I’ve already discovered the down-side to the All-Stars format: crippling fear of your favorite contestant being eliminated starts at Week One.  Usually on a reality competition the first few weeks’ losers are gone and quickly forgotten; unfortunately, I already have an opinion on each and every one of these contestants, and I already have decided who I want to get the boot *cough*Mike*cough*.  Granted, this is what hopefully will help to make the season enjoyable, since stakes are something that is often missing in the early weeks of Top Chef, but even so…if Carla goes home tonight I’m going to be inconsolable.  I hope I didn’t just jinx it.

Anyway, we open on some establishing shots of New York; Tiffani and Stephen arrive at the Top Chef loft and Tiffani notes that she was “known for being competitive,” which is reality-show-speak for “everyone thinks I’m an a**hole.”  Stephen oozes douche from every pore, and if Mike doesn’t go home this week I kind of hope Stephen does.  Elia and Marcel arrive…I don’t really remember Elia all that much, and she seems fairly generic.  Marcel is um…exactly what you would expect Marcel to be.  Tre, Dale L and Casey arrive, and nothing much of note happens.  Richard arrives and says that he thinks most people remember his season of Top Chef as the season he lost; I remember that season as the first and only time a woman has won, and I remember being really happy for Stephanie who was a fierce competitor and a deserving winner.  This entire statement has somewhat soured me on Richard.  Antonia and Spike arrive and reveal a love-hate relationship that seems to be centered more on hate.  I like Antonia and find Spike to be an idiot, so I’m Team Antonia in this battle.  Dale T and Jamie arrive; Dale’s still angry, Jamie’s still short.  Fabio arrives and as per usual I can’t understand what the hell he’s saying other than that he doesn’t like Marcel.  You and the rest of the country, Fabio.  Probably Italy too.


Jen and Mike arrive.  Jen is charming and intimidating.  Mike’s an idiot.  Ugh.  Sheesh.  Angelo.  And Tiffany!!  Tiffany and Carla hugging!!  Awesome worlds colliding!  Oh, and the Top Chef coats are black this time around.

Quickfire time!  Padma and Tom are awaiting their returning victims and Padma informs her minions that they’ll be competing for a half a million dollars in cash and prizes for the season.  The Quickfire has the chefs working with their season-mates to create a dish that represents the city that their season took place, which is an excellent challenge in my opinion.  Winners get immunity, and no guest judge…Colicchio himself is doing the honors.  Season Two, Season One, Season Five and Season Seven wind up in the bottom, while Three, Four and Six wind up on top.  Season Four (made up of Antonia, Richard, Dale T and Spike) winds up winning immunity for their Chicago-style hot dog with mustard ice cream which sounds…gross.

Elimination challenge!  The chefs have to make the dish that sent them home, only this time turn it into a success.  Awesome.  Each chef has their own hurdles.  Spike has to use frozen scallops (again).  Elia and Fabio’s dishes were perfect the first time, so how could they improve them?  Stephen has to make someone else’s dish from Restuarant Wars.  Etcetera, etcetera and so forth.  The whole sequence is fairly standard except for that it’s starting to look like Jamie might be getting a Loser’s Edit.  She boasts that she’s better than her season-mates twice, and then rips on an Eric Ripert dish.  Too close to the sun, Jamie.

Service!  The chefs have two hours to prep at The Russian Tea Room.  Tom walks into the kitchen and divides the chefs in two groups of nine.  Each group will have the opportunity to taste the food of the other…I sincerely hope that the producers think to put a closed-circuit camera on table so the chefs can hear what is said about them.  Also, the winning chef gets $10,000.  Bravo is throwing money around this season like it’s water.  Padma and Tom sit down with Anthony Bourdain and Gail Simmons (Gail!  I’ve missed you in the intervening two weeks since Just Desserts ended!) as well as the 9 chefs not cooking this round.  Richard continues to finish his dish after time is called…I would guess that that’s an automatic disqualification, right?

And, bam, there’s the television I was hoping for.  Bravo wants good food and a knife fight this season, they have to live up to that Emmy this show just won!  Elia appears to be the only chef to not partake in the clandestine watching, and man they are not pulling punches.  After the general sweetness of the Just Desserts judging panels, the savory is definitely back.  Bourdain seems personally offended by Fabio’s pasta which he compares to roadkill, while Dale L. is “disconcerted as a chef” by Elia’s dish’s “lack of personality.”  You can’t say that and not come off like a prick, Dale, take a warning.  The chefs switch it up, and half of them go to sit with the judges that just ripped apart their food…awkward.  Fabio immediately points out to Anthony Bourdain that he heard him say that he hated Fabio’s pasta 11 times.  It’s such a specific number I can’t help but wonder if he actually counted.  A couple of the chefs here also get bad reviews, but none seem as bad as Fabio and Elia’s in the first round.

Judge’s Table!  Richard is brought out with the top group, and then told he’s not eligible for the win because he went over time.  That seems fair to me…I don’t really want the first one out to lose on a technicality.  Jamie, Angelo and Spike are the top three, and I think perhaps I mistook a Loser’s Edit for a Winner’s Edit for Jamie.  That may also be because I really, really, really don’t want either of the other two to win.  Unfortunately for me, Angelo wins and gets $10,000.  Fabio, Stephen and Elia get called into to take their lumps and I’m going to pause my DVR to celebrate that Carla is safe.

And we’re back.  Of these three, I’m thinking Stephen should be sent home…even his season-mate Tiffani had to acknowledge that he’s rusty.  All three get read the riot act…I think Fabio may have told Anthony Bourdain that he would fight him if he said such things about his food in a different environment, but as usual with Fabio I’m not entirely sure.  Gail and Tom harangue Elia into admitting that she didn’t test any of her dishes out before she sent them to the table…you get the impression that this is something that a neanderthal would have had the sense to do.  However, despite this, I still think Stephen is going home…the other two just seemed to stumble, where as he seems to be lost.

The three get called back in, and ultimately it’s Elia who takes the fall.  I’m sad about this one…I think she could go much further than Stephen can.  I also now remember that she was actually the first person to predict that she was going to win the whole competition in the episode…there’s that Loser’s Edit I was looking for.

And some last seasoning for the meal:

– 18 contestants.  10 men and 8 women…they couldn’t just make it even?

– “My season is the most intimidating because of me.  That’s why.”  Jen says that and doesn’t come off as an arrogant moron.  Impressive.

– I didn’t watch Season One regularly, though I’ve caught it in re-runs.  I don’t remember much of, though the general opinion of Tiffani seems to be that she’s not very likable…I actually found her pleasant in this episode.

– This week in Carla: ” ‘Hmm.  Interesting.’  That’s the kiss of death.”

– “Stephen didn’t come out of the trenches, he came out of the Macy’s Day Parade.”  You’re growing on me, Tre.

– “Did anybody grab that blowtorch?  Oh, never mind.”  If I had a nickel.

– Tiffany, you know I love you, but what was up with that sequined gray bustier top over a gray t-shirt for the dinner?  That’s a throw-away.

– “You didn’t have to steam it!”  Don’t anger Gail.  You wouldn’t like Gail when she’s angry.

– “As I’m eating it, my mind is drifting back fondly to my last colonoscopy.  It was that bad.”

Top Chef All Stars airs on Wednesdays, 10/9c

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