'Top Chef: New Orleans' Recap - Episode 5

Lea Michele's Halloween Bash

courtesy of bravo

Happy Halloween, all! What better way to celebrate when the veils between worlds are thinnest than with a "Top Chef" Halloween episode that was filmed in June. We start off as always in the stew room directly after last week's challenge. Sara and Travis are understandably upset about being in the bottom while representing their favorite cuisine. Sara is tearing up because she felt that she "failed Janine", and she's right. But at least she's self-aware and honest about the situation unlike many "Top Chef" contestants who came before her. And it wasn't sabotage. Janine fried her shrimp two times which is, as we learned, a culinary crime punishable by being knifed on "Top Chef," right along with not using enough salt.

Moving on, for this week's humanizing call home, we get to see Travis calling his mom and he manages to make me dislike him less. He kind of reminds me of Anthony Michael Hall's character in "The Breakfast Club" with his mannerisms, which is endearing to me (love that movie). He reveals to the audience that his father doesn't know that he's gay... yet. He will soon though, what with being on national television and all. Hope all is well with his family.

 

Quickfire
As everyone walks into the "Top Chef" kitchens they notice that everything is wrapped in foil. REYNOLDS foil. Some house elves took the time to wrap every single utensil and pantry item in foil, or in New Orleans what some people call "ferl." It's pretty insane. I hope whoever did it made some decent bank because that must have been pretty tedious work.

Padma and Gail present the cheftestants with their challenge by saying that "Real moms across America are using Reynolds everyday kitchen tools," which is kind of weird. Real moms? As opposed to the fake ones? Do the fake moms use generic store-brand foil? Also, apparently anyone who hasn't procreated can't use foil. Noted.

Next, Padma and Gail introduce their own mothers who look like totally cool moms and you can see where their daughters got their good looks. The chefs get broken up into two teams, "Team Lakshmi" and "Team Simmons." The mothers will have five minutes to shop for their teams, picking out everything they need from pots and pans to proteins and veggies.

The moms throw all sorts of things into their grocery cart (or in New Orleans, buggy) and when time is up they're both filled to the brim. The teams get 30 minutes to complete the challenge and I imagine that opening up everything and organizing took a good chunk of that time away. They pair up with someone on their team and take a few ingredients to made a dish. Most of them gather a few things that actually sound like it'll turn out to be tasty, but poor Nina* gets beans, ginger, dried cherries, strawberries, okra and cheddar cheese. Yeah. Who doesn't like their strawberries with beans?

Carlos seems pretty comfortable using what is in front of him to make something delicious. He says he was inspired by watching his mother while growing up poor and having to be creative with what they had. The NOLA boys work together on papillote which is a method in which you cook something in parchment paper and all the flavors steam together. It's pretty fun, plus they are using a Reynolds product. Very smart.

For a dessert, Carrie decides to make sabayon, which is a custard made with some kind of sweet alcohol, traditionally wine. She says since she has some eggs, powdered sugar and Grand Marnier she thought it would be perfect but realizes she has no whisk, so she makes it with a spoon. She's Wonder Woman as far as I'm concerned because that would be a workout. At the last second, Sara's team sees that their lamb is underdone so she puts it back on the grill with one minute left on the clock. Everyone else freaks out but she's cool as a cucumber and they get it back on the plate at the very last second.

Over on "Team Simmons" we have Lamb and Fonduta with Sharp Cheddar and Roasted Mushrooms and it's noted from the judges that the lamb is cooked well. Sara looks pretty happy and I'm happy for her. They also have the NOLA boy's Red Snapper Papillote with Rice Pilaf and Compressed Buratta with Pickled Apples and Balsamic Sabayon. Padma, Gail and the moms seems to like everything okay.

Over on "Team Lakshmi" they present Carlos and Travis's "Asian-Mexican" Clams Poached in Fish Sauce with Coconut Cream, Nicholas and Patty's Snapper and Branzino Papillote with Mustard Vinaigrette, and Nina's crazy Soup with Beans, Carrots, Chiles and Okra with Cherry Chutney.

Team Simmons seems to think that the other team is a bit of a train wreck what with all the strange ingredients in the soup that the tasters couldn't differentiate, but Gail has criticisms for both teams. It turns out the lamb was cooked okay but the flavors didn't come together. In the end, Team Lakshmi pulls out a win much to the surprise of everyone. It seems the dish that nailed it was Carlos and Travis's spicy dish. Everyone on the team gets to split $10,000 courtesy of, let's hear it, Reynolds!

 

Elimination Challenge
Padma tells everyone that Halloween is "just around the corner," and that New Orleans likes to get down for the holiday (hell yeah we do). She says that someone famous is throwing a costume party and the cheftestants will be the caterers. She then introduces Lea Michele of "Glee" and everyone is super excited, especially Carlos. Michael goes on to say that he loves Halloween and dressed up as a pregnant nun and also got laid. Ew. You know, I'm no prude, but TMI Michael.

Padma goes on to say that everyone will be put into pairs with the person standing to the right and you can almost hear Nina's heart hit the floor when she's paired with Michael. He's happy about it though because she's always on top and he'd like to get there. Poor Nina is not happy. First she had to pair beans and cherries and now she has to cook with Fake Michael. She also isn't happy when she hears that Lea Michele prefers vegan cuisine. Actually, all of the chefs probably had to fight really hard not to roll their eyes. Chefs are not overly fond of vegans.

However, Lea says that when she gives herself a bit of a break she allows for cheese. She says cheese several times. It seems that she's really into cheese. Stop denying yourself, Lea! Eat cheese if it makes you so happy, ya know? YOLO. She also says that she's not really into sweets, so she wants them to make it spooky and fun, just no Halloween candy, guys. We splurge with cheese around here, not peanut butter cups.

The chefs ask her what her favorite vegetable is and she says that she loves all vegetables. Carlos asks if she likes beets and she says no. Man, beets are awesome. Especially roasted and all caramelized and yummy. I have a feeling she doesn't like them due to their high sugar content, but that's just a guess. She says she loves Italian food because she's Italian and she also loves spicy food, fried food and food that explodes in your mouth. Carlos asks if she likes Mexican and she says she loves it. Sara asks if she likes Mexican men and everyone laughs. It seems like Carlos is really into Lea Michele. I bet his wife had a lot of fun watching this episode.

Over at Whole Foods while shopping for their spooky creations, Louis decides to make a severed finger and Michael wants to go with arancini, which is a basically a fried risotto ball. It's Italian and typically has cheese in the middle and is fried, so really it goes with a lot of what Lea Michele likes. Trouble is, 2 other teams decide to do arancini and Nina is not so confident in his skills.

Travis and Carlos look like they're working well together and getting crazy with the liquid nitrogen, freezing lime segments. Travis is making ceviche and Carlos is making a fondue (cheese!), and he's also calling Travis "papi", which is adorable. Maybe being in close proximity to Carlos just makes you more likable?

Nicholas and Patty decide not to go with so much of a spooky element but more of a "fall" seasonal direction.

In the midst of prep, Tom comes through the doors to do his sniff 'n sneer, which I feel hasn't happened enough this season. I always love it when he goes around, asks what their ideas are, and then kind of laughs at them. He visits Justin while he's making beet pasta, even though Lea Michele doesn't like beets, but he needs to make it red and scary. Tom also discovers all the arancini and when Michael says that they'll be judging who has the best, Nina's heart hits the ground again. They are not getting along in the kitchen because for one, I don't think she really likes how he yells out random things all the time, and for two, he calls her "Boo Boo." Yeah, he seems like one of those dudes who's always tugging at your pigtails and the more mad you get, the more he does it. It's infuriating.

Later on, while the chefs set up their stations for the party at Mardi Gras World, Louis is helping Shirley stay calm by smiling at her. I think that's why they're keeping him around frankly.

As the guests arrive, Tom comes in wearing a barbershop quartet hat. Everyone says "Great Gatsby," but he looks more barbershop. Lea is a cat, Padma is a voodoo priestess and Hugh Acheson walks in wearing a Prince Charming get-up. He actually looks quite dashing.

First up is Stephanie and Carrie. Lea and Tom love their Mushrooms with Black Garlic and Radicchio and Ash Coated Vegetables with Fontina Fonduta. Next is Patty and Nicholas and their Lemon Arancini with Smoked Mozzarella and Butternut Squash Cannoli with Ricotta Salata looks amazing but they can't quite explain to Hugh why it's "spooky." Patty says the colors are the Halloween part, but she's a bad bullshitter.

Over at Bene and Brian's table, they underwhelm everyone with their Spooky Spa: Heirloom Tomato Salad with Wilted Kale and Crispy Quinoa Salad and Mushroom Espuma. I think they tried to appeal to Lea's healthy vegan side, but it was clear that she was there to splurge on cheese. Tom declares it under-seasoned. They're in trouble.

Next is Nina and Michael's harmonious creation, a "Bloody Eye" or Yellow Arancini with Saffron and Tomato Jam and Candy Corn Ricotta Gnocchetti with Kale Pesto. Tom actually says that the arancini is really good and for a minute I think that maybe Michael has stepped it up, but then they try the sauce and hate it. It's too sweet. It's contrasted with Carlos and Travis's raved-about "Day of the Dead" themed Goat Cheese Fondue with Fried Zucchini and Vegetable Ceviche. It looks delicious.

The last ones are Louis and Shirley's team with "Worm Salad" or Hand Cut Noodles and Fresh Daikon Radish and "Severed Thumb" or Braised Quinoa and Onions with Potato Puree and Justin and Sara's dishes of "Evil Eye" or Arancini with Moroccan Tomato Chutney and "Blood Pasta" or Beet Pasta with Green Tomatoes. Lea exclaims that she doesn't like beets, but Justin insists it's subtle and she doesn't spit it out. Tom is absolutely over arancini at this point.

 

Judges' Table

Over the judges' web-cam of granted wishes and broken dreams, they rave about Patty's lemon arancini. She's floored that they are saying something good about her food. Aww. You go, girl. They also loved the spicy fondue and ceviche from Carlos and Travis. For the bad, Michael is definitely on the bottom and dragging Nina with him. Also, Brian and Bene's spa cuisine was lackluster.

The judges bring in Nicholas, Patty, Carlos and Travis in to tell them they are in the top. Travis says that he grew up in Colorado around a 60 percent Latino population and learned the flavors, which helped them out. I'd say it was probably the Mexican with a Michelin Star, but what do I know. Travis needs to stop name-dropping cultures.

Lea announces Carlos and Travis winners and gives them the duty of sending back Nina, Michael, Brian and Bene. Lea says she wanted the opposite of "spa cuisine" and that Brian and Bene's dishes were bland. Tom points out that if they wanted to win, they'd have to do better than a tomato salad. Hugh then says that in the "battle of the arancini," Michael most definitely lost. When asked if she tasted his dish, Nina said she tasted elements, but not the final product. The judges practically berate her for not babysitting him and making sure he sent out a good product by tasting the final dish. What bullshit. In her defense, Michael didn't seem like the type of person who could be monitored or controlled. He did what he wanted to do, which was yell "FLY FLY" and call her "Boo Boo" over and over.

They are all afraid that they are going home. Tom says, "Unfortunately, one of you is not going trick-or-treating." LOLOLOL. Who made him say that line? Whatever producer did that is my hero.

Padma then knifes Michael. He says that he represented New Orleans well. I'd like to agree with him because he's local, but come on. He was in the bottom for the gumbo challenge and called a person "Boo Boo." Repeatedly. The correct person went home.

We're starting to get into the meat of the season where we're actually learning the chef's personalities and developing favorites. So far there doesn't seem to be a "villain" like Marcel or anyone who's standing out as an other-worldly prodigy like Richard Blais. I'd like to know a little more about Bene, so far all I know is that he's Italian. Also, can Louis cook? Or does he just smile? I hope we get these answers soon.

Come back for next week when "Top Chef" visits John Besh. Y'all knew he was coming!


*Nina's name was incorrectly spelled in an earlier version of this article. We apologize for the error.

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