Recap: Top Chef All-Stars, Episode 8, Italian Throwdown

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This week on Top Chef, it was all about inspiration. The final nine competed in a food styling challenge for designer Isaac Mizrahi and cooked for actress Lorraine Bracco in one of the most historic New York City restaurants of our time. It's an Italian food fight of epic proportions and it's all ahead in this week's recap!

[Warning: Spoilers ahead!]

The Quickfire

This week's quickfire was judged by fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi, and perhaps no one was more excited to see him standing there in the Top Chef kitchen than Angelo. "Two of my most passionate things are food and fashion," Angelo clumsily said, almost foaming at the mouth as he spoke. You just sort of got the feeling he wanted to steal a lock of Isaac's hair and use it to make a pillow or something.

Anyway, the quickfire was a bit different this week, and was strictly about creating beautiful and aesthetically pleasing food. The contestants had 30 minutes to create a beautiful plate, which would be judged strictly on appearance alone.

The chefs embraced the challenge and really put together some gorgeous creations. Carla made a cool looking cucumber lattice, Tiffany made "dirt" out of crushed rye bread, and Fabio wrote a bunch of words on a plate (accompanied by a seriously lame story about a model trying to stay dry in the rain, but hey, it's the plate that matters, right?)

I liked Antonia's dish, a tree inspired by Shel Silverstein's book The Giving Tree. Isaac, however, didn't like the scale of the tree and actually said, "The nuts are too big." Well, there's something you don't hear men complaining about every day!

Antonia shrugged off the comment, and said it was the "most ridiculous thing" she's ever heard in her life. Apparently, she's never listened to a Nickelback album. But I digress.

Tre's dish was awful. He just put a bunch of green and red dots on a plate and called it a day. As fugly as his dish was, however, it was nothing compared to the sheer hideousness of Angelo's creation. Angelo, inspired by Roberto Cavalli's fondness of animal prints, thought it would be a good idea to combine pineapple skin, dill, and egg yolks and display it in a clear plastic bag. It literally looked like the insides of an animal, or as Fabio so eloquently put it, "a bag of vomit." Safe to say in this instance, Angelo's "nuts" were definitely bigger than those on Antonia's giving tree. Face it. You'd have to have huge ones to present this abomination to Isaac Mizrahi.

Sadly, the bag o'barf wasn't the worst part of Angelo's presentation. He decided to write the word "crocodile" on the table in chocolate, but misspelled the word and ended up writing "CROCADILE." The best part was Carla in the corner not-so-silently mocking him. Hootie freakin' hoo indeed!

And I know you're not going to believe me, but guess what happened next? Richard Blais FROZE SOMETHING with liquid nitrogen, while making his trademark "cringe" face! That's right! Inspired by Isaac's love of black clothing, Blais decided to make some "black ice cream."

Much to my dismay, shock, and horror, Isaac Misrahi gave the win to Richard Blais. Seriously, Isaac? That boring plate of gray crap won? Inconceivable! It looked like a bowl of mold spores combined with leftover ash from my fireplace. Truly awful.

Elimination Challenge

For this week's elimination challenge, the chefs got to cook in one of New York City's most exclusive restaurants: Rao's! It's almost impossible to get a reservation at this place, and many of the 14 tables there are owned and passed down from generation to generation.

The challenge was to create an Italian feast for the Rao's owners and family members. Using the restaurant's history as inspiration, the contestants were asked to create a traditional 3-course Italian meal that focused on ingredients.

The chefs were split up into three groups of three, based on the courses of the traditional Italian meal: antipasto, primi (pasta course), and secondi (meat course). Antonia (antipasto team), Mike Isabella (primi team), and Fabio (secondi team) were the resident Italians, and were extremely confident going into the challenge.

The judges for the challenge were the owners of Rao's, Tony Bourdain (who was on fire with his one-liners this week), and actress Lorraine Bracco, star of The Sopranos, Goodfellas, and a billion other movies. And who doesn't love Lorraine Bracco, AMIRIGHT?

The editors glossed over the cooking this week, and instead focused on footage of the judges eating family-style around the table. That was a good choice, because the conversation was lively and the comments were on point. Here are some of the funnier critiques from the evening:

"This tastes like a soup you'd find in Wisconsin." —Rao's family member on Carla'a minestrone

"If my boyfriend served me this for dinner, he wouldn't be getting laid that night!" —Lorraine Bracco, on Dale's pasta/pancetta dish

"It was overkill with the garnish. He covered over the rice like he was hiding a body." —Tony Bourdain on Tre's risotto

"How could three culinary professionals f-ck up the pasta course? This was like something you'd find at a steam table at your worst enemy's wedding." —Tony Bourdain, on the pasta dishes from Mike Isabella, Tre, and Dale

The top dishes of the evening were Antonia's mussels with fennel, Carla's "Wisconsin" minestrone soup, Tiffany's polenta with Italian sausage, and Fabio's chicken cacciatore with polenta al pecorino. Fabio really hit it out of the park (shouldn't he have?) and the judges loved his authentic, traditional food. Much to everyone's surprise, the win, however, went to Antonia for her mussels dish.

Fabio was angry, and I think justifiably so. His food, which Bourdain said "wiped away the stain" of the pasta course, was more involved, more authentic, more true to the challenge, and everyone at Rao's loved it. "Antonia beat me with a bowl of steamed mussels and some fennel," Fabio said. "That's a French dish! There's something wrong with this picture!"

The worst performers of the evening were Tre, Mike Isabella, and Dale. They were all responsible for the epic failure that was the pasta course. Mike's fresh pasta was severely undercooked, while Dale's pasta was crumbly and his pancetta was bland. But in the end, the judges eliminated Tre. They thought his risotto was way too firm, and Bourdain hated that it was covered in so much garnish.

I thought Fabio should have won, and Mike Isabella should have been sent home. You can't undercook pasta for Italians on Top Chef All Stars! Especially when the manager himself told you to use boxed pasta to avoid the issue! Come on now!

What did you all think of the show? Who should have gone home tonight?