Top Chef: "Lea Michele's Halloween Bash"
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Top Chef: "Lea Michele's Halloween Bash"

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Top Chef

"Lea Michele's Halloween Bash"

Season 11, Episode 5

I was not expecting to enjoy this episode at all, what with the guest-judging appearance of Glee’s Lea Michele and Halloween-themed food. But “Lea Michele’s Halloween Bash” is a pretty solid episode of Top Chef, if a bit predictable. Michele herself surprised me the most by being a competent judge. Apparently she’s a huge fan of the show, so she seemed to have a clear idea of what she could expect from the contestants.

It took me a few minutes to realize that this challenge is essentially a catering challenge, with a kitschy theme and a picky client. Nothing about this seems all that fun for the chefs. I’m happy the show decided to pair everyone off for this challenge, though. A slightly lightweight challenge is balanced by the interpersonal dynamics of each team. 

I couldn’t quite nail down what the primary goal of the elimination challenge was, though. Presumably “Make Lea happy” was at the top of the list, but were the chefs trying to make food that had a “spooky” theme? Or finger food? Or spicy Italian food? Or unique vegetarian food? Were the teams supposed to work together to produce a unified dish, or were they on their own? I know the right answer is probably something like “all of the above,” but I’m not surprised that some of the chefs that usually do really well were sidelined this week. It wasn’t the clearest contest ever, or anything like that. It didn’t help that everything that did try to be “spooky” ended up disappointing. The “worm salad” by the normally stellar Shirley and the “blood pasta” made with beets by Justin barely merited notice. And three different teams made arancini, because it satisfied so many of the requirements: party food, Italian, cheesy, and vegetarian. I didn’t find myself having much of an opinion about any of the dishes, though the winning team’s gnocchi and arancini did look very good. It was also one of the dishes that eschewed the whole “Halloween” theme entirely. It was a little frustrating that the judges so freely rewarded less creative thinking, after pretending to champion it in the contest’s theme.

But at least they got the elimination right. Brian and Bene both make salads even after Lea specifically asked for no salads. Bene’s tomato salad is apparently particularly bland. Brian’s proven himself to be a quiet, reliable chef, while Bene has repeatedly shown up in the bottom. But the whole episode was cut to make Michael and Nina’s team look pretty disastrous—not that they needed all that much help. Nina is undoubtedly one of the best chefs there—she’s got a confidence in the kitchen that a lot of the other chefs don’t, and you can just see it.

Michael, on the other hand, is so grating and awful in this episode that it’s a relief to see him finally pack up his knives and move on toward annoying some other people. He’s always been dead weight on the other teams, but I could not stand the way he talked to Nina in this episode, alternating defensive posturing about his cooking with weird terms of endearment that clearly annoyed the crap out of her. She isn’t friendly with him and it’s not even that he’s trying to be affectionate—I got the impression that he was belittling her, consciously or unconsciously. I didn’t like it, and I’m glad the judges got him out of the way before I started a campaign to get him fired for sexual harassment. More to the point, his arancini is awful, and garnished with a sad little black olive on a toothpick that makes the dish look like it belongs in the frozen section of Sam’s Club.

The quickfire this week is pretty awesome—another Reynolds Wrap sponsored contest, with everything in the kitchen wrapped in foil and Padma and Gail’s moms zipping around shopping for each team. I’m not sure why the moms got involved, but you know, whatever. That being said, I do not want to eat any of the food that they made. Lamb chops with cheese? No, thank you.

Stray observations:

  • Stephanie is the best. Let’s all be friends with her immediately.
  • Padma Lakshmi dresses up as a voodoo priestess. I am not sure how I feel about this. Are we all in agreement that even though Padma is pretty great, she always looks vaguely like she’d rather be somewhere else, if she could only find the invitation?
  • Tom goes as the Great Gatsby for Lea’s costume party. I confess to being charmed. 

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