We're sad. Last night's Top Chef All-Stars was part one of the finale and the second-to-last episode of one of our favorite seasons of Top Chef ever. Will next season even come close? Who knows, but in the meantime we have new hairstyles to ponder, head-to-head competitions with winners of past seasons, a real-life emergency in the kitchen, and meals made for a king in the sunny, sweaty Bahamas. Read on for our thoughts on the episode and a reveal of the winner and loser.
• Rivalries renewed: We're happy to see Eric Ripert is back as a judge in the finales. And he's not the only familiar face: the Quickfire Challenge is a cook-off with the winner from each chef's season, with $10,000 going to whoever wins each head-to-head. Since Richard and Antonia were in the same season, they both battle Stephanie Izard, who ends up beating Antonia and losing to Richard. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the challenge is Mike Isabella's duck triumph over golden boy Michael Voltaggio. Although Voltaggio's dish seems more complex, according to Tom, Mike Isabella just treated the duck better.
• Cooking for Bahamian royalty: The Elimination Challenge sounds straightforward: the chefs are cooking one dish to be served to island royalty. Of course, there is a twist — the chefs are taken to a Junkanoo street parade and introduced to the King of Junkanoo, the "royalty" they are cooking for. Tiffany congratulates herself on planning a dish that is homey enough to appeal to the casual crowd of dancers, while Antonia kicks herself for planning such a refined plate.
• Your finale food or your life? Getting ready for service, Antonia notices that the fryer next to her is smoking. Carla tries to turn down the heat, but the oil keeps heating up until the whole fryer bursts into flames. The chefs seem reluctant to evacuate the kitchen and leave their food behind, but eventually they clear out so the fire department can put out the flames. Unfortunately, in the process all the food is contaminated with the chemicals used by the fire fighters. Do the chefs get a night off and a do-over the next day? Um, no. They have to head back to the kitchen and start all over again, even though it is clearly late and they are all tired. We can't imagine how hard this must be.
• Go with your gut, please: Antonia is glad for the chance to rethink her dish and decides to go with shrimp and grits. Richard, who is kind of starting to annoy us with his maniacal perfectionism and borderline cockiness, relishes the idea of getting into Antonia's head. He too decides to tweak his dish. Carla keeps her concept, but decides to deep fry her pork tenderloin, a cooking technique she has never attempted before. Carla, no! It's just like watching the painful finale of her season all over again. Did she learn nothing from her sous-vide beef from last time?
• Not quite fit for a king: Apparently not, because Carla's pork tenderloin is unevenly cooked and unfortunately Gail receives a medallion that is completely pink in the middle. Antonia fares no better with her strange gray grits and overcooked shrimp with a slaw that inspires Tom to make this Bourdain-worthy quip: "Howard-Johnson's calling; they want their garnish back." Mike's chicken in lobster sauce and Richard's lamb loin with pickled turnip were strong dishes and the judges are especially complimentary of Mike's sauce. Tiffany, once again, is solidly mediocre. The judges seem underwhelmed by the meal as a whole, but acknowledge the fire and long night may have something to do with the lackluster performances.
• Hootie boo-hoo: Mike takes home the win and his head balloons right before our very eyes, as Richard's ego takes a visible beating. Antonia, Carla and Tiffany are on the bottom, thought it's clear either Antonia or Carla will be going home. Sadly, undercooked pork is an unforgivable sin and our beloved Muppet is sent packing. Carla, if you're reading this and you ever find yourself on Top Chef All-Stars 2, please remember: don't cook proteins using a technique you've never tried before! Also, we'll miss you.
What did you think of last night's episode? Who are you rooting for at this point?
Related:Top Chef All-Stars: Family Ties