This is a Recap of Top Chef All-Stars (Season 8), Episode 1, entitled “History Never Repeats”, originally airing December 1st, 2010. It contains some All-Star spoilers, as well as some All-Star really bad Photoshops.

Top Chef is back! And some of us are more excited than others:

It’s the first ever Top Chef ALL-STARS season, meaning it’s time to stretch the definition of the word “Stars” and/or “All”. We’ve got some returning could’ve-won greats like Tiffany, Richard, Tre, Jennifer, and Angelo, plus some returning gonna-lose-againers like Stephen Asprinio, and seriously Stephen Asprinio.

Strap yourselves in for the long food-haul, because once again, there are seriously so many chefs right now:

After the jump, it’s Quickfiring time (and I don’t mean quickly firing Stephen back off the show):

Aww, so many familiar faces! It’s like putting on 6,000 old pairs of shoes, some of which should’ve won Top Shoe but others of which are just personalities destined to be shoeliminated again (please pack your laces and go, is what Padma in that dimension would say).

Still, even the most familiar faces have changed a little:

The show kicks off with the obligatory re-introductory montages: Chefs saying what they’ve been up to (lots of independent bleeped-swearing ventures), claiming that their season was the best, and declaring how close they came to winning (“I was so close, Gillette wanted to make me their new slogan! Wait, we can’t mention non-sponsors? Fine, then, Swanson Close Broth.”)

Padma and Tom give the chefs a warm welcome back:

Padma then describes the Quickfire challenge, saying “In this challenge, you’ll be divided up into–Richard, are you already nitrogen-ing something?”

Even Wylie Dufresne’s like, “Dude, give it like one molecule of a second before you start whipping out the molecular stuff.” Van Hammersly knows what I’m talking about:

For the first Quickfire, the chefs must divide up into their seasons and cook one dish that represents the city where their season took place. What? WAY too reasonable, Bravo. You’re not gonna make them cook a dish to represent the number of their season? “I’m from Season 4, so I immediately start thinking, gotta do a ceviche because it’s food FOR humans to eat.”

Team Season 5 (Fabio, Carla, and Jamie) decides to represent New York with a “trio of apples,” in which each chef makes their own independent component. Really, guys? You were ALREADY ON TOP CHEF, you know that the judges are gonna say “this isn’t really one cohesive dish.” It’s like watching contestants on the Price Is Right that somehow don’t know the rules — have you never been sick or had snow days before?? (For a continuation of this siderant, feel free to approach me on the street.)

The Quickfire Top 3: Chicago, Miami, and Las Vegas. Team Chicago (Dale, Richard, Antonio, and Spike) pulls the win for their Chicago Pork and Black Pepper Sausage with Mustard Ice Cream. Richard entered the competition as the early favorite, and immediately throws a Quickfire notch on his bedpost (meaning, he literally f*cked the mustard ice cream).

Mediocre start for the strong Tiffany / Angelo D.C. Duo:

Tough cooking start for Fabio, too, but he gets off on a great start with the quotes, saying “I’m like the underdog. Italian dog. A good one.”

Almost this entire first segment takes place before the first commercial break; Bravo’s gonna have to make up for the uninterrupted action by going to commercial every 90 seconds the next time they air The Godfather, instead of the standard 95 seconds.

For the Elimination Challenge, the chefs are each presented with a silver domed tray. Antonia remarks, “All that I’m thinking is, what is under that tray?” Careful there, Antonia, that is not at all what the show wanted you to think when they placed a mysterious silver tray in front of you and suspensefully waited before revealing it. All you were supposed to be thinking is, what’s that NASA press conference gonna be about? Oh cool silver thing, didn’t notice.”

For the Elimination Challenge, the chefs are presented with the ingredients to the dish that sent them home on their former season, and they have to remake the dish and fix what they did wrong. Pretty badass first challenge, actually – looks like Bravo brought back the All-Star challenge-deciders this season (sorry, people that came up with Bi-Parti-Sandwich!) Plus the double-trauma of someone getting eliminated by the same dish twice! Reality TV life-scarring gold.

The chefs rush to the kitchen of Manhattan’s Russian Tea Room and split into two groups, Group 1, which will cook first, and Group 2, which will cook second. HUH? Another reasonable, non-time-wasting division of teams? No knife drawing where half the knives say “Gryffindor” and the other half say “George Washington Carver” and that’s the teams’ inspiration for their dishes? Is this even Top Chef anymore?

Some things never change, though — everyone still hates Marcel. Spike, the dude who defines himself with omnipresent hats and constantly thew everyone under the bus in Season 4, calls Marcel “immature.” Gonna take a lot more than that to faze this A-hole:

Odd rivalry, because you’d expect Spike and Marcel to instantly get along…

The chefs finish cooking and present their dishes to the group of Judges, which this Season will include “Tony Bordain” as a regular — nice “let people know I’m cool with the guy by saying his nickname people don’t use” move, Padma. Does the panel also include your pal Bobby De Niro?

For added insta-awkward, half the chefs will also dine with the judges and comment on the dishes while their peers watch them on tv from the kitchen, unbeknownst to them (again, you guys have already been on Top Chef once. They do this every season, so don’t act shocked, just always assume you’re being watched.)

The awkwardness is palpable, at least until Angelo snags the remote and flips channels:

Elia — who hasn’t cut her hair since Season 2, like a Top Chef playoff beard — can’t even bear to watch her and her peers’ dishes criticized, so she goes off and sits by herself; other chefs, like Michael Isabella, literally start glowing when they hear their dishes praised:

After a second round of dining in which the eating chefs are way more polite because they know they’re being watched (that’s some ALL-STAR unfairness), it’s time for Judge’s Table…2000!

The Top 4: Richard, Jamie, Spike, Angelo

Richard is disqualified because he foamed his plates beyond the time limit, and as we all know, in an actual restaurant, you can NEVER take an extra split-second to do a thing, you just lose. Though it was funny watching Richard disbelieve Tom — he does know that this is a television show where everyone is being filmed by like 12 cameras literally every second, right? The cameras only turn off when you steal pea purees.

Angelo wins the Elimination Challenge with his Homemade Ramen with Sweet Glazed Pork Belly & Watermelon, and takes home $10,000 because it’s a High Stakes FUGGEDABOUTIT NEW YAWK Challenge. More surprising, though, is Spike’s impressive non-squash-soup showing — new year, new hat, NEW CHEF:

The Bottom 3: Elia, Fabio, Stephen

Fabio, Elia, and Stephen each received universally negative criticism; Elia’s red snapper was raw, Stephen didn’t understand the concept of a soup dumpling, and Fabio’s dish, according to Bordain, “looked like the inside of a dead animal.” Fabio responds that he can take criticism, but will not stand to be made fun of because he takes things very seriously, which makes sense until you remember that he constantly made fun of every other chef on Season 5. Remember “Is Top Chef, not Top Scallop!”, Fabio? Everyone reading this does, because we are smart people with smart memory priorities.

By the powers of Top Chef deduction, we know that they won’t vote off the attractive lady or the supercharacter this early, plus Stephen’s the worst of the three anyway, so obviously Stephen Aspirinio is aspirin’ to pack his knives and go, right? WRONG.

Elia is asked to pack her knives and go. Dang – her plea, “please don’t eliminate me” didn’t work after all. I thought for sure Anthony Bordain would be all like, “You got it!”

One episode down, 700 left to go, and already we’re shaping up for a Richard / Angelo showdown, as both clearly could’ve won their respective seasons to begin with and are already re-proving themselves. I expect Tiffany, Jamie, Tre, Marcel, and Jennifer to stick around for a while — like Tiffani, I was “waiting to be completely blown by Jen” — but if I’m a bettin’ man, I’m gelling my money up into Richard’s faux.

The episode concludes with Carla being the first person in the history of Top Chef to declare, “This time you’ll see me cooking my food.” You are a true pioneer of reality show quotes, madame. But wait — your quote doesn’t tell us, on this show do you need to bring your A-Game every week because one mistake can send you home??? Dang. Guess we’ll never know.

Top Chef All-Stars reactions, people? Predictions for the season? Favorite / least favorite parts? Stuff we missed? Leave ‘em in the comments.

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