Congratulations are in order, Top Chef: You've featured two good Quickfire judges in a row! Last night's gem was the one and only Paula Deen, whose appearance immediately made us shout (yes, out loud) "BUTTER CHALLENGE?! God I hope it's a butter challenge." It wasn't, but it was close — Paula and Padma gave the chefs 30 minutes to create a deep-fried dish, with Paula specifying that she did not want anything on a salad.
Dale's fried steak-wrapped oyster with egg-yolk omelette and Carla's catfish with Dijon and hush puppies did not wow Paula, but for once there was actual drama with the top contestants. Antonia was Paula's fave, but as Antonia forgot to make enough plates, she lost on a technicality and left the win up to Mike's fried chicken oysters with mustard gravy and Richard's fried bacon with liquid-nitrogened, deep-fried mayo. Multiple chefs accused Mike of allegedly stealing a recipe from Richard's books of notes that he had shown Mike in the morning. At three separate points, Mike claimed he saw the dish in the book, then that he saw it somewhere else, and then that he saw a picture of something similar in Richard's book so we're going to venture a guess that he stole it. Regardless, he won, and Richard was not pleased.
The producers learned their lesson about keeping good guest judges around and let Paula stay on (not that we're still bitter the Muppets weren't in last week's whole episode), while second guest judge John Besh came in to explain the elimination challenge: Cook southern-style seafood for 300 guests at a fund-raiser benefiting displaced fishermen of the Gulf of Mexico. (Like the Fashion Week Quickfire with Isaac Mizrahi, this was another challenge that seemed out of place so many months later.) And in a twist that no one could possibly see coming as it has never, ever happened in the history of this show, each cheftestant was allowed to choose a previously eliminated chef to help him or her cook. Of course, each chef came with a specific protein. Mike chose Tiffani/brown shrimp; Richard chose his bro Fabio/snapper; Carla took Tre/red grouper; Antonia picked Spike/crabs; Dale got stuck with Angelo/amberjack; and Tiffany very grudgingly took the Marcel that came with the white shrimp.
Prep time seemed a lot louder than usual with all the extra chefs in the kitchen. Carla couldn't believe that Tre got his collard greens out of a can, while Fabio explained to Richard that they get along so well because Richard reminds Fabio of his ex-wife. Marcel obviously whined while Tiffany tried to keep him in check, and Mike just heckled everyone. Go join the cast of Jersey Shore, Mike. Also, did anyone else notice that they kept putting pots full of food on the floor?
At the party, the judges immediately beelined for the bar, perhaps because it is impossible to get through these challenges without drinking. Maybe they could send us a bottle of that Terlato wine they keep showing to drink while we recap? All the chefs were pretty overwhelmed by the number of people at the party, but our girl Carla did hooty hoo at those who asked.
The wine-fueled judges loved Antonia's blue-crab cake with corn, jalapeño, sausage, and blue-crab sauce; Richard's crispy gulf snapper with pulled pork and citrus grits; and Mike's grit-crusted shrimp over sour cream and chive potatoes, all of which sound like things we'd love to eat (perhaps they could send recappers at-home tasting kits, too. Bravo, are you reading this?). Richard was the best at achieving balance and scored the win, plus a six-night trip to Barbados he planned to invite Fabio on for a beautiful bromantic getaway (seriously, he said he's inviting Fabio). In the bottom, that left Tiffany's overcooked honey-glazed shrimp and grits with jalapeño and cheese, Carla's overseasoned fried grouper with collard greens and something called chou chou pico, and Dale's blackened amberjack stew with andouille sausage and undercooked potatoes. In the end, the judges couldn't get over Dale's overly mustardy crouton and sent him home. While his crying was genuinely sad, this means a woman officially has a better chance of winning this season, so yay. Sorry, Dale. We will actually miss you.
Next week: Padma comes to the apartment! Cooking on another boat! It's a ferry to Staten or Ellis Island! Family reunions! Richard breaks down! Tom's funny little goatee becomes very pronounced!