City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
City & State or ZIP
City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
City & State or ZIP

Top Chef All-Stars recap, episode 7: Restaurant wars!

IMG_0427You want some SPOILERS?!? You got ‘em!

The episode begins rather uneventfully, though after last weeks’ opening scene with Marcel’s drunken gangsta-peacocking at Dale, pretty much anything would seem mundane. The best that Bravo could come up with is a recap of all of the chefs to fall victim to Antonia, AKA “The black hammer.”

In the business, that is what we would call a “slow news day.”

Fortunately, we jump straight into the Quickfire, which has the chefs walking into Le Bernardin, Eric Ripert’s legendary, three-Michelin-star-carrying seafood restaurant. You remember Eric, right? He was the French judge last season, but then he was replaced this season by his BFF, Antho…

Holy Crap! It’s Bourdain! Thanks for showing up Tony! This is almost feels like all of that pre-season marketing wasn’t just smoke and mirrors!

As soon as we see a solo Bourdain waiting for the chefs inside Le Bernardin, it is obvious that this entire Quickfire has his fingerprints all over it. He explains – to those that haven’t read his newest shamelessly plugged book, Medium Raw – that Chef Ripert employs the most badass fish butcher known to man, Justo Thomas.

This fish-butchering machine does the work of three trained sous chefs every day, butchering between 700-1000 lbs. of fish between 7 a.m.-Noon. Moreover, he does it to 3-star quality, which is to say, flawless. The chefs go into the kitchen to watch Justo work, and his precision, speed, and technique straight up intimidates our Top Chef All-stars. Fabio is almost in tears.

You can see the lights in Bourdain’s eyes as he describes the Quickfire challenge: Justo can portion one cod and one fluke to Bernardin standards in 8 minutes. The chefs get 10.

Is it time for a Marcel quote? I think it is: “The first time I butchered and cleaned a fish, my hands turned bright red and started to get really hot. I had this crazy allergic reaction, fortunately enough for me, being the chef that I am, heh-heh, I just kept doing it and ignoring it, and it eventually just went away.” Wait…is it possible that it isn’t just the hair, and that Marcel is, in fact, Wolverine?

As the chefs slice through their fish, we immediately see that Carla is dead in the water. She is way behind the others. Fabio slices through his thumbnail – insert obligatory comment about Jaime being a huge baby and going home – and keeps on cutting. No time for gloves Dr. Jones! Let’s hope no one has to eat your bloody fluke Fabio. (Yup. I recycled the Short Round quote, but did you catch the wordplay there? No? Read it again.)

As Bourdain says, the beauty of this challenge is that there is no room for interpretation. The chefs know if they screwed up or not. And some of the chefs didn’t do so hot. Antonia looked like she would rather hide in the oven than have Justo inspect her shoddy knife work and Carla doesn’t even have enough portions. Probably most embarrassingly, Tiffany, who runs a seafood restaurant, not only doesn’t cut the fish cleanly, she cuts it completely incorrectly. Dale, Richard, Mike, and Marcel’s butchery earned them passage to phase 2 of the challenge.

The four remaining chefs, competing for immunity, have 45 minutes to make a delicious dish out of The Nasty Bits: The skeletal remains of their fish, heads and all. I told you this Quickfire had Bourdain’s name all over it.

Marcel Quote #2 – “No, dude, that’s my chinoise.” I don’t even know where to start on this one.

Marcel’s selfish attitude in the kitchen, by refusing to share or help Mike in the least, begins what turns into a deluge of the chefs bitching about Marcel. Finally! And here I thought that I was the only one annoyed by his ridiculous arrogance.

Of the four, Dale is the most at home with this challenge, as he grew up cooking nose-to-tail. The race is close, but Dale’s bacon dashi with salt roasted cod collar earns him immunity. His use of the liver seems to really win Bourdain over.


The chefs walk back into the Top Chef kitchen to find Padma and this week’s celebrity judge, Ludo Lefebvre. Can you guess what this week’s elimination challenge is?

That’s right kids! Hold on to your bleepin’ hats, because it’s RESTAURANT WARS!!

Dale’s immunity also gets him the captain’s chair for one of the teams, as well as the right to choose the captain of the opposing team. In a both extremely obvious and impressively diabolical move, Dale chooses Marcel. Not only does this keep Marcel off his team, it means that Marcel is now going to be chiefly responsible for leading the other team to victory. Fat. Freakin’. Chance.

You know the old joke about the fat kid in dodgeball? Well, the team selection was kind of like that, except the fat kid got to pick one of the teams. Everyone selected for Marcel’s team – except for Angelo, go figure – was white-knuckled with frustration when their name was called.

Here is how the teams worked out:

Team Dale: Dale, Blais, Tre, Fabio, and Carla

Team Fat Kid: Marcel, Angelo, Mike, Antonia, and Tiffany

As soon as the teams split up for menu planning, the disaster looming over Team Marcel is painfully obvious. Like any good leader, Marcel is passive aggressive, dismissive, whiny, abrasive, and demeaning to his team. Within the first few minutes, he used the phrase “How many times do I have to tell you…” about six times. I can already tell that his sous chefs in the real world are probably on suicide watch, because those working conditions must be absolute hell.

Dale’s team settles on “Bodega” for the name/concept of their restaurant, offering playful spins on the kind of stoner food that you would find at a bodega – potato chips, bacon egg and cheese, and canned tuna. Marcel’s team comes up with “Etch”, which is supposed to be Mediterranean inspired…I guess?

Aside from the fact that the Bodega crew has a consistent vision, a clear leader, and a lot of talent, they have their ace in the hole: Fabio, the best front of house contestant in Top Chef history. Tiffany, who had no interest or real experience working front-of-house, reluctantly accepts the job for Etch.

The level of tension on team Etch is out of control. Everyone is annoyed, mostly with Marcel, and they are all clearly in the weeds. Team Bodega, on the other hand, is cool, calm, and collected. Too calm for Richard “Worrywart” Blais, but they seem to run like a well-oiled machine.

Unlike the restaurant wars of seasons past, the diners, not the judges, choose the winning team. The diners arrive, and plates are immediately going back to Etch’s kitchen. Things aren’t looking good.

Fabio really is a rock star at managing the Bodega crew. He is charismatic, engaging, and most importantly, his leadership makes their service feel effortless for the diners. Tiffany, on the other hand, moseys among the tables, chatting up the diners and cackling while her non-existent servers blow it all around her. Servers wander around with plates with no idea where to take them, diners are getting plates of cold food, and the judges are going hungry.

But, this is Top Chef, and while bad service always hurts a team, stellar food can usually make up for it. That’s great, except most of Etch’s food falls short. Marcel’s parsley-foamed monkfish is mushy (Bourdain: “It’s like bleeping baby food”), Angelo’s crudo is over complicated, Tiffany’s egg dish is under seasoned, Antonia’s ricotta is too salty, and Marcel’s foamed duo of peaches is a “perfect storm of bleepin’ awful.”

For those keeping count, that is two separate foams. Get a new trick dude.

After service ends, the teams try their best to relax. Fabio is supremely confident with Bodega’s performance. Not surprising, since he just finished kissing the hand of every female diner as they left. I’m surprised we didn’t see a shot of him giving out free foot rubs during dessert. Richard is not so convinced, racked with self-doubt.

On the other side of the courtyard, Marcel is all confidence. When Antonia hits him with a dose of reality, Mr. Maturity storms off and calls her “Debbie Downer.”


Team Etch is up to the plate first, leaving Richard in the stew room on the verge of a nervous breakdown, begging for reassurance from Fabio. What better way to comfort your bromance than to sit in his lap?

Here is the shocker of the night: Etch was the diners’ least favorite restaurant. Oh, that’s not the shocking part. What blew me away was that the lost by a score of 17-59. That means that 17 people actually picked that nightmare of a restaurant as their favorite. It just goes to show you, no matter how good a restaurant is, and no matter how unanimously the experts agree, there will always be someone that doesn’t like it. I bet the guy that didn’t like the can that Richard’s tuna belly came in voted for Etch.

Watching the losing team stammer their way through judges table was painful. They all look like scolded puppies that have just had their noses rubbed into the carpet. The gloves come off, and the team finally speaks up about Marcel’s pathetic excuse for leadership.

Bodega’s judges table was all roses and sunshine. I don’t remember a team ever getting so much praise, and so little criticism. As Tom said: “You guys killed it.”

Much to Richard’s surprise – and mine – our Atlanta boy takes the win and $10,000. I thought his Italian man-crush clenched it with his front of house management, but Blais’ creative twists on his dishes wowed the judges. Well done Richard. I won’t sully this moment by BEGGING you to go back to cooking like that in Atlanta.

So here it is. The moment that we have all been waiting for, all season long. In recognition for his complete failure as a leader and single-handedly undermining his entire team’s chance for success, Marcel packs his bottle of gin and heads home.

Before the door hopefully hit him on the way out, he did leave us with a threat that will surely keep me up at night: “I’m sure this isn’t going to be the last time that you see me.”

NEXT WEEK: It’s mafia night on top chef, and it looks like one of our contestants won’t be getting laid that night…

- By Jon Watson, AJC Food & More blog


- Jon Watson writes about Popular Eats for the AJC Dining Team. He also publishes his own blog, Live To Feast

51 comments Add your comment


January 20th, 2011
6:26 am

Thank you for a great play by play. I havent watched the episode yet but you have made my day by telling me that ‘the idiot’ is going home!! There is just no reason for Marcel to be such an @$#%@….and yes the foam is so played out. I just love love Top Chef :)


January 20th, 2011
6:28 am

One of the best episodes ever! Foam King went home, Blais won (Though Fabio was great) and Bourdain’s commentary was priceless!


January 20th, 2011
6:31 am

I was definitely satisfied by this episode! My man Blais picked up $10K, Marcel the d-bag was kicked off, and Restaurant Wars was wickedly entertaining. I knew watching Judges Table last night that either Marcel or Tiffany D. was on the chopping block. I’d like to see Tiffany D. go next…


January 20th, 2011
6:33 am

While I personally like Marcel, he did fail as a leader and cooked 2 really bad dishes. He deserved to go home…

Jenny Turknett

January 20th, 2011
7:21 am

Jon, you didn’t want to sully the moment by begging Blais to cook like that here again. But, can I? ;)


January 20th, 2011
7:39 am

FINALLY!! He still thinks he’s a nice guy! WTF? Mike is right. He’s (hopefully) will grow up and learn how to talk to people, how to think, how to NOT make a foam!!.

Transplanted foodie

January 20th, 2011
8:18 am

“Jon, you didn’t want to sully the moment by begging Blais to cook like that here again. But, can I?”


Would love to see this creativity back in the kitchen.


January 20th, 2011
8:25 am

Enter your comments here


January 20th, 2011
8:46 am

It was about time for Marcel to go…but Mike torpedoed the team with his refusal from the start to accept Marcel’s leadership.


January 20th, 2011
9:05 am

John, even though I see the episodes I soooo look forward to your recaps every Thursday!! I too will also beg Blais: PLEEEEEEEASE!!! Can you cook like this when you get back?!


January 20th, 2011
9:06 am

Poor Blais looked like he was going to vomit all over the Stew Room when they took the other team!


January 20th, 2011
9:16 am

Top Chef = Jump Shark


January 20th, 2011
9:18 am

I liked Marcel in his previous season. Now he just goes out of his way to be a douche. What happened?


January 20th, 2011
9:23 am

Mr. Kessler, The devil is in the details! You need to review your text and use Spell Check! The very first sentence: “The episode ‘beings’ should be ‘begins.’


January 20th, 2011
9:25 am

I kept wishing that Harold would show up, smack Marcel around, and just generally act like the adult. Supposedly the foam King was going to have a cooking show on the SyFy channel but it doesn’t appear to be happening.

PhatNate Dogg

January 20th, 2011
9:29 am

These reviews are are really good Jon.. I look forward to reading them every Thursday…You really do a great job of re-capping each episode.


January 20th, 2011
9:36 am

I usually hate it when grammar trolls post, but seriously, does the AJC even employ editors anymore?

‘The episode beings rather uneventfully…’ Did you mean begins?

‘…butchering between 700-1000 lbs. of first between…” Did you mean fish?

‘…he did leave us with a threat that will surly keep…’ Did you mean surely?

Other than that, thanks for the enjoyable recap of a great episode. Don’t let the door hit you Marcel!


January 20th, 2011
9:37 am

Check the by-line. Not Kessler.


January 20th, 2011
9:41 am

Seconding the return of Blais to a real restaurant – exactly what I told my wife last night while we watched (why can’t he cook in a real restaurant again?) Enough with the burgers & consulting on other people’s menu’s – hopefully he is parlaying this Top Chef (eventual win!) into a real restaruant again. He’s shown he’s not all molecular gastronomy anymore and is instead a *$%@ fine chef!

Top Chef Junkie

January 20th, 2011
9:54 am

If, by some chance, Etch had pulled out the win, it would have been interesting to see the judges reaction and comments. Would they have set aside the verdict?

It was good to see Blais get back on his game.

Jon Watson

January 20th, 2011
9:56 am

@KA & @Grasshopper – Sorry guys, that one is on me. Before you give up on my grammatical skills, I first ask that you look at the timestamp on this post. I finished this at 4:08 AM. At that point, I’d been awake for nearly 24 hours, so I did overlook a few mistakes that I would normally catch when I’m not passing out onto my keyboard.

And to answer your question Grasshopper, yes, the AJC does employ editors, but our blog posts are not part of their responsibilities. The bloggers themselves are responsible for catching these errors. I hate it when I let mistakes slip through, but I beat myself up less over these recaps because I’m usually half asleep when reviewing my final drafts.

Either way, the mistakes have been corrected. Thanks for the heads up.


January 20th, 2011
10:09 am

Did the other chefs on team Etch decide to undermine Marcel? It would appear so. Too many dishes were returned to the kitchen for being undercooked or too cold. Considering that that is unusual for these chefs, you must wonder if it was intentional. Bad food from being poorly prepared is not unusual for these contests. Seasoning is off, you over thought the recipe, it just didn’t work, yes those things happen. But undercooked lamb and plates coming back because everything is cold. Come on!


January 20th, 2011
10:12 am

You left out my favorite comment of the night from Bourdain about Marcel’s dessert….something like “that was like a thumb in the eye to the diner on their way out…thanks for coming”


January 20th, 2011
10:23 am

Ok, here’s a dumb question. I’ve never watched Top chef. But your reviews make me want to. Is it really so good that I should go back to the beginning and start with season 1? I’m looking for a new show to get hooked on.

Voice of Reason

January 20th, 2011
10:32 am

Hey Jon Watson,

I watched the show but for someone who missed it, this recap is a bit incomplete since it didn’t mention what the chefs on the other team prepared. Only mentioned Bad Boy Blais’ (I love that name!) dish. You should also mentioned that although Dale was the leader of that team, they all agreed that Blais had a huge hand in the concept and execution.

I only say this because I LOVE your recaps and I follow so closely that I notice when things are missing.

[...] more here: Top Chef All-Stars recap, episode 7: Restaurant wars! | Food and … Uncategorized atlanta, bacon-dashi, bourdain, chefs-walk, collar-earns, kessler, [...]


January 20th, 2011
10:44 am

Two great lines: Fabio and his “fake” accent, and Ludo calling out Angelo saying that pink peppercorns were French.


January 20th, 2011
10:56 am

Kmb: It appears intentional or even scripted. However, Marcel did it to himself starting with his childish rant on Dale ( which led to this episode). Then he picked a team consisting of “Mr. Saboteur” Angelo, “the black hammer” Antonia, and “I know what you did last quickfire” Mike. Despite being the head chef of this team, he decides to do two dishes with one being a dessert. You can already hear the knives being packed already.


January 20th, 2011
11:09 am

I doubt it’s being scripted that would really hurt the credibility of the show/series if it got out. However, if ever there was a team of malcontents who would commit mutany on the Etch, this group would be an all star team, as you have so eloquently outlined.

Jon Watson

January 20th, 2011
11:48 am

@GaDevildawg and @VoiceofReason – Alas, there were many things that I didn’t include in this recap that I wanted to, mostly due to length. There were about 15 Marcel quotes that I didn’t get to in addition to Bourdain’s “thumb in the eye” comment. This was the longest recap I’ve written so far, and I had to leave some things out to prevent it from becomming War & Peace: Top Chef edition. But, including the winning teams dishes should have made it in there, I admit.


January 20th, 2011
11:57 am

Richard Blais would have to check his ego at the door to return to actual cooking. Pity, because before he was “Blais” and was cooking at Fishbone, he was pretty amazing.

Carla Roqs

January 20th, 2011
11:59 am

come on guys, read for fun and not to critique. soooo glad that marcel is gonnnnnnnnnnnnne!! comment on my lower case usage if you dare! LOVED the calling out of the “french” peppercorns, also! fabio’s accent? who cares? he can cook! love the show, love the re-caps, totally understand errors due to late hours, good job guys!


January 20th, 2011
12:11 pm

I *live* for your Top Chef recaps. They’re like a hug from Jesus every Thursday.


January 20th, 2011
12:25 pm

Jon, keep your reviews coming! I’m currently crushing my husband in your Top Chef game (I’ve got Blais, Dale, Carla, Mike I, Tiffany, Antonia, and Fabio left) and even though I picked Marcel – my last pick in the draft – I was so happy to see him leave last night.

Note to Richard Blais: how about creating a concept similar to LudoBites for us folks in Atlanta? I for one would sign up and let you wow me with your amazing cooking. And I’d bet lots of other Atlantans would do the same.


January 20th, 2011
12:29 pm

OK Jon, I’ve got your back. I’ll make a horrible attempt at describing the other teams dishes which will then make you pity both myself and your readers so much that you’ll have to come back and add the info in the comments section. Other folks, please chime in.

Fabio: A dessert that looked creamy and had coffee flavors…. let’s call it fancy-smancy tiramisu

Carlo: Fancy-smancy blueberry pie w/something they call dry ice cream but looks like a sugar cone

Tre: Pork Belly over something that looked horrible but was apparently very tasty with its flavors of Corona Beer and lime

Blais: tuna somethin-somethin with a bunch of stuff that topped with fried chicken skin. Yes, just the skin. Also homemade potato chips.

Dale: Whoa….umm… I just remember it had a gooey egg and some sort of bacon. Let’s call it fancy-smancy bacon, egg & cheese dish.

Anything I miss? Please be gentle.


January 20th, 2011
12:45 pm

So, we’ve just passed the halfway point. Biggest surprises so far for me – Jenn Carroll’s super early elimination, Dale’s apparently mostly successful completion of an anger management program, the budding bromance between Richard and Fabio, Jaime and her nine lives, and I’m pleasantly surprised that Fabio is still in the game – he is the front house master for Restaurant Wars!


January 20th, 2011
12:45 pm

Dale made such a smart move. He know the GREAT Marcel would shoot himself in the foot. Marcel played right into his hand and acted like the fool that he is…
I was glad to see Richard win and to see such a strong showing for the team.

Christi J

January 20th, 2011
1:31 pm

That was one of the most well-rounded, entertaining episodes I’ve ever watched. (It’s didn’t hurt that Blais won!) I’ve never seen such polar opposites in Wars…and HOW in the world could Marcel even remotely think they had done well? Oof.

Regardless – great recap, as always. :)


January 20th, 2011
3:18 pm

Man, keep your day job….cuz I love reading your recap. It’s the most entertaining part of You really nail it every week, keep up the good work. Thanks.


January 20th, 2011
3:24 pm

OK I’ve waited all day long to see if anyone else would say it but I guess not – Etch was waaay to close to Retch for me. I realize that the food was most important but, there’s something to be said for marketing and name recognition.

And every time I heard Etch, I heard Retch … of course it didn’t hurt that Bodega’s food seemed way superior to (R)Etch’s …

And I’m betting the 17 who voted for (R)Etch were probably all just like that dark haired girl who kept talking about how much the presentation impressed her. I don’t think she said anything about taste in any of her little moments.

Style over substance – which, coincidentally, I was thinking about earlier in the day watching the re-runs of Kevin Gillespie’s season. Yes, the brothers V were great chefs and could make a plate look like art but everyone at Judge’s table agreed multiple times Kevin’s food tasted better.


January 20th, 2011
3:25 pm

Cr*p … “Etch was waaay *too* close to Retch for me.” Homophones R Not Us today. :)


January 20th, 2011
4:09 pm

All I can say is, good bye douche bag! Your parting gift is foam.

Jon Watson

January 20th, 2011
5:25 pm

@all (even the ones that hate my sleep-induced typos) – I don’t know if I’ve ever vocalized this to you before, or if anyone of you will actually see this comment, but thanks for the support. I really look forward to Thursday mornings because I get to read all of your great comments. I’m glad that you are enjoying the re-caps, and I hope you have as much fun reading them as I have writing them.


January 20th, 2011
6:05 pm

Marcel was actually in town last weekend! I saw him at AmericasMart doing a cooking demo. One guess what he was demonstrating:

FOAM. Made out of red jello, no less. I’m not kidding!


January 20th, 2011
10:17 pm

Jon, I watch each episode religiously – sometimes several times and your commentaries are sharp and right on point! If I didn’t have a TV, I could come here and read your perspective on the episode and feel fully satisfied with my Top Chef fix. I was beginning to grow bored of this season, but things picked up when Marcel finally packed his foam and left. The Universe loves us.


January 21st, 2011
12:12 pm

Poor Richard always looks like he’s going to be sick. He knows everyone else on the show looks up to him and sets their standard by him. Imagine the pressure! Now he’s gonna read all these comments telling him to stop making burgers and make all that fancy food from the tv show. No wonder he’s lost so much weight! I wish he’d ease up on himself!

Betsy Gluten Freedom

January 21st, 2011
12:41 pm

I, too, thought Fabio was going to win this week. I’m so glad Trey had a solid performance. I think he’s a dark horse, but he’s so inconsistent.


January 21st, 2011
2:50 pm

Although Blais was ahead of his time he did have a spot where he “cooked” in Atlanta, Element. The only problem is that no one showed up. He is probably the best chef in this town, but people only show up to eat burgers.


January 21st, 2011
3:42 pm

Great episode! This season has been great. Love that our Ga Boy is doing his thing! But while everyone is annoyed with Marcel, i thought he was pretty entertaining, an idiot but entertaining. Angelo on the other hand needs to kick rocks. That guy really rubs me the wrong way.


January 22nd, 2011
7:23 pm

Bravo just opened the casting calls for Top Chef 9 & Top Chef Just Desserts 2: