to earn his way back into the competition). Still, we predict Karen will be an early out, since she doesn’t have as compelling a narrative to win as most of the rest. UNDER

    Jennifer Carroll: Season 6, 8, 15

    The saga of Jen Carroll on Top Chef is alternatingly fascinating and tragic. In her initial season, Las Vagas, she was the only chef to win a challenge who wasn't a Voltaggio brother or Kevin Gillespie. Many thought she was the strongest female cheftestant in show history and were super bummed to see her get bounced in fourth place. All of which made her one of the favorites entering the last Top Chef: All Stars, where a preternaturally angry Carroll flamed out spectacularly in week two, after a museum-set challenge cooking for children ended in her delivering slimy braised bacon to the judges, whom she subsequently scolded over plating concerns. Her third appearance came as part of a quartet of veterans competing on Last Chance Kitchen to enter the main competition, but she was eliminated first. It's hard to tell which Jen Carroll we're going to get this season. There's a huge redemption arc to be had if she can harness it, but the competition is fierce. UNDER

    Stephanie Cmar: Season 10, 11

    If there’s any contestant who can claim to have been robbed of their chance on Top Chef, it’s Stephanie. In Season 11, set in New Orleans, Stephanie was part of a team in the top six challenge that included fan favorite Shirley Chung and eventual winner Nicholas Elmi. For whatever reason, immunity was still on the table (at top six!), meaning Nicholas couldn’t be sent home. However, his dish was the reason for his team’s failure (owing to a very strong showing across the board), and when asked, he wouldn’t give up his immunity. Thus, the judges had to choose between Shirley and Stephanie’s great dishes, and they sent Stephanie home. Could this season see her finally claim what was rightfully hers before? OVER

    Lisa Fernandes: Season 4

    The villainous legend of Top Chef: Chicago returns! Lisa was the most high-profile Season 4 alum not to return for the original All Stars, as four other representatives (Antonia Lofaso, Spike Mendehlson, Dale Talde, and winner Richard Blais) competed, while Stephanie Izard appeared for a Quickfire. A runner-up not appearing when so much of her cast did would be strange, except Lisa was a notoriously weak competitor who came on strong in the final moments of her finale. Still, it’s a gag to see her back — we anticipate she’ll have an arc akin to Roxxxy Andrews on RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars Season 2, in which rehabilitating her reputation is more important than the win. UNDER

    Kevin Gillespie: Season 6

    No pick on this list makes us more uneasy than predicting Kevin from Las Vegas, one of the titans of that season, will fall short of the top five. Kevin is a Top Chef legend, so dominant he was in Season 6 that he could go toe-to-toe with the Voltaggio brothers. But personal issues that came up between filming his season proper and the finale led to him being distracted in the end, and he fell to a disappointing third place. We imagine that most oddsmakers would have him making the end this this time too, but two Vegas alumni in the final five feels like a reach. And with Bryan also in the competition, we’re betting Kevin will have the harder time hitting the Top 5. UNDER

    Gregory Gourdet: Season 12

    Gregory is the only cheftestant in the history of the show to win four elimination challenges in a row. He ultimately finished as runner-up to Mei Lin, after some unpleasantness with shrimp shells, and now he's back for redemption. It's a narrative he's familiar with, as he spoke in his original season about his recovery from addiction. It's almost impossible to imagine Gregory won't go very far. OVER

    Melissa King: Season 12

    We really liked Melissa in Top Chef’s Boston season. She was no-nonsense with just the right amount of edge to keep her interesting as a character. She was an easy pick for who might return in another All Stars season. But, that doesn’t necessarily translate into her being a threat to win the season. Melissa might make it further than some fan favorites, and we’re personally rooting for her. But we think sixth or seventh is where she’ll likely land. UNDER

    Jamie Lynch: Season 14

    Jamie was something of a Quickfire king in the Charleston season, picking up two consecutive wins in the mini-challenges and looking strong to continue racking them up. Considering the prize for winning a Quickfire is immunity, that kept him safe even considering some shakier elimination challenge performances. Then, doing what Nicholas Elmi couldn’t do three seasons before, Jamie took the bullet for his team in one challenge, sacrificing his immunity so that someone else wouldn’t go home for his error. It was remarkable morally, but not the smartest play game-wise. He may not quite be cut out to win in such a cutthroat reality TV atmosphere. UNDER

    Brian Malarkey: Season 3

    Top Chef: Miami was a somewhat strange season, where none of the top 3 cheftestants won a single elimination challenge until week 12. Brian finished fourth, and had a week 2 victory under his belt, but was unable to get too far beyond his fondness for scallops and was bounced when the first round of the finale called for cooking elk. He's the chef returning from the longest hiatus of anyone this season, and if you're looking for an early exit bet, he might be it. UNDER

    Nini Nguyen: Season 16

    Argh, Nini! Where did it all go wrong? The teeny chef from Brooklyn started Top Chef: Kentucky like a house afire, winning two of the first three challenges. But she got smacked with an early Restaurant Wars, where anything can happen, and was eliminated at the conclusion of the two-part episode after serving as Front of House for her team, falling victim to Top Chef's FOH curse. If she regains her form at the start of this season, she could take the driver's seat as a front-runner, but Kentucky was a pretty mediocre season, and Nini's going from the frying pan into the fire now. UNDER

    Joe Sasto: Season 15

    Maybe it’s just how underwhelming Top Chef: Colorado was, but Joe Sasto strikes us as an odd choice for All Stars. He was a solid presence in the Rockies, racking up quite a few wins, but fell short in the finale, leading to one of the dullest final twos in show history. (To this day, we don’t understand how Adrienne Cheatham made it all the way to the end.) Still, we can’t tell you what he stands to gain from coming back for All Stars: L.A.. A win is unlikely among this cast of far-stronger chefs than those in his season, and he lacks a clear narrative. That’s a tough combination. UNDER

    Angelo Sosa: Season 7, 8

    Angelo is the king of starting strong. He won the first challenge of Top Chef: D.C., and then he won the first TWO challenges in the first Top Chef: All Stars. But he couldn't translate either of those hot starts into winning finishes, and by the end of All-Stars, he was much more fodder for comedy segments about his sexy, well-dressed ways than any kind of threat to win. UNDER

    Bryan Voltaggio: Season 6, Masters Season 5

    So much of Bryan's narrative in Top Chef: Las Vegas was spent on his rivalry with brother Michael. There was only one way that storyline could have ended, with the brothers in the final two and young, brash Michael besting his older, more polished brother. This season, baby bro is off being successful and caressing his tattoo sleeves, which leaves Bryan room to finally make his mark. He's joined by two other finalists from Vegas, and if this were Survivor we'd say their alliance would be formidable. Alas, that's not how it works in Top Chef. Still, we think Bryan makes it to the final five once again, but doesn't win the whole thing. OVER

    Lee Anne Wong: Season 1, 15

    We LOVE that there's some Season 1 presence in this season, and although we can't have the third appearance of our beloved Tiffani Faison, instead we get fan-favorite Lee Anne Wong, whose fourth place finish preceded a long stretch as a culinary producer on the show. Much more recently, she returned as a Last Chance Kitchen veteran and won her way into the main draw of Top Chef: Colorado. Unfortunately, the thin mountain air wasn't good for her pregnancy and she had to withdraw. A comeback finish in All-Stars: L.A. would be a storybook ending. Sue us for wishfully thinking it could happen again. OVER

    Top Chef: All Stars L.A. premieres tonight at 10:00 PM ET on Bravo.

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    Kevin O'Keeffe is a writer, host, and RuPaul's Drag Race herstorian living in Los Angeles. Follow his musings and rantings on Twitter @kevinpokeeffe.

    TOPICS: Top Chef, Bravo, Angelo Sosa, Brian Malarkey, Bryan Voltaggio, Eric Adjepong, Gregory Gourdet, Jamie Lynch, Jennifer Carroll, Joe Sasto, Karen Akunowicz, Kevin Gillespie, Lee Anne Wong, Lisa Fernandes, Melissa King, Nini Nguyen, Stephanie Cmar, Reality TV