‘Top Chef’ recap: ‘Lea Michele’s Halloween Bash’

Oh, “Top Chef.” I wish you wouldn’t worry so much. I’m not breaking up with you. But when you try so hard to be new and fresh, it makes me aware that our relationship has gotten a little stale. It’s true; I don’t always see the reality TV competition show I fell in love with. I do appreciate all the effort, I do. But I hate to see you exhausting yourself (and the poor chefs on the show) for so little reward. Can’t you just be yourself? And if you suddenly discover there’s some side of you you haven’t been able to explore, I’ll support that. I will. But please, put down the tin foil before one of us gets hurt.

Yes, it’s time for the Reynold’s Wrap challenge, which we all remember as being somewhat nightmarish back in Seattle. But, because it’s so important for this aging show to put on a fancy hat and shimmy, the challenge has gotten an “upgrade.” I use that term lightly, because this is more like putting on a tin foil hat so you can say you’re in evening wear. This challenge has officially taken the crazy train, and the results are exactly what you’d expect. 

The chefs are met by Padma Lakshmi and Gail Simmons, who then introduce their very special guests for the challenge — their moms, Vijaya Lakshmi and Renee Simmons. I love that Padma says, “Hi, Mommy!,” as it’s oddly cute.

After introductions, it’s time to explain this batcrap crazy challenge. The chefs are divided into two teams. Everything — ingredients, pots, pans, utensils — is wrapped in foil. Fine. But then, the moms (Vijaya and Renee) are given the task of shopping for their teams. Oh, and they have five minutes to shop. The teams then have 30 minutes to make sense of the mess in the grocery carts. Worse, all ingredients have to be used, and each team has to make three dishes. 

I’ll say straight up — I don’t think this is particularly fair. Some people get the good ingredients, and then some people get canned beans and cherries. This doesn’t prove anyone is a great chef — it proves some people are willing to grab the best stuff and stick other people with the garbage. 

Team Simmons 

Sara & Stephanie – Lamb & fonduta with sharp cheddar & roasted mushrooms

Renee congratulates them for not overcooking the lamb. But I don’t think this dish is a big hit overall. This is also the dish that had to be slapped back on the grill at the last minute. 

Justin & Michael – Red snapper papillote with rice pilaf

Padma gives it a wow, so that’s encouraging. But, again, they got usable ingredients. 

Carrie, Louis & Shirley – Compressed buratta with pickled apples & balsamic sabayon

Padma is amazed Carrie was able to make a sabayon without a whisk.

Team Lakshmi

Carlos & Travis – Clams poached in fish sauce with coconut cream

Padma says pretty good; Gail says spicy. I think Padma’s mom did not shop well. 

Nick & Patty – Snapper & branzino papilotte with mustard vinaigrette

Padma seems to like it, and so does her mom. 

Bene, Brian & Nina – Soup with beans, carrots, chiles & okra with cherry chutney

This sounds like vomit in a bowl. Seriously, this looks horrible and sounds worse.

So, which team won? Gail picks… Team Lakshmi. Really? With the puke soup? They have to split $10,000. After taxes that will buy… well, maybe dinner? But everyone’s happy. I’m just wondering why Reynold’s Wrap is being so cheap. Give everyone $10,000! Geez!

Moving on from the Quickfire — it’s time to meet “Top Chef” super fan (and “Glee” star) Lea Michele. She’s hosting a costume party. Everyone will work in teams of two. Michael is thrilled to get Nina. Nina hates Michael. Fun!

Now we find out what the client wants. Lea’s vegan, but will go nuts sometimes and (gasp) eat vegetarian. She loves cheese, so she wants cheese. She then proceeds to say the word “cheese” about 400 times. She is not fond of sweets. She likes CHEESE. Cheese. And cheese.  

Some people listen, and some people shrug, as if to say, eh, she’s vegan, give her something you found growing in your suitcase and she’ll be fine. Lea hates beets, but Justin needs to make red pasta. So, he’s making beets. When Tom Colicchio visits the kitchen he discovers there are three arancinis being made! Oddly, no one cares. But Nicholas realizes Nina is doing gnocchi, so he decides to do a butternut squash cannoli. That’s probably wise. 

Brian and Bene are making spooky spa cuisine. I don’t think spa cuisine involves cheese, so I think they might be sorry later. 

After they’re finished for the day, some of the chefs go for a field trip to an abandoned nursing home behind their house. This is not that interesting. If chefs had started ending up dead, or they discovered Tom living in a room upstairs, that might be interesting. 

And here “Top Chef” bumps into another problem. With 14 chefs left, it’s hard to follow who is most interesting, who is getting along with who, and who’s the strongest chef (though that seems to be Nina). Thus, don’t waste time with a scene shot mostly in the dark of a bunch of people giggling. I could have used that to see some more kitchen maneuvering or interview room reveals. Thanks, “Top Chef.” 

Off to Mardi Gras World! We get lightning fast snippets of conversation. Shirley says Louis can always calm her down. And he has cute dimples. Awww! Michael keeps calling Nina boo boo, and Nina keeps on not hitting him, which is disappointing. Hugh Acheson and Tom are in the house!

Black Team – Carrie & Stephanie

Doomed Shrooms: Mushrooms with black garlic & radicchio — Freaky Leaky: Ash coated vegetables with fontina fonduta

Tom and Lea really like this. Tom thinks it covers all the bases, plus has a graveyard sensibility with the ash coated vegetables. 

Yellow Team – Nicholas & Patty

Nicholas – Fall Theme: Butternut squash cannoli with ricotta salata — Patty – Fall Theme – Lemon arancini with smoked mozzarella

No spooky element! Hugh and Padma notice and do not approve. Hey, if it tastes good, let it go, you guys!

Green Team – Brian & Bene

Brian – Spooky Spa: Crispy quinoa salad & mushroom espuma — Bene – Spooky Spa: Heirloom tomato salad with wilted kale

Lea thinks it’s too heavy and needs more lemon. Tom doesn’t like the tomatoes and feels their unseasoned. Wow, how did they screw up spa food? And make it, shockingly, taste heavy? 

Orange Team – Nina & Michael

Nina: Candy Corn: Ricotta gnochetti with kale pesto — Michael: Bloody Eye: Yellow arancini with saffron & tomato jam

Tom loves the gnocchi. Alas, he is not a fan of Michael’s sweet sauce. Lea thinks it tastes canned. The verdict seems to be that Michael is the weakest link, which we knew.

Red Team – Travis & Carlos

Travis: Dia de los Muertos: Vegetable ceviche – Carlos: Dia de los Muertos: Goat cheese fondue with fried zucchini

Padma feels both dishes were really spicy — and she really liked it. 

Blue Team – Louis

Louis: Severed Thumb: Braised quinoa & onions with potato puree — Shirley: Worm Salad: Hand cut noodles & fresh daikon radish

Tom likes the thumb idea. He and Lea don’t seem overly wowed by the rest of it, but the thumb? Brills. 

Gray Team – Justin & Sara

Justin: Blood Pasta: Beet pasta with green tomato — Sara: Evil Eye: Arancini with moroccan tomato chutney

Lea is pissed at Justin — she hates beets! She declares it creepy. Lea is really disappointed in Sara’s eyeball. Tom can’t believe there are three arancinis, and they all are going with the eyeball idea. I’m not sure that’s a good reason to ding the chefs, though — are they supposed to go around and compare notes about everyone else is making? 

Time for the judges to chat. Lea loved Patty’s arancini. Also, she appreciated that Nicholas listened to what she said. Hugh thought it was bright and fresh, and Tom thought it was Halloween-y. 

The judges liked the beet pasta, but Lea clearly didn’t. She did love Carlos’ spicy food, and the ceviche is a hit. 

What they didn’t like? Michael’s arancini, and the heavy spa food. The judges and Lea agree that serving two salads was kind of a cheat. 

The top four are Red Team (Carlos & Travis) and Yellow Team (Patty & Nicholas).

Lots of love, but the win ultimately goes to Red Team (Carlos & Travis). Carlos is definitely a strong contender. I’m impressed that Travis actually pulled this one off, as he’s realizing he has to tell his dad he’s gay before the show airs. I would think that would be a big distraction, wouldn’t you?

In the bottom? Orange Team (Michael & Nina) and Green Team (Brian & Bene)

Padma chastises Brian & Bene for not following the client’s orders. They blink, utterly lost. Lea wanted the opposite of spa cuisine! Everyone agrees Michael was trying to hang onto Nina’s coattails, but she gets a smack on the knuckles for not working more closely with Michael. 

But come on. Michael’s going home, right? I would think the worst meal would do him in. If not that, the fact he kept calling Nina boo boo. That’s gotta stop. 

And yes, Michael gets the boot. It’s off to “Last Chance Kitchen” for him. Here’s hoping next week the challenges aren’t quite as crazy, and maybe we just see some good cooking. It’s crazy, I know, but once a long, long time ago, it worked like a charm. 

Who do you think will win? Do you like team challenges? Do you think it was fair to send Michael home?