Top Chef All-Stars: The Pop Up Restaurant Wars

published Jan 20, 2011
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(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Last night’s episode of Top Chef All-Stars featured one of our favorite challenges: Restaurant Wars! Teammate tension, drama in the kitchen and puzzling one-word restaurant names all made their return, as did Marcel’s ongoing conflict with, well, everyone. Read on for our thoughts on the episode, as well as a reveal of the winner and loser.

The amazing Justo Thomas: The Quickfire Challenge took the chefs out of the Top Chef kitchen and into the kitchen of Le Bernardin with Anthony Bourdain and Justo Thomas, the restaurant’s dazzlingly quick and precise fish butcher. Justo can break down a whole cod and a whole fluke in eight minutes; the chefs are given ten. Dale, Richard, Mike and Marcel do the best job, so they are given an additional 45 minutes to make a dish using the fish scraps. Dale, who grew up eating every part of the fish “before nose-to-tail cooking was cool,” prepares two dishes — a fluke fin sashimi with fluke liver sauce and cod collar in bacon dashi — and wins immunity.

The pop up restaurant challenge: Ludo Lefebvre, the king of pop up restaurants, shows up to help announce the return of Restaurant Wars. The only new twist is that the diners will pick the winning restaurant this time. As the Quickfire winner, Dale is one team captain and gets the bonus of naming the other captain. He makes the wise choice of choosing the person he least wants to work with: Marcel. Dale picks Richard, Tre, Fabio and Carla, and the team immediately starts working together to come up with a concept and menu. In contrast, Marcel has a crazed, gleeful look as he tries to boss around Angelo, Mike, Antonia and Tiffany, who look unhappy and annoyed. Not getting his way, Marcel pouts. They’re off to a great start.

Nouns beat verbs: Dale’s team decides to name their restaurant Bodega, setting a fun, casual tone for their menu of trashy food gone upscale. Richard comes up with the idea of starting the meal with housemade herbed potato chips served in a bag and tuna belly plated in a tin can. Marcel’s team, after rejecting his idea to name the restaurant Medi (short for “Mediterranean”), decides on Etch. To us this conjures no image except perhaps an Etch-a-Sketch, and gives no clue to the restaurant’s theme or menu, so it comes as no surprise when Team Etch serves a muddled, unfocused meal.

With guns Blaisin’: The judges love Bodega’s menu and concept, as do the diners, with 59 of the 76 eaters picking it to be the winning restaurant. Everyone cooked top-notch food and Fabio kept the front of the house humming like only a charming Italian man who has been running restaurants since age 18 can. Richard, who seems to be holding his breath for the entirety of the judging, is praised for helping his teammates elevate their dishes and for his innovative cooking. He takes home the win and $10,000. Go, Richard!

Misunderstood? Really?: At Judges’ Table, the members of Marcel’s team remain quiet about the lack of teamwork in the kitchen, until a comment from Marcel lets loose a storm of frustration, all directed at him. In the stew room, Tiffany seems worried her tasteless asparagus salad and bumpy front of house service will send her home, but it is Marcel who gets the boot, leaving us with these charming words: “The only mistake I made was picking the wrong team.” Good riddance!

What did you think of last night’s episode? More importantly, with Jamie and Marcel gone, who are we going to love to hate?

Related: Top Chef All-Stars: To Catch a Fish

(Image: Bravo)