Tensions run high as the clock counts down, and just before service begins, Colicchio the expediter summons the gang to introduce them to the three V.I.P. guests, who need no introduction at all. It's Harold, Ilan and Hung, winners of Top Chef seasons one, two and three! Way to build the TC brand. After reminding us that these guys have been in this position in seasons past, Colicchio asks each of them to offer some advice to the nervous cheftestants. Harold, looking uncomfortable as usual, suggests, "Cook your style and just be true to yourself". Hung, espousing his competitive credo, reminds them, "You're here to win, not be fan favorite". Ilan, dressed down for the occasion, counsels, "Don't shave anybody's head tonight". Yeah, and don't be a total douche. Spike's got some competition! Antonia wonders if their experience on the show will make them more or less gentle when it comes to judging, but she also gets that sitting at the judges' table can easily corrupt one with power.
Gail, shimmering a yellow gold top, Padma, sporting a dress that matches the red chairs, and Rick, wearing clothes, join the three winners at the table (where Ilan has doffed his jacket and is now nattily attired in just a t-shirt), as a server fills glasses with Tramonto Red wine. Tramonto logos are everywhere -- wine bottle, plates, big-ass sign outside. No way anyone will forget what this place is, no sir. Colicchio calls orders as they arrive from the dining room, then drops the "surprise" that the judges' table would like a tasting menu that includes everything and will require six smaller portions of each dish on the menu. Lisa explains that while they should have seen this coming, they didn't, which is either a testament to the havoc nerves can wreak on the brain, or to the fact that they are all idiots.
Lisa's first course of grilled and chilled prawns, lemon zest and tomato salad, and crostini strikes Hung as lacking in sugar, although Rick loves the lemon (and Padma agrees). When Gail wonders why Lisa would have chosen to chill the shrimp, Harold offers that chilling the shrimp creates a more subtle shellfish flavor. Richard's riff on vitello tonnato (veal with tuna) includes hamachi with crispy sweetbreads, radish, avocado and yuzu -- which he thinks well represents his style -- impresses both Hung and Rick ("absolutely delicious"). The mix of hot and cold, and the mélange of ingredients, gets unanimous raves, and Rick says he'd put it on his menu "in a heartbeat". Spike's seared scallops with hearts of palm and oyster mushrooms, on the other hand, underwhelms (big shocker). Spike thought it tasted good, and both Harold and Hung seem like they're trying to be kind (Harold mentions acidity in the sauce, while Hung compliments the mushrooms) but Rick looks like he might gag. Padma points out that the hearts of palm do not taste fresh (did Spike use anything fresh), Ilan calls them dehydrated, and Harold drops the pretense, saying everything tastes the same and that there's nothing interesting about the dish.