‘Top Chef’ recap: A musical chairs challenge just isn’t fair

Even though this has been a fairly boring season of “Top Chef,” we do get a mild surprise at the beginning of this week’s episode: Nick is sick! I should say Nicholas has strep, but that doesn’t rhyme. In any case, he must recover from strep throat in one day or risk being eliminated from the challenge. I didn’t think this was humanly possible, so I’m wondering if part of this episode will feature a wonder drug or a maybe some real New Orleans voodoo, which would really spice things up!

Alas, Nicholas just misses the Quickfire and shopping time for the Elimination Challenge. I guess we’ll leave the voodoo to “American Horror Story.” Too bad. What do we get instead? The most ridiculous and, I’d say, unfair Quickfire in recent memory. It’s a musical chairs cook-off with music from Kermit Ruffins.  

How does this work? Well, each station has a variety of ingredients and a method of cooking them (some unlucky soul gets stuck with a microwave). So, a chef gets to work on his or her vision — then has to move to another random station. Ultimately, “your” dish is not really yours at all, but has been the work of a variety of other people. This challenge is really about how quickly you can salvage someone else’s mess. Guess what? In some cases, you can’t. 

Still, Kermit felt the food was good overall, despite the circumstances. He would admit that Louis had untasty frog legs and Justin’s tofu salad was too simple. He had more favorites, though — Carlos had crispy fish, Brian had a good duck, and Patty’s pork was really juicy.

The winner is… Brian. Sara’s jealous, as she started the dish he won with. I don’t blame her one bit. Several of the chefs felt they’d cooked good meals, then got stuck with garbage someone else slapped together. With so much on the line (immunity), I’d say this is a pretty crappy challenge. But I guess it had a New Orleans flavor, so that’s good enough for “Top Chef.”

The Elimination Challenge is that the chefs get to choose their own teams to cook a potluck menu to serve to musicians at Kermit’s Treme Speakeasy. 

The prep and cooking isn’t particularly exciting or disastrous. Nicholas tries to do too much to prove he’s healthy, and I think he’ll pay for it later. 

When it’s time to dish up the potluck, Sue Zemanick, executive chef of Gautreau’s, joins Gail Simmons, Tom Colicchio and Padma.

Blue Team – Shirley, Louis, Justin, Sara

Justin – Hominy grits with brown shrimp, roasted okra, fava beans

Louis – Grilled & pickled vegetables with crispy sunflower seeds & mustard vinaigrette

Shirley & Sara – Glazed beef with charred onions, melon pickles & pickled ginger vinaigrette

The grits are too bland, but the vegetables are a hit. Oh, and the beef is dry. I know everyone talks about Nina being the one to beat, but I think Louis may be a sleeper. 

Green Team – Carrie, Nina, Stephanie, Carlos

Stephanie – Fried baby artichoke, preserved lemon & anchovy aioli

Nina – Semolina gnocchetti with sausage

Carrie & Carlos – Summer tiramisu

Tom dug the artichokes, Gail liked the gnochetti, though one musician thought it was like Hamburger Helper. But he likes Hamburger Helper, so that’s okay.

Gray Team – Travis, Brian, Patty, Nick

Brian & Travis – Togarashi fried chicken with bee pollen & ponzu

Patty – Tomato watermelon salad, Szechuan pepper & goat cheese espuma

Nicholas – Barramundi & red drum fricassee with zucchini, truffle & yuzu koshu

Travis & Brian – Caramel glazed BBQ ribs, dehydrated potatoes & peanut gremolata

Gail thought something rubbed on the ribs tasted burnt, and the watermelon salad was not a hit. The chicken may earn the team a pass, but I don’t think so. The fish was also bland. 

The judges liked almost everything! But, you know, someone has to go home. The Green Team was great except for the dessert. The Blue Team’s beef was overcooked. The Gray Team is in trouble, I think. The fish was bland and overcooked, the watermelon salad was boring, the ribs had a burnt flavor — it’s just one thing too many. 

The judges ask to see the Gray Team first. The judges note the ribs were well cooked, but overspiced. The watermelon salad had no peppercorn power, and the fish was dry and unevenly cooked.

Next, the Green Team — they won! The judges loved the artichokes, and they, once again, loved Nina’s gnocchi. Sue thinks the dessert needed more sponge cake. The winner of the challenge is… Stephanie. 

I think Patty’s getting the boot. An easy salad, and she couldn’t nail it? And… yes, Patty’s out. She’s going to keep learning and try to get better every day. Good luck in “Last Chance Kitchen,” Patty!

Next week we’ll see Dr. John and an enormous pig. Words fail, really. 

Are you enjoying “Top Chef New Orleans”? Do you think Patty deserved to go? What would you take to a potluck?