Recap: 'Top Chef' Season 11, Episode 5

Moms, aluminum foil, and Lea Michele

The judges did their best to get in the Halloween spirit.

The episode picked up right after Janine got the boot, with the rest of her team members having a deep existential crisis about their knowledge of Asian cuisine. After a brief attempt to humanize Travis Masar after last week’s disaster by having him talk about his struggles coming out to his father, we went right into a rather contrived yet wacky Quickfire.

The chefs trotted into the kitchen to discover Gail and Padma, and that all the pots, pans, kitchen tools, and food in the kitchen had been wrapped in Reynolds Wrap. After Padma helped fulfill the company’s contractual obligation, Padma and Gail’s mothers walked out, and Padma introduced the challenge: the group was divided in half (one for team Padma’s mom, one for team Gail’s mom), and they’d have 30 minutes to create three dishes. The moms were tasked with "shopping" for the chefs (basically blind), and had five minutes to snag as much stuff as they could. Nobody really knew what was in their baskets, but they had to use everything that was selected. The reveal was actually pretty entertaining, and it was almost like Chopped watching them all have to make do with what they got, but the ingredients weren’t especially crazy.

Here’s what they ended up with:

Team Simmons
Sara & Stephanie: Lamb and fonduta with sharp Cheddar and roasted mushrooms
Justin & Michael: Red snapper papillote with rice pilaf
Carrie, Louis, and Shirley: Compressed burrata with pickled apples and balsamic sabayon

Team Lakshmi
Carlos & Travis: Clams poached in fish sauce with coconut cream
Nick & Patty: Snapper and branzino papillote with mustard vinaigrette
Bene, Brian, and Nina: Soup with beans, carrots, chiles, and okra with cherry chutney

Team Lakshmi’s clams were cooked perfectly and the branzino was harmonious, but the soup was a bit of a muddled mess. Team Simmons’ snapper had a lot of flavor, the lamb didn’t really come together, and the sabayon was very creamy and flavorful. Team Lakshmi took the win, and $10,000 to split among themselves.

Lea Michele randomly showed up to introduce the Elimination Challenge, and Padma told the chefs that they’d be catering Lea’s Halloween party (which she decided to throw in the middle of summer, for some reason). The chefs paired up with the person next to them, and Lea gave them the lowdown: she’s a vegan, but allows vegetarian food, especially cheese, when she "wants a little bit of a break." She also loves spice and Mexican foods, but no beets. And now we know a little bit more about Lea Michele!

So off the chefs went to create a cheesy, spicy, mostly-vegan meal that was also a little spooky. Tom Colicchio showed up to discover that beets were going into a pasta after all, three people made arancini, and two were making gnocchi. It’s not very easy to be both vegan and creative, apparently!

The next day they headed over to a place called Mardi Gras World, which I thought was also known as the French Quarter, but apparently exists. They made their final preparations and the guests rolled in, in costume (Tom’s ragtime costume was particularly awesome). Here were their dishes (some teams worked together, others separate):

Carrie & Stephanie: Mushrooms with black garlic and radicchio; ash-coated vegetables with fontina fonduta

Nicholas: Butternut squash cannoli with ricotta salata and black garlic reduction
Patty: Lemon arancini with smoked mozzarella

Brian: Crispy quinoa salad and mushroom espuma
Bene: Heirloom tomato salad with ricotta salata and wilted kale

Nina: Ricotta gnocchetti with kale pesto
Michael: Yellow arancini with saffron and tomato jam

Travis: Vegetable ceviche
Carlos: Goat cheese fondue with fried zucchini

Louis: "Severed thumb" of braised quinoa and onions with potato purée
Shirley: Hand-cut noodles and fresh daikon radish

Justin: Beet pasta with green tomatoes
Sara: Arancini with Moroccan tomato chutney

Nicholas and Patty’s team were called out first, along with Carlos and Travis’. They were the top two teams: Travis’ ceviche was delicious and he worked as a team with Carlos, and Patty’s arancini was great and worked with the citrus. Carlos and Travis took the win.

Michael and Nina and Brian and Bene were the ones on the bottom. Bene and Brian served "spa cuisine" even though Lea didn’t ask for it, and serving two salads wasn’t a wise move. Michael’s arancini didn’t "pack a big wallop of flavor," according to Hugh Acheson, and the sauce was way too sweet. Nina’s gnocchi was fine, but she wasn’t exactly a team player.

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In the end, Michael, the chef at New Orleans’ Galatoire’s, got the ax for his poorly made arancini and super-sweet sauce. And with this elimination it became clear that you could be a chef at one of the best restaurants in the host city but it won’t give you an advantage if your cooking isn’t any good.