Top Chef All-Stars: Who Do You Want to Win?

Top Chef All-Stars ended with an unexpected dessert course Wednesday night. With Antonia, Mike, and Richard all having received safe passage to the finale — it was down to Carla and Tiffany for the fourth and “final” berth. Padma uttered the ladies’ names in her standard “shark-eye” monotone, then perked up: “You’re both going to the Bahamas!” Sweet!

I know, I know…Beaumont has been struggling for weeks now — and probably has no chance to take home the top prize — but it’s hard not to be happy for the sunny Texas gal, and for the career boost that she’ll likely get from the judges’ vote of confidence. (Let’s be honest: She kinda sorta needed it after making microwaved nachos in the Quickfire Challenge in front of a national TV audience.)

Oh, and about that Quickfire. Has there been a less appetizing dish than Mike’s “peasant soup” — which was code for pork rinds and soggy hot dog rolls mashed up in a mystery broth? You know if Mike himself admitted it “tasted a little weird,” then it had to be a big, cardboard container of bile rising. (Side note: I’m not sure I needed to see Richard ragging on Carla and Antonia’s dishes when he essentially served hot dogs and jerky on a bun. Mmkay?)

Thankfully, the Elimination Challenge brought out the best in our top five, who each received a visit from a relative and a detailed dossier on his or her genealogy to inspire a dish that drew from family roots. Mike and Antonia discovered they were distant relatives, Carla discovered her great-great-grandfather fought in the Civil War, and everyone discovered a photo of a kindergarten-era Mike dressed in a pink leotard and shiny green vest. Maybe the guy’s such an obnoxious lout because there’s a dancer inside him yearning to break free?

All of the final dishes looked spectacular and drew rave reviews from the judges, though as Antonia pointed out, Tom and Gail weren’t exactly going to tear their plates apart with the chefs’ family members at the table. Antonia won the week — and a Toyota Highlander Hybrid — for her braised veal, rapini leaf, and fava-bean risotto, but it was her mom who first suggested to the judges that they consider a final five, as opposed to the planned final four. (That sound you hear is an additional round of tears from last week’s evictee, Dale.) Naturally, Mike responded to the news of an expanded finale by wishing the Top Chef panel had booted one of his comrades and kept it to four. (I suspect the idea that women outnumber men heading into the final challenge is more than our resident chauvinist can handle.)

Personality issues aside, I liked how our chefs all pushed themselves to new heights — Carla breaking out the liquid nitrogen, Mike delving into an Italian meal he hadn’t made since his grandmother died, and Richard getting in touch with his Irish/British roots, despite the fact that for the purposes of the challenge, he wished he was Italian. If that was the case, though, would he have still made the item that will haunt me till I’ve ingested it (aka “fried bone marrow)? The best part of the episode, though, was Padma’s deliciously sadistic fakeout when the “elimination” was down to Carla, Tiffany, and Richard: “Richard…please pack your knives,” said our icy hostess, giving a terrible pause. “You’re going to the Bahamas.” Too bad she didn’t finish it off by giving The Full Oprah: “And you’re going to the Bahamas! And you’re going to the Bahamas! And you’re going to the Bahamas!”

Anyhow, now that everything’s over but the finale — and the reunion show, of course — I’d like to know which cheftestant you’re hoping will win the season, and which you think is most likely to take home the crown. (I’m going with Carla on both counts!) Vote in our polls below, and for all my reality recaps, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV.