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Producers reveal how they chose each of the 18 all-stars competing for redemption.

Shaun Harrison
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1 of 19 Matthias Clamer/Bravo

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It wasn’t an exact science choosing 18 Top Chef all-stars — none of whom had won the title — to compete for a second chance at gastronomic glory. The lineup runs the gamut, from chefs who made it to the finals to one who didn’t make it past the top eight. There are chefs who seem to be brought back for personality alone (we’ll say it: Fabio!) and those who still have bones to pick when it comes to why they were eliminated the first time. Executive producers Jane Lipsitz and Dan Cutforth talked to TVGuide.com about their picks. Find out who was a last-minute addition, who they couldn't have done without, and who is competing at the expense of one of the show’s regular judges.
2 of 19 David Geisbrecht/Bravo; Rene Cervantes/Bravo

Angelo Sosa — Season 7, Final 3

Record: Won 2 Elimination Challenges, 4 Quickfires Was there any doubt that the fallen Angelo, who got sick last season in Singapore during the finale and was forced to get on-camera injections in his butt, would not be picked for All-Stars? "He was actually a last-minute addition to the cast!" Cutforth says. "We normally have 17 people in the cast, and then when Angelo didn't win, we felt like we needed to include him." A difficult personality, he was "still such the hot favorite to win for so many people. Who didn't feel bad for him? We thought it would be so great to give him this opportunity, so we made an exception."
3 of 19 F. Scott Schafer/Bravo; Rene Cervantes/Bravo

Elia Aboumrad — Season 2, Top 4

Record: Won 2 Elimination Challenges, 0 Quickfires Elia's back because, well, she shaved her head on national TV! "She really did," Cutforth says, recalling his own shock when it happened. "Someone who will go there and shave their hair off, that's the kind of person you want on the show." Yes, that's true. Anything else? "Of course, she came so close to getting to the final two as well," he says. "And she's incredibly fun and spunky … great training … she's a remarkable personality and chef, really."
4 of 19 Virginia Sherwood/Bravo; Rene Cervantes/Bravo

Stephen Asprinio — Season 1, Top 5

Record: Won 0 Elimination Challenges, 2 Quickfires "Let's face it: He was a great character in that first season," Lipsitz says of the show's pre-eminent wine snob. "We couldn't get enough of him." His dishes were just as watchable. "He was a sommelier, but he also had an incredibly unique vision for creating art with his food." Stephen will continue this season to be criticized for what the other contestants see as a lack of kitchen know-how, Cutforth says, "but that's really not fair." When Stephen competed in one of the Top Chef holiday specials, his food blew away head judge Tom Colicchio. "Tom said the dish Stephen cooked in the elimination challenge was maybe his favorite dish that Tom ate on the show at that point … He's not just about presentation. He can really cook."
5 of 19 Trae Patton/Bravo; Rene Cervantes/Bravo

Jennifer Carroll — Season 6, Top 4

Record: Won 1 Elimination Challenge, 4 Quickfires Jennifer almost didn't come back for All-Stars. "She was concerned that [her boss and regular judge last season] Eric Ripert wouldn’t be able to come back, but Eric was absolutely adamant that she should do it. He ended up persuading her," Cutforth says. (Ripert bowed out and was replaced by Anthony Bourdain at the judges table.) Says Lipsitz: "Her final performance — which was up against the obviously incredibly talented Voltaggio brothers — I think for her felt particularly disappointing. There were tons of people invested in her doing well, so it was very obvious that we needed to bring her back."
6 of 19 Virginia Sherwood/Bravo; Rene Cervantes/Bravo

Tiffani Faison — Season 1, Final 2

Record: Won 2 Elimination Challenges, 1 Quickfire "She was so close to being our first Top Chef," Cutforth says of Tiffani, who became her own worst enemy when she chose to be too ambitious and double her workload in the finale. "Tom always says that if she hadn't chosen to showcase two dishes for each course in the finale she would have won that season," Cutforth says. "Her stronger dishes were stronger than [winner Harold Dieterle's], but her weaker ones pushed her under." Then there's that fiery temper that drove most of her fellow contestants batty. "Some people gravitate toward that, others not so much — that kind of person is clearly great for the show," Lipsitz says.
7 of 19 Michael Lavine/Bravo; Rene Cervantes/Bravo

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Fabio Viviani — Season 5, Top 4 and Voted Fan Favorite Record: Won 2 Elimination Challenges, 0 Quickfires Does Fabio seem a little out of his depth here? Maybe. He did make it to the final four, but it's hard to remember him as a legitimately strong contender. Producers concede that might be true. "I mean, no matter what, we're making a television show. Everyone loves Fabio. If we had done this season without Fabio, everyone would have said, 'Where's Fabio?'" Lipsitz says. Still, Cutforth says he isn't here on his charm and broken English alone, explaining: "He was eliminated by a very narrow margin. I think he's a bit of a dark horse this season."
8 of 19 Chuck Hodes/Bravo; Rene Cervantes/Bravo

Richard Blais — Season 4, Final 3

Record: Won 3 Elimination Challenges, 3 Quickfires To hear Cutforth describe our mohawk'd, banana scallop-making molecular gastronomist, Richard is "remembered as the guy who choked in the finale … He's at peace with it now because he's lived with it for a long time, but he was so the runaway favorite for his season. It just goes to show on Top Chef people can stumble at any hurdle. He fell at the final one." In other words, as Cutforth puts it, "he's all-around the perfect person you'd want on All-Stars."
9 of 19 Chuck Hodes/Bravo; Rene Cervantes/Bravo

Spike Mendelsohn — Season 4, Top 5

Won 0 Elimination Challenges, 1 Quickfire "He's like the artful dodger of Top Chef," Cutforth says. "He described himself I think in that first episode as a kitchen rat, a junior guy." But since the show he's opened two successful restaurants in Washington. "He’s quite the successful business man now, and I think he came back to counteract that image people had of him on the show. He still has that swagger about him that’s so appealing and fun to watch. He can back it up with talent as well." Says Lipsitz: "He's still our good-looking bad boy."
10 of 19 David Geisbrecht/Bravo; Rene Cervantes/Bravo

Tiffany Derry — Season 7, Top 5

Record: Won 2 Elimination Challenges, 2 Quickfires "I think Tiffany was someone who was really underestimated on this show," Cutforth says. "But she failed only by the narrowest of margins to make the finale in Singapore … Her season was being shot while we were planning for All-Stars, and we were so disappointed for her when she didn’t make it to the finals, we had to ask her to come back." Why? Because in a sure-to-be-cutthroat edition of the show, Cutforth says, you need someone like Tiffany to, er, balance the personalities. "She's the loveliest, warmest person. She literally lights up a room when she's in it."
11 of 19 F. Scott Schafer/Bravo; Rene Cervantes/Bravo

Marcel Vigneron — Season 2, Final 2

Record: Won 1 Elimination Challenge, 2 Quickfires "Throughout all of our seasons, there was no more dramatic a story than the one that centered around Marcel," Lipsitz says. No kidding. When his fellow contestants tried to forcibly shave the friendless Marcel's head, someone got booted from the show. "We had the most perplexing situation with him — all the contestants somehow reacted negatively toward him, but the producers? We couldn't find anything that he was doing that was aggravating! We just didn't get it." Really? Did they miss all that posturing? The rapping? Was it an act they found harmless? Is Marcel just misunderstood? "Honestly? He’s, like, a lovely person," Lipsitz says. Says Cutforth: "He's exceptionally competitive, and incredibly accomplished for someone his age, that probably annoyed the others."
12 of 19 Rene Cervantes/Bravo

Mike Isabella — Season 6, Top 7

Record: Won 0 Elimination Challenges, 1 Quickfire His was not a strong showing in Las Vegas — and given his pedigree, producers expected better. "Mike worked with Michael Voltaggio, and under many of the same amazing chefs he did," Lipsitz says. "It's just by virtue of that strong season that he probably fell out earlier than he should have." Mike also badly wanted back in the game. "I remember when we came back for the Vegas finale, and the finalists had to draw for sous chefs, Mike was so desperate to be picked and get back in the kitchen," Cutforth says. "He was so disappointed that it didn’t happen. He jumped back into this show with both feet."
13 of 19 Virginia Sherwood/Bravo; Rene Cervantes/Bravo

Dale Levitski — Season 3, Final 3

Record: Won 1 Elimination Challenge, 2 Quickfires The victory of Season 3 winner Hung Nguyen over Dale, whose slow-to-start rise made him a fan favorite, was the closest call in Top Chef history. "The deliberation after that finale was the most hard-fought and contentious that we've ever had on the show," Cutforth says. "It went on for quite a while and the judges were genuinely deadlocked between Dale and Hung. It was so so so tight. It could easily have been Dale that won that season." Which is why Dale's back. "If you were writing the script, that would have been the way you would have done it: the comeback story of the guy who rediscovered his love for cooking," Cutforth says.
14 of 19 Michael Lavine/Bravo; Rene Cervantes/Bravo

Carla Hall — Season 5, Final 3

Record: Won 3 Elimination Challenges, 1 Quickfire Not a bad record of wins and yet, Cutforth says, people still tend to overlook Carla when they think about the Top Chef greats. "Maybe because she came in with just a catering background, or maybe because she has this homey style of cooking… just remember she surprised everyone in the end." Her secret weapon? She whips up a mean dessert, the Achilles heel of nearly all contestants. Can she get a "Hootie Hoo"?
15 of 19 Rene Cervantes/Bravo

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Casey Thompson — Season 3, Final 3 and Voted Fan Favorite Record: Won 2 Elimination Challenges, 3 Quickfires Yes, Casey's suggestion to sous-vide the beef may have cost Carla the win in Season 5. "That time was not much fun for her. She got told off by random passers-by for what happened to Carla. People were really upset," Cutforth says. But all is forgiven, and producers had no problem recruiting Casey back for more. She returns to battle with one of the best track records (Angelo, Dale and Richard have the best with six wins each) and Cutforth notes that even her losing dishes in the finale were incredible. "I tasted her food on that mountain top in Aspen and they were certainly fabulous. She was just being measured against exceptionally good showings by Dale and Hung."
16 of 19 Chuck Hodes/Bravo; Rene Cervantes/Bravo

Dale Talde — Season 4, Top 6

Won 2 Elimination Challenges, 4 Quickfires Has time calmed down hot-headed Dale? "I don’t know that time will ever calm Dale Talde," Cutforth says. "He's such a great guy, but he can be a bit of a Jekyll-and-Hyde character." Like Tre the season before him, Dale was an early favorite taken down by Restaurant Wars, where he served guest judge Bourdain "jaw droppingly bad" scallops doused in butterscotch sauce. "From our point of view, he was just crying to be put back on the show," Cutforth says. (Spoiler alert: Dale will get a chance to redeem that bad dish this season.)
17 of 19 Chuck Hodes/Bravo; Rene Cervantes/Bravo

Antonia Lofaso — Season 4, Top 4

Won 1 Elimination Challenge, 4 Quickfires Viewers liked Antonia's style, and so did producers. "She’s really warm and maternal, and a lot of people responded to that part of her story, that she was raising a daughter on her own while having this very demanding job in the kitchen," Cutforth says. "She's one of those people who might be more difficult to remember for some because her style is more homey rather than flashy, but really she's a top-notch chef." (Oh, but we remember those “al dente” pigeon peas she served in the finale. No excuses this time!)
18 of 19 Michael Lavine/Bravo; Rene Cervantes/Bravo

Jamie Lauren — Season 5, Top 7

Record: Won 2 Elimination Challenges, 0 Quickfires Member of Team Rainbow and scallop-loving firecracker Jamie flamed out early, despite being a favorite to win. "She kind of ran out of gas a little bit, she ran out of stamina," Cutforth says. "I know she felt like she didn't do herself justice." But she's well-regarded. "When we were researching the line-up for Top Chef Masters, one of our researchers who hadn't worked on Top Chef before recommended her because she’s so highly thought of in San Francisco. Of course, he didn't realize that she’d already been on the show, but it's proof that she probably should have gone farther than she did."
19 of 19 Rene Cervantes/Bravo

Tre Wilcox — Season 3, Top 8

Won 3 Elimination Challenges, 0 Quickfires Though he was the odds-on favorite to win his season, Tre returns to Top Chef as the contestant who made one of the quickest exits. But that's what Restaurant Wars can do, Cutforth says. "That challenge has taken down some really strong contenders. I remember being absolutely stunned when he was knocked down," he says. (Well, as we remember it, that season they had two episodes of Restaurant Wars, the second to make up for the failings of the first round. Tre not only served up a stinker that was panned the first time, he added a salmon dish that judge Ted Allen tried to immediately wash down with wine.)