'Top Chef' All-Stars Los Angeles Recap: Episode 5—'Bring Your Loved One to Work'
We're already a quarter of the way through this season of Top Chef and the old adage "too many cooks in the kitchen" has never been more true than it is in this week's episode in which the cheftestants are tasked with working with their loved ones to create dishes and products that speak to their unique story.
We find our cheftestants in the breakroom, the Red Team still smarting over their loss in the farmers market challenge. The chefs are looking forward to moving on after last week's drama between Lee Anne and Brian M. over Lee Anne's under-seasoned crudite. Things still seem tense between the chefs but they decide to hug it out. "We're prepared to move on from this," he says.
The next day the chefs walk into a somewhat dystopian, empty Top Chef kitchen where they find smartphones at each cutting board. Eric bravely picks up a phone and realizes he's got an incoming call. Turns out it's his wife, Janell, on the other end of the phone. Nini looks so confused as her Mom says hello and Karen is beaming as she says hello to her sister. Each chef receives a call from one of their loved ones and catches up with them for a quick minute before Padma Lakshmi enters the kitchen and tells them that they have to hang up—but they'll call right back. Our cheftestants find out that their loved ones weren't just calling to catch up, they're going to be part of a cooking challenge. Uh oh.
The chefs' loved ones are at Osteria Mozza, chef Nancy Silverton's flagship Los Angeles restaurant, and they're about to be served three classic dishes from the menu. The chefs will have to recreate the dish their loved one is eating using verbal instructions over the phone. So, literally a Top Chef game of telephone. The chef's finished dishes will have to not only look the same but taste the same as the original at Osteria Mozza. They have thirty minutes to cook and they cannot text a photo of the dish. Duh. Winning chef gets immunity and $10,000.
The clock starts and the chefs are off to the races, rushing to place a call to their loved ones and get cooking. "The Top Chef kitchen looks a lot like the streets of Manhattan," Kevin jokes as we see shots of the chefs wandering around the kitchen with headphones in their ears, talking on the phone.
Bryan V. might have an advantage because he's on the phone with his sister Staci who is also the pastry chef at his restaurant. But she incorrectly tells him that the fish dish she's eating is branzino when it's actually yellowtail. Jen's sister says the fish dish she's eating is chicken "with wings" and leaves Jen searching the coolers for chicken until her sister says they "look like horseshoes" which Jen realizes is yellowtail collars. Wow. Jen is a master of fish identification. Lee Anne's mom is totally calm as she relays that she's eating a steak dish with arugula, parmesan and "no marbling" in the meat leading Lee Anne to correctly identify it as a hanger steak. Nini isn't as confident in her Mom's identification skills so she's peeking at Gregory's cutting board to get a sense of what's on her Mom's plate. (Nobody said that was cheating or anything!) Melissa is the only chef that asks about the exact number of things on the plate which seems like a really smart move. Her childhood friend correctly tells her that there are six "chubby little potatoes" on the plate and Melissa deduces that they're fingerlings. Correct. Kevin's wife is an attorney so he says "she understands the power of words" and is an incredible communicator. Lee Anne's mom just straight puts down the phone at one point so she can enjoy her steak in peace which is awesome. I would do the same thing.
The clock runs down and the chefs are sweating bullets to get their meals on the plates. At the buzzer, Padma tells the chefs they can now receive a photo of the dish from their loved ones. Bryan ran with branzino and immediately sees his sister told him the wrong fish. Whoops. The guest judge for this challenge is, no surprise here, Nancy Silverton, the creator of the original dishes and the owner of Osteria Mozza.
At the end of the tasting, Nancy identifies Melissa's yellowtail collar, which Nancy says was the "closest collar in the room," Lee Anne's hanger steak which missed the balsamic glaze but replaced it with equally-umami soy sauce, and Kevin's pork chop dish as the top dishes of the challenge. The winner? Kevin's pork chop because his wife picked up on smaller elements like pancetta in the bean ragout and effectively communicated the visual presentation. He gets immunity and $10,000.
"In today's day and age, the most successful chefs are not only at a restaurant they're also entrepreneurs," Padma says. The chefs will have to create a signature product they'll sell at Westfield Century City, an outdoor mall in Los Angeles. The chefs have to use their signature product in a dish that shoppers will get to try and decide if they want to bring it home with them. "The chef who sells the most product will be safe from elimination," Padma adds. They'll have $600 to shop at Whole Foods and then get to prep with their loved ones. With that, Padma and Nancy leave the kitchen and the chefs head to Whole Foods to shop.
Back in the Top Chef kitchen, the chefs start prepping with their loved ones and heartwarming reunions ensue. Eric managed to buy flowers for his wife during his Whole Foods shopping trip (awww!) and then puts her to work cutting peppers for calypso sauce, a Caribbean hot sauce.
Karen and her sister are making romesco with smoked cinnamon and orange blossom water which sounds really interesting and fragrant. Stephanie and her husband David are making a vegetarian chili base which sounds like an odd signature product but could be really good? Jen and her sister Jessica are making "sunny lemon ginger love sauce" named after their other sister Sunny. Bryan V. is going abstract with his product and making a calamari bolognese and serving it with a kale and nori spaghetti at the market tomorrow. It sounds like a great dish but is it something people will want to keep in their pantries for everyday cooking? Gregory is making pikliz, a Haitian spicy cabbage slaw, which is a great idea since it's similar to a spicy pickle and goes with everything, and he's going to serve it with chicken in creole sauce. Lee Anne is making mapo sauce, the fiery red sauce that's integral in mapo tofu. Brian M. is making fennel and olive relish which is a good idea for a market of Californians. Melissa is making peach kimchi vinaigrette and serving it on fried chicken wings which sounds amazing and like something people would definitely want to make at home.
Things seem to be moving along smoothly until Lee Anne's mom says she's feeling a bit hot and starts to fall backwards at the prep table. She leaves the kitchen to go lay down, meaning Lee Anne is all alone to roll out 200 dumpling wrappers with just 45 minutes left. Things are looking tough for Lee Anne until Stephanie volunteers her husband to help roll wrappers and Melissa and Nini offer their help too. It might be just about the sweetest thing I've ever seen on Top Chef. "I am just touched that I have such great people willing to help me," she says, fighting back tears in her confessional. Jen seems like she's having the most fun she's had all season cooking with her sister in the kitchen. "I'm having a blast," she says. Stephanie is stressed as she packs up her prep with her husband. "I'm always concerned… did I do this right?" They leave for the day with their loved ones, excited to present their products to the judges tomorrow.
The next day, the cheftestants set up their individual booths with their loved ones and get ready to for service, including Lee Anne's mom who thankfully feels way better. As the clock runs out, the chefs put out their products. They are officially open for business as judges Tom Colicchio, Gail Simmons, and Padma walk in with guest judge Nancy Silverton.
Here's how things shook out for our cheftestants:
Product: Mel's Kimchi-Peach vinaigrette
Dish: Korean Fried Chicken Wing
The judges look pretty happy with how the wings turned out, but Padma says "putting anything on fried chicken feels like cheating" because, let's be honest, fried chicken is so good on its own. Tom says the sauce is terrific and Gail loved the application of it. Nancy says it could've been a little spicier for her.
Lee Anne Wong
Product: Mama Wong's Mapo Sauce
Dish: Shrimp tofu shitake dumplings
Lee Anne and her mom are making dumplings to order which is so cool but also seems like a lot of work! The judges agree with Lee Anne that mapo sauce is a "timesaver" and something that most people won't attempt to make at home so it's an easy sell.
Product: Hotlanta Hot Salt
Dish: Chicken 'n Waffles with fried peanuts and butter
Kevin's dish of chicken and waffles topped with hot salt to make it like a Nashville hot chicken is a cool idea and looks really delicious when he plates it up. Gail thinks the crispy bits on the chicken were really "delicious" and Tom says the dish was really good.
Product: Mighty Calypso pepper sauce
Dish: Doubles topped with fried chickpeas and pancetta
The judges are really excited to see that Eric is making doubles. Tom says "that was pretty damn good" as he walks away. Gail says the dish was "amazing" and that Eric seems like he's in "his happy place" with his wife by his side. Aww.
Product: "S'Miles" fennel, tomato, chili and citrus relish
Dish: Pacific swordfish with charred lemon and radicchio slaw
Brian's dish looks gorgeous, a big plate of perfectly charred swordfish with bright greens and a buttery looking sauce but you can't see the relish he's supposed to be highlighting. The judges think the amount of oil in the relish made it feel like an oil slick and the dish ate "greasy," according to Padma. Nancy says it just tasted "confusing."
Product: "GG's" Party Pikliz: the spicy Haitian pickle
Dish: Haitian Creole chicken marinated in black pepper, thyme, and clove
Gregory's dish looks humble and comforting as he presents it to the judges. The pikliz, co-produced by his mom, is prominently displayed next to the chicken and is a bright pink and orange color which is really visually appealing. Nancy says the chicken is "braised so nicely" and Padma says the stew is "delicious." Nancy says she feels Greg really met the challenge by choosing a dish that really highlights his product. Gail said the choice to create such a homey dish really emphasizes that home cooks can use this condiment too.
Product: Nini's roasted nuoc nam glaze
Dish: Braised pork rib
Nini's pork ribs look delicious as she serves them. Padma says she would "buy that sauce in a heartbeat" and Nancy is impressed by how the sauce was "not too sweet and not too spicy."
Product: E + O Romesco
Dish: Pork belly, almonds, cinnamon romesco and crispy potatoes
Karen's dish is definitely one of the most photogenic with a bright orange romesco sauce that looks perfectly textured under glossy pieces of pork belly. Nancy says she wishes the romesco was chunkier and Gail says the sauce wasn't bold enough.
Product: "S+D's" Vegetarian Chili Base
Dish: Two bean chili with homemade cracker, beet and lime pickled onion, cilantro and scallion
Stephanie puts up the prettiest bowl of chili with pink rings of onions and herbs on top. Nancy says it "lacked some depth and complexity" and Tom says that "any tomato sauce out there" could fit the bill of being subbed in for Stephanie's product. Ouch.
Product: Voltaggio's Calamari Bolognese
Dish: Kale and nori spaghetti
Bryan takes inspiration from his family and their love of spaghetti with his dish and serves a creative, seafood-heavy spaghetti and bolognese. Tom says the sauce has "good seafood flavor" but the product might be a "hard sell" because most people are used to meat in their bolognese.
Product: "Sunny" Lemon-Ginger Love
Dish: "Sunny"-style skirt steak, yogurt, and grilled kale
To me, Jennifer's got the best packaging of the day. The jars of bright yellow sauce, labeled in a fun font, look like they could be on the shelves of grocery stores. Unfortunately, the judges don't think it tastes as good as it looks. Padma says the sauce needs more tartness and Tom says the texture was "terrible."
The tasters have the opportunity to use tickets to buy one product and it seems everyone is going for Melissa's wing sauce. The chefs' loved ones say goodbye and it's time for Judges' Table.
At Judges' Table, Tom says that the caliber of cooking the chefs did today put the judges in a really tough spot, which bodes well for the chefs. Who sold the most? Melissa with her peach kimchi vinaigrette! She sold 31 bottles of sauce so she's safe from elimination. On top tastewise are Gregory, Nini, and Eric. Tom waxes poetic about Gregory's chicken saying it was beautifully cooked. Gail says Nini's ribs felt like something Nini and her mom worked on together and that Eric's sauce tasted like "sunshine." Nancy picks the winner and it's Gregory! "I can't wait to tell my Mom that we won," he says.
And now it's time for the bad news. Stephanie, Jen, and Brian M. are on the bottom. Tom feels that Stephanie's dish didn't really illustrate the convenience of a jarred sauce. Padma says Brian's relish ate very oily and Nancy says the flavor was "muddy." Tom had a problem with the fact that Jen didn't strain her sauce, names for the chunks of ginger, and said it seemed like a mistake. So who goes home?
Jen is asked to pack her knives and go because of her less-than-refined sauce.