Top Chef recap: The Lea Michele Show
It’s Halloween in… July, probably? This season of Top Chef filmed in the dead of summer, yet Padma forced all the chefs to pretend it was late October, just like how on Project Runway everyone pretends only two — I’m sorry, four — designers show at Fashion Week. The hot weather is the only reason I forgave the unforgivably lame costumes on display later in the episode.
The Halloween festivities started with a super-scary theme… moms! Gail’s mother Renee and Padma’s mom Vijaya arrived in the Top Chef Kitchen to assist in a team Quickfire Challenge, which had the chefs split into two teams, Team Simmons and Team Lakshmi. The moms — both adorable, by the way — picked ingredients and appliances that were totally covered in Reynolds wrap for their respective teams to use. Mama Simmons and Mama Lakshmi, who clearly had experience grocery shopping for their families, grabbed as many items as they could as the chefs shouted directions at them. Personally, I was appalled by the lack of “please”s, “thank you”s, and “ma’am”s.
Once the teams had their hauls, they had to unwrap everything (not a very interesting part of the challenge) and make a dish that would be worthy of a $10,000 prize. But seriously, $10,000 split seven ways? Bene hoped to buy a nice pair of shoes with the winnings, and that’s about all he’d be able to afford with that amount, depending on how nice. I’m not sure I’d even get out of bed for this challenge. (Who am I kidding here? No one).
I’m mad that there are still 14 chefs left in the competition, so I’ll skip past a lot of the individual dishes. Bene, Brian, and Nina of Team Lakshmi failed to impress with their bean, chili, carrot, okra, cherry, and strawberry soup with too many ingredients — sounds like Vijaya did her job too well. Carrie of Team Simmons dazzled Gail with her sabayon, which she whipped into a creamy lather without a whisk, just by mixing super-fast with a spoon. Gail ended up betraying her mother in the worst possible way by giving the win to Team Lakshmi. Honestly, the teams were so large that the decision was pretty much arbitrary anyway, so you might as well give props to the woman who gave you life. Let’s all take a moment to imagine how terrifying our mothers would be if we pulled the same thing.
NEXT: Andy Cohen and Tom dressed as Gatsby, or one half of a barbershop quartet. Lea was a sexy kitten. Not impressed by any of these choices.
And now to introduce the Elimination Challenge: our guest judge Lea Michele! I love how the camera immediately closed in on Travis, the resident gay guy, for the biggest “SQUEE!” reaction, even though Stephanie seemed to be gazing upon Lea most dreamily and Carlos saw her as the sex symbol some people believe her to be. If you’ve ever read an interview with Lea, the fact that she made this entire challenge about her own specific whims and preferences should not come as a surprise. Basically, the chefs had to make Halloween-themed dishes for a costume party, but really, it was a challenge to test how well they could take Lea’s directions. She explained that she’s a vegan who sometimes likes to give herself a break. She likes cheese, pasta, pizza, fried things, cheese, all vegetables except beets, Mexican food, spice, cheese, and smelly cheese. Oh, and foods that are spooky.
You know, if the chefs didn’t have to cater to all of Lea’s restrictions, this challenge could have rivaled the Charlize Theron challenge from two seasons ago, which inspired some of the coolest dishes in Top Chef history. (And one of my best recaps, if I do say so myself).
Not to mention, it was another team challenge, this time with seven teams of two. Of course, Nina and Michael were paired together, as they’ve had some friction in the past, ever since Michael rudely swept Nina’s ingredients from his counter space. Nina never forgets. Even though Nina is clearly one of the frontrunners and Michael is extremely irritating, it didn’t look like Nina was giving Michael a chance as a teammate. But Michael should learn there are some women you can’t casually call “booboo.”
Some teams dove into the “spooky” theme with aplomb. There wasn’t anything particularly ghoulish about Carrie and Stephanie’s dishes, but their rhyming names went a long way: Doomed Shrooms and Freaky Leeky. Yay, puns! Louis came up with a “severed thumb” dish made of braised quinoa, potato puree, and “dehydrated blood.” Lea thought it was all too greasy. Shirley made a “worm salad” out of tasty hand-cut noodles; Lea liked the dish, too. There were two competing eyeball-themed dishes: Michael’s arancini eyeball, which looked like a fried boob with a black olive nipple, and Sara’s “evil eye,” which was a risotto and green olive ball.
NEXT: The Orange Team is a team divided…
On the other end of the holiday spirit spectrum, Nicholas and Patty settled for a “fall color” theme. Lame, yes, but perhaps a good strategy. Brian and Bene had the brilliant idea to serve “spooky spa” food to Lea, who said specifically that she didn’t want spa food. Justin also dared to defy Diva Lea by using beets — just a little — to color his pasta blood red. Lea no likey.
When it came time for the Judges Table, Nicholas and Patty landed in the top for their orange-hued butternut squash cannoli and lemon arancini. But the win went to Carlos and Travis for their Día de Los Muertos-themed veggie ceviche and goat cheese fondue. You know, I was going to go easy on Travis after last week, but this week, he appropriated yet another culture’s cuisine. He claimed that because he grew up in Colorado, he knew a ton about Latin flavors. Umm, how about giving Carlos credit where credit’s due?
Landing in the bottom were Nina and Michael and Brian and Bene. Michael clearly pulled his team down to the bottom, but really, Nina could have had a better attitude about it.
When the judges discussed who should be sent home, Hugh dared to say Nina, even though she had a great individual dish, because she didn’t help her teammate enough. Hugh, STOP. That kind of arbitrary, ridiculous non-logic is what causes boneheaded Top Chef judging decisions to happen (see Nyesha, Kristen). Imagine what kind of viewer revolt would ensue if Nina got eliminated for her perfectly good dish.
Luckily, the judges came to their senses (sorta) and let go of Michael. Even though I wasn’t a fan of Michael this season, I was sad to see him go. He seemed to have more passion and knowledge about food than Louis, Bene, or Patty. Seriously, Bene could easily have gotten eliminated for his uninspired kale and ricotta, coupled with his so-so past performances. I’m glad that Top Chef doesn’t keep around contestants just because they’re charismatic or dramatic, but it’s almost as if they’re systematically trying to get rid of the personality on the show. Oh well, there are still too many contestants anyway.
What are you dressing up for as Halloween? I’m going as the Asian tribute who gets killed first in The Hunger Games!
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