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Top Chef: New Orleans Episode 5: Halloween of Glee

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The very short Lea Michele and very tall Padma Lakshmi (all photos courtesy of Bravo).

The very short Lea Michele and very tall Padma Lakshmi (all photos courtesy of Bravo).

Glee star and apparent Top Chef superfan Lea Michele stopped by Wednesday night to be the guest judge of an episode titled “Lea Michele’s Halloween Bash,” which must have been just a touch awkward since it was shot sometime in early June.

And we’ll get to Lea and her semi-veganism. But first, we get a shot of Sara showing some genuine remorse for Janine being sent home due to the team’s overall failure in Episode 4 (we’re all sad, too, Sara). That’s followed by attempting to soften the blow of the Travis self-character assassination he performed the previous week with a phone call home to Mom, who is aware of Travis’ being gay. Dad, on the other hand, is somehow still naively unaware of Travis’ closeted preferences, though he MIGHT want to have had that sit-down prior to this show airing. Then again, if pops has always been that unperceptive, who’s to say he’ll even get it when it’s spelled out for him on a weekly basis on Bravo?

Then it’s on to a Quickfire, which shows the chefs walking into a kitchen that has all of its equipment covered in – shameless plug alert! – Reynolds Wrap. “You might remember in Seattle that we wrapped all of the pantry ingredients in Reynolds Wrap,” says Padma. “Well here in New Orleans, we decided to take wasteful to a whole new level!” I’ll let you guess which half of that quote is real, but we then find out that not only is the entire kitchen dressed in tin foil for Halloween, but Padma and Gail Simmons’ mothers are there to be part of the Quickfire. The moms have five minute to put as much food and cooking equipment as they can in a shopping cart, and the teams of seven will have to then use all of those mystery ingredients to make three dishes.

Confused yet? The winning team will also get $10,000 to split seven ways, but what Padma failed it mention is that they’ll have to search the kitchen for those wads of $100s, which are wrapped in extra amounts of Reynolds Wrap and may, in fact, look like bricks of cheese. Fun for everyone.

top chef moms

Breaking Bad’s Marie was upset she and her purple wardrobe couldn’t represent Team Simmons.

We’re introduced to Renee Simmons and Vijaya Lakshmi, and if this challenge taught me anything, it’s how to pronounce Padma’s last name. LUCK-shmi. The mothers begin to throw things in their shopping carts, which seems like an advantage for Team Simmons since Gail’s mother apparently won gold for Team Canada at the 1964 Grocery Olympics. Sadly, that’s actually a terrible disadvantage in this challenge, since they have to use everything she returns with. Carrie makes a sabayon without a whisk, Sara and Stephanie make a lamb dish with sharp cheddar and Sara – still a mess over losing the last challenge – flips out at the last minute and throws the lamb back on the grill, fearing it’s undercooked. That lamb could be the most perfect lamb ever cooked, but you throw a little sharp cheddar in the mix and it immediately becomes the worst lamb ever cooked.

Team Lakshmi’s Carlos and Travis make clams poached in fish sauce with coconut cream that’s well received, Nick and Patty make a snapper and branzino papillote that looks tasty and Bene, Brian and Nina made a soup with everything that was left over. “Were you guys worried at any point that she might have gotten you TOO many ingredients?” Gail asks after picking a basil leaf-wrapped gummi bear out of her mouth. Nina rolls her eyes to confirm, and Justin – of Team Simmons – is shown telling us that Team Lakshmi’s stuff is “like a train wreck” and that he feels his team has the $10K in the bag.

I think we all know where this is headed. Gail likes two of the three Team Simmons dishes, but somehow gives the win to Team Lakshmi, confusing the hell out of Justin and everyone else. Bizarre editing, weird challenge. Renee and Vijaya are taken away after being packaged in Reynolds Wrap.

Padma then brings Michele into the studio, and the moment’s best episode is the Glee-ful (sorry, I had to) shot of an ecstatic Travis reacting to her entrance. Travis immediately calls his father and tells him he has something important to discuss during the commercial breaks the next time they sit down together to watch an episode of Glee. Stephanie is also excited, calling Michele “adorable” and confessing to the camera that she wishes they could hang out, and that it wouldn’t be creepy. This is why we like Stephanie.

Padma tells us that Michele is hosting a Halloween costume party (it’s June in New Orleans, why not?) and Michael tells the camera that he dressed up as a pregnant nun once and got laid. It’s not a question of whether Michael is or isn’t a serial killer at this point, but rather how many victims the New Orleans police don’t know about.

Nina, left, might wind up having something cheers-worthy after all.

Nina, left, might wind up having something cheers-worthy after all.

Padma announces that the contestants will be working in pairs for this elimination challenge and that they’ll be grouped with the person to their right, which doesn’t really make any sense, but whatever. “And that means Nina, you’ll be paired with Michael,” is the only grouping the editors let Padma announce out loud, which means the remaining 30 minutes of the episode aside from Nina/Michael are essentially white noise. Michael confesses that he’s happy to be working with the talented Nina since he’s been on the bottom, while Nina tells us that she hates Michael. We all do, Nina.

The chefs get five minutes to discuss what Michele wants to be on the menu at the party, but four of that is spent with her flirting with a googly-eyed Carlos. In the remaining time, we learn that she “really loves a vegan lifestyle,” followed by Nina again rolling her eyes and telling us that “god put animals on this earth to eat.” This is why we like Nina.

“When I want to give myself a little bit of a break, I go to vegetarian, which I allow cheese,” Michele says, lingering on the word cheeeeee-eeeese. It’s her favorite food in the entire world. So she’s definitely not vegan and isn’t a hard-and-fast vegetarian, but boy is she difficult! She doesn’t like sweets, but wants everything to be spooky, fun, and of course “cheesy.” Holy mother of god.

“I really love all vegetables,” she adds, but as soon as Nicholas asks if she likes beets, she says she hates beets. Great. And since the editors let us see that, I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that there’s a pret-tay, pret-tay good chance that Nick is gonna use beets.

(Side note: Who wants to be invited to a party thrown by Lea Michele? “Yeah, it’s gonna be great fun except there won’t be any sort of beef, fish or poultry! But be sure to be there by 10 p.m. to see me blow out the candles on my tofu cake.” Sign me up!)

The chefs head off to Whole Foods, where we find out that everyone is making arancini since Michele likes Italian food and fried things. One of those will belong to Michael, who explains that arancini are round and eyeballs are also round, so he’ll put an olive on his to make it look like a pupil. Michael may not win Top Chef, but he has a bright future as a pitch man for Lunchables. Nina calls it an amateur dish, something a 5-year-old could make, and says that Michael is just going to weigh her down.

After finding out that Nina and Michael are also doing gnocchi and arancini, Nick decides to change up his dish and go from gnocchi to a butternut squash cannoli. He must have gotten wind that Nina was the one doing gnocchi and Michael the arancini, because he lets teammates Patty stick with the arancini, knowing that by merely putting anything on a plate she’ll have a leg up on Michael’s. You could call it a bit of a copout, but Nick admits that he thinks Nina is the chef to beat, so maybe it’s just a smart move on his part. Plus, a butternut squash cannoli sounds kind of awesome.

Brian and Bene have decided to go with a concept called “spooky spa cuisine,” which basically means they’re making two salads, something Michele told them she didn’t want at all. Really smart move, fellas. “Party in your mouth. Take that, Lea Michele!” says Brian. Um, OK.

The chefs head back home for the night and check out the (abandoned?) nursing home nearby, which they’ve been told is haunted. No word if they found any of Michael’s food – or victims – down there.

Shirley and Louis don’t get much airtime in this episode, but Shirley admits as they’re prepping their dishes for the Halloween party that when Louis smiles, she twinkle and doesn’t feel nervous. And honestly, she’s not alone here. The dude has a nice set of pearly whites. Still not totally sure he can cook that well, but I would definitely let him be me Crest spokesperson.

Top Chef - Season 11

Is that … the Great Gatsby?

Michael keeps calling Nina “boo-boo, sweetie and babycakes,” which is all incredibly weird and demeaning, and he might as well just head for the elimination end of Judges’ Table right now. Speaking of the judges, they arrive and begin tasting the dishes, and to Michele’s credit, she actually sort of seems to know what she’s talking about when critiquing or complimenting the food. Throw a hamburger her way, though, and then let’s see where she’s at.

Oh good, professional attention whore Andy Cohen, Bravo’s exec vice president of talent and production, showed up in costume and was somehow included on screen!

Tom and Lea don’t like Bene and Brian’s dishes, one a quinoa salad that lacks acid and the other a roasted tomato salad that, in Tom’s words, “wasn’t seasoned or marinated.” Those two can go join Michael at the loser’s table.

The two winning teams are Patty and Nick, who knocked it out of the park with the cannoli/arancini combo, and Carlos and Travis, who delivered with a fried zucchini and ceviche. Patty winds up getting the win, the second straight time she’s been in the top tier after finishing on the bottom in episodes 1 and 2. Michele also asks Carlos and Travis if they’ll come back to Los Angeles with her, an invitation both quickly accept for very different reasons.

Here’s where the episode gets a little goofy. The contestants are very unclear if this is a single or team elimination, causing Nina much consternation as she thinks she’ll head home if her fate is tied to Michael. If that is the case, that would be ridiculous, since at least their team had one solid dish while Bene and Brian a) didn’t listen to their instructions, and b) did a poor job executing anyway.

Turns out just one chef is heading home, though the judges ridiculously critique Nina for not tasting Michael’s dish and offering help to her teammate – as if he would have listened or cared. He thinks his food is good, which it is not. And ultimately that gets him sent home, followed by a hug of relief from Nina and complete and utter indifference from the chefs in the stew room – though not before he dramatically pretends to shoot himself in the head. Great move, guy.

“I do think I represented New Orleans and I represented it well,” Michael says on his way out. Nope. You did come across as a creepy know-it-all who doesn’t seem to understand how to interact with other people and has limited cooking skills, though, so congratulations for that! Time to go get smoked by Janine in Last Chance Kitchen, pal.

Despite Nina’s unfair presence on the bottom here, the top three remains pretty clear for now: Justin, Nina and Carrie, with Carlos, Nick and Shirley right behind and Patty trending upward.

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