Last night's Top Chef All-Stars was perhaps the most feel-good episode we've ever seen. The chefs got a surprise visit from their loved ones, a peek at their past and an unexpected decision at Judges' Table. Read on for our thoughts on the episode as well as a reveal of the winner and loser.
• "Is Padma coming in here?": The vibe is odd in the chef's apartment and Antonia wonders aloud if Padma will be stopping by. Moments later, she does, taking the chefs onto the roof to explain their next challenge: a trip to Ellis Island, cooking on the ferry along the way. The catch? The ferry's kitchen is stocked with only processed junk food and equipped with just a microwave and hot dog grill. Richard comes prepared with an MRE bag that boils his hot dogs in a jiffy, while Antonia craftily uses the hot dog grill to make grilled cheese sandwiches. Carla decides to make a fresh orange and rosemary salad to counteract all the processed food, which seems like a smart decision when Dan Barber of Blue Hill Farm steps onto the ferry, and even smarter when her dish wins the challenge.
• Surprise guests: The chefs find out their next challenge will involve cooking a dish that reflects their heritage. The show hired a genealogist to research each chef's ancestry and write up a report, but even better is the fact that the reports are presented by the chefs' mothers and spouses. We finally get to see the "hoo" to Carla's "hootie"! (And he is as adorable as she is.) Antonia discovers that her arch nemesis, Mike, is actually a distant relative, and this fact seems to make her warm up to him.
• The final five: In this challenge, the chefs are not only competing for a new car, they're also fighting for a spot in the finals. The winner will automatically secure a place at the final challenge in the Bahamas, so everyone seems to be bringing it. Carla, inspired by her Southern roots, makes braised pork shoulder, fried grits and biscuits. Mike channels his grandmother with gnocchi, pork ragu and burrata, while his new found cousin Antonia makes what she imagines a '60s housewife might make for her husband: braised veal on fava bean risotto. Richard brings it as usual with short ribs, fried bone marrow, corn puree and pickled glasswort. And even Tiffany knocks it out of the park with braised short ribs, stewed okra and oxtail marmalade.
• Feeling the love: The chefs' loved ones dine alongside the judges, so the spirit at the table is understandably positive. But everyone seems genuinely blown away by how good the food is and how much soul comes through in each dish. Tom calls Richard's dish "all right" at one point and then clarifies — "not alright, it's all right." We love the good vibes but wonder how the judges will make their decision when everyone seems to have cooked equally well.
• Bahamas for all: Even at Judges' Table, few errors are pointed out. Antonia's flawless risotto takes home the win and she is guaranteed a spot in the finals. Cousin Mikey moves on to the winner's circle next, followed by a stressed Richard, who is initially tricked into thinking he is being sent home. (So mean, Padma.) It's down to Carla and Tiffany and with all the praise heaped on both their dishes, we honestly couldn't predict who would go home. As it turns out, it's neither! All five chefs are moving on to the finals. Does this mean two of them will go home next week? We can't wait to tune in to find out.
Did you enjoy the positivity of this episode as much as we did? Or were you missing some of the drama of previous weeks?