Top Chef All-Stars Recap: Pasta La Vista, Baby

Hey, Antonia, why don’t you kick off this week’s episode of Top Chef All-Stars by describing your innermost feelings in 20 words or less? “Mike is abrasive. He’s annoying. I’ve got a list of people that need to go home, and he’s on top.” Well said, sister! Let’s get the cooking started and see what we can do about getting the insecure little rooster out of the kitchen.

But first, the nine remaining chefs must participate in a totally jank Quickfire Challenge that will help promote the show Bravo launched to try to make use forget that Project Runway moved to Lifetime. Padma arrives with guest Isaac Mizrahi, and guess what they want the cheftestants to do? Fabio’s got a theory. He’s expecting to hear something along the lines of “Chef, you have to make a great dish and then I’m gonna wear it.” Actually, that wouldn’t be a bad idea, provided the judges nibbled on said frocks before donning ’em. Instead, Padma and Isaac announce that not a morsel of food will pass their lips for this Fashion Week test (somewhere, a contestant of Models of the Runway tosses her celery stick into the trash and lethargically claps in approval); dishes will instead be judges on aesthetic properties alone. What?

The edict yields wildly uneven results. Tre makes a polka-dotted plate. Tiffany uses magic to turn rye bread into potting soil. And Angelo, apparently inspired by Roberto Cavalli, whips up a crocodile-skin homage that Fabio thinks looks “like a bag of vomit.” As always, Fabio is right! And turns out Angelo is wrong when he paints the nonexistent word “crocadile” across the stainless steel table. Isaac decides his scrawling is a little too Charles Manson, but lavishes praise on Richard’s ice cream (black is the new black!), Carla’s cucumber sculpture (work the culinary runway, former model!), and Fabio’s tuna woman with mushroom umbrella and lemon rain (note how the nonsensical gets upgraded to the adorable when swathed in a charming Italian accent). The winner? Of course, it’s Richard. Black is slimming, people! Do you need Nina Garcia to come to your house and school you?

And now it’s time for an elimination contest that limits the chefs to making very traditional Italian food that would fit on the menu at New York institution Rao’s and pair nicely with guest judge Lorraine Bracco’s delicious glasses of vino. I’ve got to admit I’m not a big fan of challenges with such a narrow focus: I’d have preferred if the judges had asked for food inspired by Rao’s, which would’ve allowed each of our combatants to put their own unique twists on the dishes. But hey, if you’re seeking creativity this week, look no further than the shimmering pile of sequins known as Nicky the Vest.

And now it’s time for one chef to take a culinary dirt nap. In the positive column, the three totally likable female contestants all score rave reviews for their anitpasti plates, a minor miracle considering the first tray of Tiffany’s polenta roulade flamed harder than an episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Joining them at the judges’ table for best in show is Fabio, who succeeded in his goal of triggering the “best memory [the diners] ever had about food.” But wait. We need some delicious gravy. And there it is in the form of chauvinistic Mik’s insults for his female competitors’ plates. “How much work do you have to do in the kitchen?” he huffs about the antipasti course. Making mussels is “really easy,” he adds, trying to denigrate Antonia’s victory for her mussels with fennel, white wine, garlic and parsley ciabatta.

Maybe Mike is right, seeing how Antonia’s competitors greet her with applause so polite, it’s downright rude. But you know what else is kind of easy? Boiling pasta, which nonetheless proves to be too much for Mike, who keeps tossing around variations on the term “al dente” to describe his undercooked rigatoni. “I really can’t see us being in the bottom,” he whimpers, right before Padma asks to see all three pasta perpetrators back at judges’ table.

Anthony Bourdain, clearly reveling in the awfulness of Dale, Tre, and Mike’s dishes, breaks out some hilarious descriptive terms. Mike’s rigatoni is like something you’d find on a “steam table at your worst enemy’s wedding,” he declares. Tre’s improperly cooked risotto is covered with giant veggies, as if he was hiding a body. And Dale’s food reminds him of something straight out of the witness protection program. (“Do those people not get to eat well?” I wonder to myself.) Lorraine offers an assist: Dale wouldn’t be getting any sugar for dessert if he’d tried to woo her with that bland pasta with pancetta, Brussels sprouts and chanterelles.

Back in the storage closet with the other chefs, Mike admits his hard outer shell was just masking his realization that he’d failed to execute his dish. But in the battle between Mike’s crunchy rigatoni and Tre’s failure to understand that his risotto should not be standing up, Tre’s offense is deemed worse, and he’s sent packing. He exits on a classy note, insisting the experience has made him a better chef. And Mike Isabella lives to annoy Antonia (and me) for another episode.

What did you think of this week’s Top Chef? Did the right person go home? Is Carla emerging as the possible spoiler to Richard’s perceived dominance? Sound off in the comments, and for all my reality TV coverage, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!