Last night's episode of Top Chef All-Stars included Muppets as guest judges, a shopping spree at Target, and a very clever method for making a grilled cheese sandwich. Read on for our thoughts on the episode as well as a reveal of the winner and loser.
• Cookie Monster knows cookies: We admit to being skeptical when Sesame Street's Cookie Monster, Telly and Elmo showed up as guest judges for the Quickfire Challenge, but it was actually a very fun segment. Not surprisingly, the chefs are tasked with making their best cookies for the Muppets' discerning palates. Mike and Angelo have never made cookies before, which boggles the mind, so it isn't surprising when Angelo ends up at the bottom alongside Richard, who makes cookie-shaped discs of zucchini ice cream in lieu of actual cookies.
• "Who said losing is okay?" Dale, who starts the episode wondering why any of the chefs are content with being second-best, takes home the Quickfire win (and $5,000) for his sweet-and-salty pretzel and potato chip cookies with chocolate ganache. Antonia's chocolate cookies with caramel and white chocolate are another favorite, although Elmo notes they look a lot like cow patties.
• Thanks for the $25,000, Target: This episode's Elimination Challenge has a huge prize: $25,000, the largest challenge incentive Top Chef history. To win, the chefs must cook at meal for 100 Target employees working the night shift. Not only do they have to shop for all their ingredients at a Target store, they also have to buy all their cooking equipment, tables and decor during their shopping spree.
• Hootie hoo? Hurry!: Carla spends most of her shopping time looking for items to decorate her table, which leaves her little time to look for ingredients and make her curry apple soup. She laments her lack of protein, but is too nervous to leave her station to find something suitable. That decision comes back to haunt her when she lands in the bottom three and the judges tell her the soup felt more like a sauce with a missing protein. And the decor she worked so hard to find? It looks like none of the diners even saw it. Poor Carla!
• The soup challenge: For some reason, almost everyone ends up making a soup. Dale makes one of our favorite combos, grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato soup. Even better, he uses his old college dorm room trick of crisping the bread with a clothes iron. Smart! Anthony Bourdain, upon tasting the dish, wonders if anyone has drug tested Dale because he has made the ultimate stoner meal. Not everyone's soup fares as well — Angelo's baked potato soup is seriously oversalted, while Tiffany's jambalaya is seasoned too heavily with a jarred spice blend.
• Everything's coming up Talde: The two non-soup offerings — Antonia's cream-topped fried eggs with crostini and Richard's pork tenderloin with braised pork ribs — end up on top alongside Dale's soup-and-sandwich dish. The judges, puffy-faced and tired after staying up all night, manage to perk up when talking about each dish, but it is Dale who takes home the win and (with his Quickfire money) $30,000! The often-grumpy chef looks pretty happy for once.
• A fatigued palate: Carla's unfinished soup, Tiffany's over-spiced jambalaya and Angelo's salty soup end up in the bottom three. Tiffany, who has yet to win a challenge this season, was our pick to be sent home, but it is Angelo and his painfully overseasoned soup that are sent packing. While it's true we once disliked Angelo, he has really grown on us and we were genuinely sad to see him go. We'll miss your slim-fitting pants and shady Russian fiancée, Angelo!
What did you think of last night's episode? Was the Target tie-in too blatant for you? Who are your picks for the top three?