Top Chef All-Stars Recap: Takeover Target!

I can’t believe the way Bravo preempted last night’s episode of Top Chef All-Stars and ran an extended infomercial for Target in its place. “Target has an expanded store, with a varied selection of fresh produce and groceries. You can find anything you need to cook and prepare a delicious meal for an entire family,” cooed Padma Lakshmi, in her best “sexy robot gonna hypnotize you” tone. And just like that, I had an overwhelming urge to spend a minimum of $100 on breakfast cereal, flannel shirts, and cheap but durable kitchenware emblazoned with geometric patterns and/or hummingbirds.

Okay, okay…in all seriousness, while last night’s elimination challenge most certainly extolled the virtues of America’s trendiest discount-store operator, it also presented an interesting obstacle course for our “magnificent seven”: Whip up a meal in three hours, in the middle of the night, with no sleep, using only the ingredients and equipment available in Target. Yowza!

Carla, possibly crumbling under the pressure of emerging as a true front-runner (or possibly just loopier than a rhythmic gymnastics routine), spent a good chunk of the first hour of the challenge wandering the aisles looking for tablecloths and accessories to dress up her work station. “Oh my God, I actually have to shop for my food,” she exclaimed after waking up from the siren spell of the Target linens aisle. (Hey, it can happen to the best of us.)

The prospect of Carla not cracking the final three — on the heels of dishy Fabio’s ouster last week — was almost more than I could endure, but the producers spent so much time on the “Carla’s backslide” edit that it seemed too obvious for her to have to pack her knives and go. So who would end up on the chopping block this week?

When in doubt, I like to blame Mike Isabella, whose swagger-to-talent ratio is perpetually imbalanced, and his advice to Angelo that his soup was “missing something” marked the beginning of the latter contestant’s unexpected demise. (Actually, scratch that: Angelo’s ridiculous knee socks marked the beginning of his unexpected demise. Why the face?) Suddenly, Angelo was adding both salt and bacon to his pot, resulting in an end product that had Tom setting down his spoon after just one bite. “You do not need to pass the salt. If you eat a whole bowl of this…” said guest judge Ming Tsai, tailing off. “You’d die,” said Tom, completing the thought.

I really felt for Angelo, who explained that with the way he’d filmed consecutive Top Chef seasons, he’d “made over 40 dishes almost back-to-back, and that’s a lot. I think I’m just mentally fried.” The same can probably be said for Tiffany, who fought back tears when the judges asked her, Angelo, and Carla why each one deserved to stay another week. I’m not ashamed to say I was moved by Tiffany’s humble/philosophical stance: She’s from the small city of Beaumont, TX, where it can be hard to dream extra big, she explained, and no matter the outcome, she was honored to have worked alongside her fellow chefs and the esteemed judges. Aww, Tiffany, just be sure to dream bigger than the store-bought Cajun seasoning that seemed to offend Tom and Tony’s palates.

I thought for sure Mike would join his new BFF Angelo in the bottom two, especially after boasting that his spicy soup with mushrooms, scallions and limes contained “some fresh coconut milk.” Cut to my favorite exchange of the Top Chef season…

Padma (incredulously): “You found fresh coconuts here?”
Mike: “No, I found coconut milk.”
Padma (witheringly): “Then it’s not fresh coconut milk.”
Mike: “You’re right.”

And then, as if horrified by the packaged ingredients set in front of her refined self, The Lady Lakshmi stopped eating after just one teaspoon.

On the positive side, Richard managed to produce a tasty dish of pork two ways (neither involving a tank of nitrogen), Antonia made the “ballsy” (Tony’s description) decision to prepare runny eggs and garlic crostini, and Dale used an iron (the kind you use to get the wrinkles out of shirts!) to add color to his ribeye grilled cheese sandwich and spicy tomato soup. Ming took the bullet and made the obligatory “iron chef” joke, while Tony declared the dish a “surreal mix of goofy and devious.” Ka-ching! A win (and a whopping $25,000 prize) to Dale.

I’d have been happier for Dale had he not engaged in the not-so-subtle sexism that seems to be a matter of course on Top Chef. Offended by the fact that his female competitors had taken a moment to spruce up their stations, he huffed that “I didn’t know this was Suzy Homemaker’s challenge.” Chauvinistic Mike got in on the action, too. Sitting in the “Stew Room,” he high-fived Angelo while the judges deliberated, erroneously (and publicly) assuming it would either be Carla or Tiffany who went home, and not the contestant with a penis. All I can say is this: When you’ve earned a side-eye from lovely, centered Carla, you know you’re some kind of d-bag.

What did you think of this week’s Top Chef? Were you shocked to see Angelo get booted? Were you moved by his exit speech? And which three cheftestants do you see making the finale? Sound off below, and for all my reality TV recaps, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!