I’ve got an idea: With only a few weeks left to the Top Chef All-Stars season, why not end every challenge and activity with some kind of victory — competitive, moral, chance drawing — for wacky/effervescent Carla? Seriously, a win for the lanky, ululating chef is a win for the audience. Who doesn’t love watching her leap up and down like an excitable, animated ostrich, grinning broadly and spreading the love to the judges and even her fellow competitors? Okay, maybe Richard isn’t ready to buy a ticket for the Carla FTMFW Express, but with adorable Fabio out of the running, I’m now completely on board, with my bags stowed in the overhead compartment, looking for the dining car. (On the menu: Chicken pot pie, African peanut soup, and lettuce wraps with smoked bluefish and bagel croutons. Mmmm.)
Okay, okay…we’ve still got miles to go before we sleep. So let’s recount the highlights from this week’s episode:
The Quickfire Challenge centered on fondue pots, not exactly a win for members of the TV viewing audience, who must rely solely on the visual elements of the dishes to judge them. This was my brain watching the end results: “Melted stuff in a pot.” “Melted stuff in a pot.” “Melted stuff in a pot.” “A pickled beet-juice shooter? Oh Angelo!” “Melted stuff in a pot.” The cheftestants were asked to judge each other’s creations — wonder if some cheese-loving celeb dropped out at the last minute — and Fabio, Tiffany, and Mike wound up on the bottom. Meanwhile, Antonia and Angelo — both of whom seem to be hitting their strides at just the right time — wound up in the top along with Dale, who won for some kind of rare beef in broth that may not really have been a fondue at all.
With the heat turned up in the competition, Richard’s bitch sauce got reduced down to a bitter gravy. He hurled the word “pedestrian” at Tiffany’s apple fritters, then started spouting off that his competitors fear him because they realize he knows “how to do things other people don’t.” Granted, Richard is a whiz kid in the kitchen, and he’s been pretty generous advising his rivals on newfangled techniques, but dude needs to realize that bravado is a little like a jar of red pepper flakes: It’s got to be used with caution, and once you’ve dumped too much into a dish, there’s no salvaging it.
The Elimination Challenge was an extended product-placement segment for Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, but the comedian turned out to be a lively, opinionated guest judge, so I wasn’t mad at him. The chefs were forced to play a game of Cellphone Shootout to determine which dish they had to cook for Jimmy’s birthday, and when Carla drew chicken pot pie, it was like she’d won the Showcase Showdown on The Price Is Right. “I acted like a complete fool and idiot,” she confessionalized. Okay, sure, but the best kind of complete fool and idiot!
You could see who was headed for trouble almost immediately. Fabio couldn’t even say the word “burger” (it sounded more like “bou-gwa”) and decided to treat his dish like a meatball, served with a pot of melted congealed cheese. Tiffany said something vague about how her idea of chicken and dumplings deviates from the traditional notion of chicken and dumplings. And Dale lamented his lack of experience with the Philly cheese steak, then lost a battle with what Jimmy referred to as “The Salt Monster.”
My favorite moment in the kitchen came when Mike started griping to the camera that too many chefs were benefitting from Richard’s help, followed immediately by a shot of Mike asking Angelo for feedback about his own sausage and pepper dish. Burn! Runner-up: Carla finishing her dish and declaring “No one can tell me that this is not a bomb-diggy chicken pot pie!” I wasn’t sure what to make of Angelo’s pulled pork spice rub of coffee, dill, allspice, and chipotle — as Tom noted, the combination should not have made sense, and probably should’ve come with a “don’t try this at home” warning — but the judges went bananas for it, along with Carla’s food and Antonia’s beef tongue. I really thought Angelo would get top honors, but when Padma announced the winner would also get to do a cooking segment on Jimmy’s show, and Carla engaged in some hilarious interplay with the comic about the pleasures of a crust along the bottom of a pot pie, I totally understood why she prevailed.
It was also pretty clear from deliberations that either Tiffany or Fabio was headed home, but the charming Italian ultimately paid the price for putting the ‘urg’ in burger and making it taste like dry meatloaf. “You really are the only shadow standing in your own sunshine,” he quipped as he left the building. Seriously, seriously, seriously, Food Network needs to greenlight a show for this guy. He may not be the All-Starriest of Top Chef All-Stars, but he’s certainly the most telegenic. Plus, he’s already got a concept for the pilot episode: Making a “bou-gwa” for Jimmy Fallon that will have the host on his knees and begging for forgiveness!
What did you think of Top Chef this week? Did the right person go home? Are you as utterly amused/delighted with Carla as I am? And are you hoping Richard dials back on the cocky? Sound off below, and for all my reality TV coverage, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV.