Top Chef Recap: It Smells Like Marinara in the Walls

That. Vest.
That. Vest. Photo: David Giesbrecht/Bravo

Top Chef is back! Somehow that week off felt like a month, and we forgot Marcel got kicked off last episode. Yay! Mike I. was happy about this, but Antonia just wanted him to go home, too, and Tre was worried by Marcel’s elimination. Once everyone reflected on Marcel, the chefs headed to the Quickfire, where Isaac Mizrahi was waiting for them. Angelo got excited because apparently fashion is one of his passions in life, much like Asian food, carpaccios, and mail-order brides. Padma explained that he was there because it was Fashion Week, making this episode seem horribly outdated considering the next Fashion Week starts next Thursday. After multiple assertions from Padma and Isaac that fashion and food are closely related, they instructed the chefs to create a visually appealing dish. Taste would not be a factor, and the best-looking dish would win immunity.

The chefs got to cooking, but once Carla admitted that she used to be a model we stopped paying attention and started Googling, since the producers were so rude as to not provide photos. They can give us footage of Fabio walking his turtle down the street, but they couldn’t get us one measly shot of model Carla? As we said, rude. The rest of the chefs had far more boring inspirations — Dale’s was graffiti, Richard’s was Issac’s favorite color of black, and Antonia’s was The Giving Tree (admittedly a great book). Fabio’s, of course, was a poetic story about a woman walking in the rain, while Angelo again got excited because he also once wanted to be a food stylist. What challenge do you not have a personal connection to, Angelo? Isaac was not a fan of Tre’s finger-paint dots of smoked salmon and beets; Dale’s beet puree, cantaloupe, and onion mess; or Angelo’s “crocadile”-inspired [sic] pineapple skin. He gave the win to Richard, who smartly appealed to Isaac’s palette with black ice cream.

The next round of guest judges came out to announce the elimination challenge: Frankie, Frankie Junior, and executive chef Dino of Rao’s. The chefs had to create a dish inspired by the Rao family and the traditional Italian meal, so they were split up into teams of three to serve antipasti, a primi, and a secondi. Fabio, Mike I., and Antonia immediately announced that they would win this challenge, being Italian and all, though Mike was a bit nervous, saying that he doesn’t like to cook in situations where he’s the favorite to win. News flash, Mike: Being Italian does not simply make you the obvious winner.

More guest judges came out for dinner, including Lorraine Bracco and some other Rao’s staff members whose names we missed because we were too mesmerized by the bartender’s sequined patchwork vest. Instead of showing us the usual footage of the chefs whining about not having enough time, the show’s editors instead included some nice scenes where Lorraine reminisced about the first time she came to Rao’s, right before filming Goodfellas. Overall, the table loved the first (Antonia, Carla, Tiffany) and third (Fabio, Angelo, Richard) courses, but despised the second (Dale, Mike, Tre).

Judges’ Table reflected this, with Antonia, Carla, Tiffany, and Fabio called in as the best dishes of the night. Lorraine loved the sausage inside Tiffany’s polenta terrine with mozzarella and tomato salad, and adored Carla’s minestrone soup with basil oil and foccacia. Everyone had good childhood memories stirred up by Antonia’s mussels in white wine with fennel, while the pecorino polenta with Fabio’s chicken cacciatore pulled Anthony Bourdain out of a dark place. The judges gave the win to the dish that was best at leaving well enough alone, Antonia’s mussels. Fabio, naturally, looked utterly shocked at not having won and complained that his dish was much more Italian, not realizing that what the judges were really looking for in this challenge was the best Italian-American dish.

Mike, Dale, and Tre were called in as the bottom three. Mike’s severely undercooked homemade pasta ruined his entire dish of rigatoni with spicy calamari, and Bourdain explained that he wouldn’t have been in the bottom at all had he just used pasta out of a box. Dale’s fresh pasta with pancetta and Brussels sprouts had no sauce and left Lorraine feeling baffled as to how someone could make pancetta bland. But the biggest offender was Tre’s fresh-vegetable risotto, which completely missed the mark on proper risotto consistency and sent him packing. He was sad to leave, but happy that being on the show made him a better chef. Aw.

Next week: Going on Jimmy Fallon! Carla yelling! Sausage loving! Antonia singing!

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