David Giesbrecht/Bravo
Brian Orloff
March 03, 2011 09:00 AM

Remember where you come from! That, at least, was the message the contestants took to heart in an emotional – and suspenseful – Top Chef Wednesday night.

With five chefs left standing, and only four set to go through to the finale, it looked like it could be anybody’s game. So who would be ousted and which chefs would go through to the finale?

Spoiler Alert

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All five! In a twist, the judges ultimately decided they couldn’t find fault with any one chef’s final meal in the elimination challenge, so they decided to advance all five to compete in the Bahamas: Richard Blais, Carla Hall, Tiffany Derry, Antonia Lofaso and Mike Isabella.

First, though, back to the Quickfire, which had all the competitors unsettled: They had to cook on a ferry en route to Ellis Island without the benefit of a precise time limit or enticing ingredients. Instead, they had only what was on the boat – basic vending machine ingredients like tortilla chips and hot dogs – and the time it took their ferry to dock.

Carla used some creative ingenuity, avoiding cheesy (literally) offerings like her competitors used, and served an orange salad with papaya carrot juice, which she infused with rosemary. She won the challenge, though guest judge Dan Barber, of Blue Hill, was impressed with Richard’s hot dog, which he cooked with an M.R.E. bag.

Once arriving on Ellis Island, the chefs were in for a sweet surprise: Their relatives were waiting for them, baring hugs, kisses and comprehensive family histories, which were researched by a genealogist. The chefs were to cook a deeply personal dish informed by their personal histories and family lineage for their elimination challenge.

The task was personal, and the family reunions were tearful. In some cases, they were actually funny, especially for Antonia and Mike, who realized that they were related via a distant Sicilian relative.

Family Dinner

With little time to waste, the chefs got shopping, then cooking, as their relatives awaited their food. Everybody seemed confident about his or her offerings – but the stakes were high.

Mike cooked an Italian meal, spotlighting pillowy gnocchi, inspired by his grandmother.

Antonia braised veal and served it with a flavorful fava bean risotto, a dish she said was inspired by what she imagined her father would want to eat.

Tiffany convinced Tom Colicchio that okra wasn’t so bad after all with her plate, which featured braised short ribs and mustard greens cooked with pig feet.

Richard united a molecular gastronomy approach with a meat and potatoes dish, and delivered big flavors produced by innovative technique.

And Carla scored a homerun for her biscuits, passed family style, alongside braised pork shoulder, which she served with fried grits.

With command performances from all five, the judges deemed Antonia the winner of the challenge, praising her dish for its rich flavors. Mike was also deemed safe and returned to the stew room to excitedly hug his “cousin.”

Final(e) Surprise

The judges then delivered some major news to Richard, and he seemed rattled as Padma told him to “please pack your knives … you’re going to the finale!” Relieved, the chef headed to the stew room, leaving just Carla and Tiffany standing.

But they had no reason to worry. “Carla [and] Tiffany, you’re both going to the Bahamas,” Padma said.

Said Tom: “This time [the decision] was just too tough.”

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