The chefs file into the kitchen to find Scott Conant, whose Italian restaurant, Scarpetta, was awarded three stars by the New York Times. Starting with Jamie, everyone writes his or her name on a chalkboard grid, and the placement ultimately decides the main ingredient each person will be working with. Then Padma tells them that they have to—wait for it—use their ingredient with Quaker Oats “in a new and exciting way.” Really? We’re not sure which is worse—this or last season’s challenge with Uncle Ben’s microwavable packets.
Carla, who’s like a kid in a candy store—she loves her some oats and grains—lands in the top with pecan-and-oat-crusted tofu, but it’s Stefan who ultimately wins with a banana mousse. In the bottom is Leah’s mussels-and-branzino dish, Fabio’s oat-crusted eggplant (huh?), and Jeff’s “too brown and too heavy” fried-chicken paillard.
“Stefan’s head,” says Hosea, “just got another inch bigger.” And maybe another shade redder?
Padma orders everyone back to the stew room, where they find chef jackets with their names and a number 5 on the back. “The Super Bowl’s just around the corner,” she reminds them. When the cheftestants return to the kitchen, they find football helmets lined up on the prep tables. They’ll be battling the Top Chef All-Stars, a squad of contestants from past seasons, including Spike Mendelsohn, owner of Capitol Hill’s Good Stuff Eatery. There will be 20-minute, one-on-one battles to create their team’s regional cuisine.
The next day—game day—Padma saunters onto the playing field, also known as a kitchen at the Institute of Culinary Education, in the lowest-cut referee shirt we’ve ever seen.
In a battle of the New York Giants, Leah’s strip steak wins the judges’ vote, scoring the season-five team seven points. But Nikki, from last season, turns on her New Yawk accent and wins over the ICE students with chicken livers, local goat cheese, and challah, earning the All-Stars three points.
Hosea tops Miguel, from season one, in a Seattle-salmon showdown with a crispy salmon roll. And, as Hosea says, cooking salmon perfectly in a roll is “a really hard thing to do.” Pat on the back, man.
In his battle with Spike, Fabio decides to cook venison because, he says, “it’s the hunting thing that goes on in Wisconsin.” But his version with cheddar and stone fruit wins him only three points from the ICE students; the judges preferred Spike’s spice-rubbed venison with port-wine reduction.
Those who didn’t lose their battles—Carla, Hosea, Jamie, and Leah—come to the judges’ table for praise and ego stroking. It’s Carla’s gumbo that wins her two tickets to the Super Bowl. “I tasted the love,” says Toby Young. Finally!
Stefan’s on the chopping block for the first time, and Toby calls him out for picking Andrea as an opponent because he thought she was weak. Fabio gets into a heated argument with Conant, who warns, “Take it easy. I’m the judge, not you. You failed, and that’s your fault.” Tom echoes him: Fabio’s venison was overcooked. Period.
Poor Jeff—he knows as well as we do that he’s a goner. He admits that he tried to do too much with fancy food, served on a plastic plate. As he’s leaving, he says, “This will stick with me for at least a decade.” We forget all about him, though, when we see the trailer for next week: Sexy Eric Ripert will be the guest judge. We’re swooning already—those lips! That accent!