Last night's episode of Top Chef All-Stars was the second-to-last episode of what has been a marathon finale. The three remaining contestants faced off, cooking meals for some of the country's most prominent chefs, but only two are going on to next week's head-to-head competition. With a clever Quickfire, lots of twists, rancid fish, and Wolfgang Puck's charming diplomacy, last night's episode kept us guessing.
• The 7 Quickfires of seasons past: Mike, Antonia and Richard meet Padma and Wolfgang Puck in the kitchen for their last Quickfire Challenge, which is a choice between seven challenges from past seasons. Each chef must assign a challenge to another chef, and Mike seems to relish giving Antonia the toughest one: cooking a dish using only canned ingredients. She gives Richard the hot dog challenge, while Mike gets the challenge of cooking a dish using only one pot, which in hindsight doesn't seem very difficult. We make tasty one-pot dishes at home all the time!
• First, a twist: Halfway through cooking, Padma marches into the kitchen and announces a twist — a choice of three twists. Each chef can choose from three Quickfire twists from past seasons and assign it to another contestant. Richard has to cook one-handed, Antonia has to finish her dish while tied to Carla in the cooking equivalent of a three-legged race, and Mike has to do everything without the use of utensils. Since his one-pot dish is already cooking in the pressure cooker and his cabbage salad is already sliced, this twist hardly cripples him and he is all smiles. Especially when his dish of Asian-inspired pork and beans wins the challenge.
• Mom's apple strudel: The chefs meet their diners for the next challenge: Wolfgang Puck, Michelle Bernstein and Masaharu Morimoto. They will be cooking a "last supper" for the chef they are assigned, preparing the food each person would want to eat as their final meal on Earth. Mike, the Quickfire winner, has the advantage of matching up the chefs and once again gleefully gives Antonia the most difficult challenge. She has to prepare perfect Japanese rice, miso soup and fish for Chef Morimoto, who describes his mother sifting through the rice grains to make sure they were all the exact same length. Antonia looks ill. Wolfgang Puck adorably asks Richard for goulash, apple strudel and spaetzle, and Mike is given the comparatively easy task of making fried chicken for Michelle Bernstein.
• Rancid fish and egg empanadas: Tensions are high before the chefs start cooking. Antonia keeps laughing hysterically and we can't say we blame her. In the kitchen she does her best to prepare an authentic Japanese meal, but she is crippled by a near-rancid piece of hamachi that she replaces with less flavorful tuna. This type of cooking isn't her specialty and her dishes are missing the subtlety the diners are looking for. Chef Morimoto says it's "interesting." Ouch. Mike gets some things right — an innovative egg yolk empanada, crispy chicken coating — but misses the mark with his sous-vide chicken technique. Only Richard hits a home run with his goulash and is immediately given a spot in the final finale (finally).
• What's that? You want another twist?: Padma opens the top-secret envelope she has been carrying around all episode and reveals that Antonia and Mike have one last challenge to determine who will move on with Richard. They have 45 minutes to create a perfect bite of food for the diners. Exhausted, Mike and Antonia head back to the kitchen. Antonia makes another curry, a spiced grouper with an intense flavor that some diners love and others think is too much. Mike makes a surf and turf plate with tempura lobster and beef tartare, which divides the diners. Wolfgang Puck is the tie-breaker, but he's so diplomatic it's hard to tell who the winner will be.
• And then there were two: Unfortunately, Antonia's curry was just too intensely spiced and she is sent home. Although she says it's even harder to leave the show a second time around, we think her showing this season was even better than on Top Chef Chicago and we're sad to see her go.
Next week is the real finale. Who are you rooting for? Mad scientist Richard Blais or goofy underdog Mike Isabella?