We are down to the final six and it seems our beloved chefs are getting a little freaked out. Take Tiffany, for instance. She’s wearing make-up in the hopes it will improve her performance. Oooookay. Either CoverGirl has come out with some magical eye shadow (and you’d think they’d be selling the crap out of it), or Tiffany’s putting too much faith in make-up.

We get to see the chefs noodling around the condo, and Richard is showing Mike his sketchbook. He’s filled up two little books with recipes he’s dreamed up. He even makes little sketches, which is just adorable or kind of compulsive, though you can’t argue with the results. Mike looks over Richard’s shoulder and admires Richard’s attention to detail. This does not seem like a significant detail, but it is. Remember this moment, my friends.
 
[Full recap of Wednesday's (Feb. 23) "Top Chef" after the break...]
 
Anyway, time for the Quickfire Challenge! Paula Deen and “her beautiful hair” (that’s according to Carla, because I’m not all that impressed by the big, shellacked, wiggy look) are in the house. And the challenge is to use a deep fryer. Personally, I was hoping Paula would make everyone cook something using butter as the main ingredient. I could see some little butter castles or Great Walls of Butter or something. And Richard would make nitrogen-fried butter wads.
 
Paula reveals that if it’s food, you can fry it. To wit, she has fried mac and cheese, lasagna and balls of butter. See, butter! The winner gets five grand for their fried thing and the judges get high cholesterol for eating it. It’s a win-win!
 
Paula tells the chefs to get a goin’ (or something equally Southern-fried). Carla gets to the fridge first and actually steps in front of another chef! Yes, she says, “Sorry!” in a chirpy little voice, but it’s good to see Carla showing some gumption instead of being all Zen and getting stuck trying to fry leftover chicken stock or something.
 
Mike decides he’s going to fry up some chicken oysters (a chunk of chicken that can only be found at the top of the thigh bone) and he plans to place them in oyster shells. He then admits to ripping off the idea from Richard. Mike seems to think this is a swell way of coming up with an original recipe. Dude, this isn’t “Hell’s Kitchen,” you’re supposed to be operating at a higher level. He blabbers something about how he’s seen this recipe before and Richard isn’t all that and all’s fair in love and cooking or some such crap, but I think Mike’s crossed the line.Sure, elbow another chef out of the way, take all the cilantro and refuse to share -- those aren't the nicest ways to get ahead on "Top Chef," but fine. Stealing a whole recipe? Oh, hell no. 
 
Richard, unaware of Mike’s general crappiness as a human being, is making fried mayo. I really, really don’t know how I feel about that. Okay, I do. It makes me want to throw up. But I trust Richard to make something that sounds gross taste delicious.
 
So, time for tasting. Paula immediately likes Richard because he not only made fried mayo, but his hair looks like what hers looks like when she wakes up in the morning. Richard’s basking in the glow of Paula’s love when he hears Mike explaining “his” recipe. Richard is not feeling so warm and fuzzy anymore.
 
Time for the winners and losers. Paula declares that Dale’s flavors blew and Carla’s hushpuppies were like spitballs. Carla knows this and she’s horrified that she’s screwed up soul food. Paula’s favorite dish was Antonia’s, except she Antonia forgot to serve up two plates for the judges instead of one and she’s disqualified. Aargh! Antonia is actually crying a little. So, on to the actual winner. Paula loved Richard’s fried mayo. Oh, and she likes Mike’s chicken oyster. What a clever idea! And it’s in a little oyster shell! How’d he think of that? The winner is… MIKE? NO!!!!
 
Mike just gloats and feels great. No doubts, no regrets, he’s just THRILLED to have made five grand by stealing. Mike is the kind of guy who cheats on his taxes and would steal stuff out of your medicine cabinet. In short, Mike is a putz. Richard, being a nice guy, does not call attention to this fact in front of the judges. Too bad.
 
Moving on. John Besh, chef/owner of August, comes out to introduce the Elimination Challenge. The chefs must cook Gulf seafood for 300 people at a fundraiser for the Greater New Orleans Foundation.
 
Mike is excited about this challenge, because he wants to give back. He’s a good, charitable person. Really? Okay, well, then give your five grand to Richard, Mike. Yeah, didn’t think so.
 
Oh yay, some of the eliminated chefs are back to help! And the catch is that each chef is paired with a protein. In other words, if you want the red snapper, you have to pick the chef who goes with it. As the winner/scumbag of the day, Mike gets to pick first. He’d like the big, juicy white shrimp Marcel is holding, but that means picking Marcel. He goes with Tiffani and her brown shrimp instead.
 
Mike lets Richard pick next, and admits Blais was the “inspiration” for his winning dish. Richard does not look impressed with Mike’s empty gesture. Richard picks Fabio and his red snapper. The bromance continues! Carla picks Tre and red grouper. Tiffany reluctantly picks Marcel and his white shrimp. Antonia chooses Spike and crabs. Dale gets Angelo and amberjack. I’m surprised Angelo’s picked last. Mike says it’s because Angelo must still be crushed about being eliminated, but even if his head isn’t in the game he’s got to be better than Marcel.
 
Carla thinks she’s made a clever choice by picking Tre. Of course he knows Southern cooking, because he’s black. But he doesn’t. He buys collard greens in a can. Carla wants to revoke his NAACP card. I think Carla is making judgments based on race. Bad Carla!
 
Back at the condo, Mike is pissed at Richard for being a sore loser. What? What? Mike should be happy that Richard isn’t beating the snot out of him. Antonia tells Carla and Tiffany about Mike’s transgression and they are appropriately horrified. They declare that Mike has broken chef law. I wish this was actually a punishable offense, but sadly, it’s not.
 
The next day, it’s time to dish up the food and, amazingly, Tiffany manages not to kill Marcel when he tells her she needs to cook the shrimp heads his way, oh, at least five times. But she should. Kill him, I mean, not follow his orders.
 
Three hundred people descend on the chefs. Dale looks like he’s going to have a breakdown. Carla discovers that, in making the same dish she screwed up in the Quickfire, she’s actually screwed up again. But no time for fixing anything, because the judges (in this case just Tom, Paula, John and Padma) have arrived.
 
Mike
Grit-crusted shrimp, sour cream & chive potatoes with pork & lobster sauce
This doesn’t sound great to me and I don’t think of sour cream and chive potatoes as even the least bit Southern, but everyone loves it. Paula thinks it’s wonderful and Tom thinks the flavors are really clean. John thinks Mike hit the nail on the head. I wish someone would actually bang a nail into Mike’s head, but maybe next week.
 
Richard
Crispy Gulf snapper with pulled pork and citrus grits
John thinks it kinda works. Tom says it’s seasoned nicely but it’s not aggressive. Everyone seems shocked that it’s not disgusting. Hey, the guy made fried mayo taste good, whadya expect?
 
Carla
Fried grouper with collard greens & chow-chow pico
Paula doesn’t care for the greens. Tom thinks there’s too much hot sauce on the fish. John thinks it’s too salty. Carla thinks she’s going home unless someone screwed up more than she did. What happened, Carla?
 
Tiffany
Honey glazed shrimp, grits with jalapeno & cheese, shellfish sauce
John likes the glaze but can’t taste the shrimp. Paula isn’t impressed with the sweetness. Tom thinks her shrimp is overcooked. I’m thinking Carla has company at the bottom.
 
Dale
Amberjack stew with andouille sausage & potatoes, Creole mustard crouton
Padma gets undercooked potatoes in hers. Tom thinks the crouton has way too much mustard. Paula likes the stew, but John says that it’s all over once you eat the crouton. And now we have a third for the bottom.
 
Antonia
Blue crab cake, corn, jalapeno & andouille sausage relish with crab broth
John really likes it. Tom loves her sauce. Antonia for the win! After languishing in the middle for a while, Antonia has emerged as a strong chef in the past few weeks. Initially I didn’t think she’d make it this far, but now I’m thinking she may get all the way to the end.
 
Back at the boiler room, Padma calls back Richard, Antonia and Mike. They have the best dishes of the night, of course. John declares Richard’s combination of pulled pork with snapper genius. Paula loved Mike’s mashed potatoes. John thinks Antonia’s spice was really special. The winner is… Richard. Yay! This is a surprise, given that the judges seemed impressed but not all that excited about his dish. He gets a six night trip to Barbados and five grand for air fare. He’s going to invite Fabio to go with him and his family. That’s so sweet! Bromance! Maybe he can ask the pilot to buzz Mike’s house as they fly over. Just a thought.
 
Next up are the losers -- Tiffany, Carla and Dale. Time for the chefs to grovel and confess their sins. Tiffany admits she let Marcel overcook the shrimp. Dale admits he knew his potatoes were undercooked, but Tom tells him he should have made the judges wait until his dish was ready. D’oh! John couldn’t taste the fish in Dale’s dish what with all the mustard and other crap. Tom can’t understand why Carla doused her fish in hot sauce. Paula tells Carla none of her elements made sense to her. Carla is crying a little. Oh, Carla!
 
John is very disappointed that these three chefs were provided with beautiful Gulf seafood and they chose to fry and season the crap out of it. Bad chefs, bad! And Dale is going home. Wha? Whoa. I’m actually shocked. Given how often Tiffany has ended up in the bottom, I thought she might have been sent packing. Dale’s mustard crouton must have tasted like a burnt tire or something.
 
I know, we’re down to the final six, someone talented is going home, but I never thought it would be Dale. He’s disappointed, but he’s proud of himself for having grown up since his last “Top Chef” season and he feels he’s emerged from this one a better chef. Dale cries in his interview. Poor guy. He really was much, much more likable this season and it was encouraging to see how much he’d grown and changed as a person. I really thought he’d make final three.
 
So, next week Richard thinks he’s on thin ice. Okay, if Richard gets the boot before Mike I will have to accept there’s no justice in the world. But hey, at least he and Fabio are going to have a romantic week in Barbados.