On last night's episode of Top Chef All-Stars, cheesy, meaty comfort food was the name of the game. From fresh takes on fondue to pulled pork sandwiches for Jimmy Fallon's birthday party, the chefs who were able to turn out interesting twists on the classics were the ones who came out on top. Read on for our thoughts on the episode as well as a reveal of the winner and loser.
• Naked fondue parties: For the Quickfire Challenge, the chefs must create a unique fondue, to be judge by...themselves. Most seem less than thrilled to be recreating this 1970s staple, but once the tasting begins and the wine starts flowing, everyone looks like they're having a good time, including Padma. (She even has chocolate on her teeth at one point. Just like one of us mere mortals!) Two of the most intriguing dishes came out on top: Antonia's smoked salmon fondue with chunks of rye bread and Dale's "pho-ndue," a take on rare steak pho. It's pretty tough to beat a good rare steak pho, so it's not surprising when Dale wins the 3-day trip to Napa Valley. No immunity though — it's gone at this point in the competition.
• She said not to make chocolate-dipped bananas: Richard's fondue was a flashy take on bananas dipped in chocolate, even though Padma specifically mentioned it as a fondue cliche. Blais's version involves liquid nitrogen, naturally, and he seems shocked when the dish isn't voted into the top three. He has a lot of theories about the other chefs being intimidated by his mastery of complicated techniques, which strikes us as a cop-out. Richard, we love you, but you don't always have to be the best.
• Fallin' for Fallon: The chefs are escorted to an unknown sound stage, which turns out to be a taping of Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. The chefs play a game and are randomly assigned one of Fallon's favorite foods, which they'll have to prepare for his birthday lunch. Antonia gets beef tongue, which everyone else is given dishes like hamburger and fries, chicken and dumplings and ramen. Carla finds out her dish is chicken pot pie and she begins laughing silently and hysterically because she is so happy. Jimmy Fallon, clearly a Carla fan, is delighted.
• Best birthday lunch ever: The chefs cook in the kitchen of Colicchio & Sons without incident, although Mike and Dale later do an impression of Carla running around like a crazed Muppet. Fabio has never before made a hamburger (or "hamBOORgur," as he says) and approaches it like a sausage stuffing, which doesn't please the diners. Richard turns out a solid bowl of ramen to prove his fancy techniques are not a crutch, but Fallon is disappointed the dish is so subdued. We do like that Richard unselfishly helped Antonia pressure-cook her tongue, since she had never cooked tongue before. Sliced and served on a square of pumpernickel toast with dill slaw, it ends up being one of the diners' favorite dishes.
• The beef tongue song: Antonia's tongue, Carla's pot pie and Angelo's pulled pork sandwiches with coffee-chipotle sauce are the top dishes. At Judges' Table, the three perform a silly song about beef tongue for the bemused judges, who declare Carla the winner. She'll get a cooking segment on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon and a trip to Tokyo. She is excited (of course!), but Fallon seems just as excited to be presenting her the prize. It's a nice moment.
• "The only shadow standing in your sunshine": Then there are the bottom three: Fabio with his strange hamburger, Tiffany with her strange chicken and dumplings, and Dale with his salty Philly cheese steak. With all the face time Dale received in this episode, we thought his overseasoned sandwich was sending him home, but it is Fabio who is asked to pack his knives, with sad faces all around. He leaves with grace and charm. We'll miss Fabio.
What did you think of last night's episode? Were you surprised by the loser?
Related: Top Chef All-Stars: When You're Here, You're Family