After a week hiatus, “Top Chef All-Stars” returned last night and got from nine chef-testants down to eight, which means we’re past halfway. They began with 17 chefs a little over two months ago. So last night’s episode began with host Padma Lakshmi introducing “Ultimate Collection” host and noted fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi. Isaac would judge the quick fire challenge, which was to create food that was fashion-conscious–i.e. not something that would be eaten, but that was made simply to look good. That’s difficult! You can surely be a great chef but not be able to make something look visually appealing all the time.

The worst-looking dishes were by Angelo (pineapple skin, curry salted egg and dill that Fabio referred to as “vomit in a bag” and Angelo wrote some REDRUM type art that said CROCODILE or something..yikes), Dale (beet puree and mango and other stuff strewn on a plate to look artsy) and Tre (smoked salmon and beets strewn like Dale’s). The best were Fabio, who made these goofy “tuna people” standing in the rain; Carla for her borscht and sandwich with a lattice of cucumber; and Richard, who made black chocolate ice-cream. Richard won, and his prize was immunity. That was a good prize for him to win since he’s always worried he’s being sent home.

Then for the elimination challenge, in walked Francino, Junior and Dino from Rao’s Restaurant in New York City, a place that is notoriously one of the toughest to get a reservation in (just wait, it’s probably about to get tougher!). The challenge was to create an Italian themed feast for these people as well as other Rao’s employees, and guest judge Lorraine Bracco, most famous for her roles in Goodfellas and The Sopranos. They would break into three teams of three, but judged individually. The first group (Antonia, Carla, Tiffany) would do the antipasti; the second group of Tre, Mike and Dale would do pasta; and Angelo, Richard and Fabio would do the meat course. It was hilarious seeing the banter between the employees at Rao’s and Bracco as well as the judges, which this week included Anthony Bourdain.

The favorite dishes were Antonia (mussels cooked in wine and garlic); Carla (Minestrone with homemade ciabatta); Fabio (roasted chicken with polenta); and Tiffany (polenta with sausage and peppers). The winner was Antonia, who said her Sicilian dad would be proud indeed.

The least favorites were the entire pasta team—Dale (fresh pasta with pancetta and Brussels sprouts); Tre (risotto with roasted vegetables); and Mike (rigatoni with spicy calamari). This was especially difficult for Mike because he knew his pasta wasn’t cooked enough and he was the “Italian representative” for that grouping. But in the end it was Tre that was sent home, because his rice was too grainy and not soft and mushy like Italian risotto is supposed to be. I think they looked at Tre’s overall body of work, though, because they could have just as easily sent Dale or Mike home.

So now we’re down to eight chefs—Antonia, Carla, Tiffany, Fabio, Angelo, Richard, Dale and Mike. I think I had picked Richard, Dale, Carla and Angelo as my final four so I’m sticking to that. We’ll see what happens in the next month or so! Thanks for reading…