‘Top Chef’ recap: 11 All-Stars are hungry to ‘Bring Your Loved One to Work’

In last week’s episode of ‘Top Chef,’ season 4 finalist Lisa Fernandes’s undercooked Brussels sprouts caused her to hear these words for the first time from host  Padma Lakshmi’s lips: “Please pack your knives and go.” Luckily, she redeemed herself after she topped Joe Sasto during “Last Chance Kitchen.” This week the Los Angeles edition of Bravo’s reality show has the 11 chefs left in the game cooking with the help of their loved ones. Read on for our minute-by-minute takes on the fifth episode of the season, “Bring Your Loved One to Work.”

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10:02 p.m. Back in the chefs’ digs, Bryan Voltaggio  says, “We should have clearly communicated better” to his red teammates about their six-course vegetarian meal. “At the end of the day, you are going to be judged by the plate you place out there in front of the judges.” Lee Anne Wong  looks as if she is still upset over Brian Malarkey’s lack of seasoning. But the two hug it out and call a truce. Or as Brian says, “Salt crisis avoided.”

10:04 p.m. It’s morning and the chefs march into the kitchen. There are work spaces designated for them and cell phones at each station. Karen Akunowicz suggests they check their phones. Eric Adjepong gets a call and turns out it is his wife, Janell. Nini Nguyen next gets a ring and hears, “Hi, baby.” She asks, “Who is this?” The answer:  “You don’t recognize your mom’s voice?” Kevin Gillespie then gets a call from his wife, while Karen hears from her sister. Lee Anne and Gregory Gourdet chat with their mothers. While all the chefs are yakking away, Padma says, “Tell your loved ones you will call them back.”

10:06 p.m. Padma says, “I’m sure speaking to a loved one feels pretty good right now. But your loved ones aren’t just calling you for emotional support. They’re an integral part of your next quickfire challenge.” Kevin says, “Oh, oh!”


10:07 p.m. Padma goes on to say, “Today, we really want you to dial in on your communication skills.” They will play a little game of telephone. Kevin declares, “Interesting.” Their loved ones are at a well-known restaurant  in L.A. – namely Osteria Mozza. We see their relatives seated at a long dining table as they about to be served three classic dishes from the restaurant. The dish that their loved ones are eating is one that they will have to replicate from hints they provide over the phone. “And it has to look and taste the same,” Padma warns.

10:08 p.m. The chefs will have 30 minutes to cook. And, no, their loved ones can’t text them a photo of what they are eating. The winner will receive immunity in the next elimination challenge … and 10,000 buckaroos from the show’s partners at Metro.

10:09 p.m. The chefs call their loved ones to get their tips for the kind of  dish they must create. Kevin tells his wife, “Before you eat anything, tell me exactly what it is.” She describes a bone-in pork chop with braised beans, charred radicchio and fennel fronds. He asks if it looks like a rib-eye or a T-bone. She confirms rib-eye.

10:11 p.m. Bryan says everyone knows there are two Voltaggios in the food industry, referring to himself and his brother Michael who won their season together. But there is another Voltaggio, their sister Staci, a pastry chef. She is eating fish that has fins and thinks it might be catfish with its skin on. We learn it is a yellowtail with fingerling potatoes and sauce, but his sister changes her mind and says it is branzino. Jennifer Carroll’s sister Jessica first tells her the yellowtail is chicken and mistakes its fins for wings. But then she says it is a piece of fish and Jennifer figures it out.

SEE ‘Top Chef: Last Chance Kitchen’: Lisa Fernandes fights for redemption against Joe Sasto and the deep fryer [WATCH]

10:12 p.m. Lee Anne’s mother says she is eating steak with no marbling. Her daughter deduces it’s a hanger steak. Nini’s mom also has the steak but is confused about whether the greens are arugula. Nini sneaks a peek at what Gregory is making and spies his arugula. She says, “It’s like cheating.” Her mom doesn’t realize the meat is marinated in balsamic vinegar, however. Melissa King has her family friend Tiffany on the line, and she also is describing the yellowtail dish.

10:13 p.m. Padma warns, “Five minutes left,” as everyone scrabbles to finish their mystery dish. Lee Anne is desperately trying to get her mom to pay attention to her questions, but mom is preoccupied by her meal as she cuts up the rest of her meat.

10:15 p.m. Soon enough we hear, “Hands up, put utensils down.” Padma then tells the chefs to ask their loved one to take a photo of their dish. The guest judge is Nancy Silverton, the co-owner of Osteria Mozza, her flagship eatery. Bryan’s dish is up first and he knows his sister misguided him. Melissa had the same dish and did a much better job of replicating it. Jennifer talked to her sister Jessica and admits that her sibling first thought the fish was chicken. She didn’t get the salsa verde but did nail the chilies. Gregory came very close to the picture of the dish but his mom did not mention balsamic vinegar. Nini’s mom didn’t mention the balsamic taste, either.

10:17 p.m. And while Lee Anne’s mom knew there was some sweet sauce on the steak, she thought it could have been soy. So far, no one has gotten all the components right. Stephanie Cmar says husband David described a rib-eye lying on a circle bed of radicchio. but he left out olive oil, balsamic and rosemary. Kevin’s wife picked up on rosemary and she thought there was prosciutto in the butter bean ragout. Nancy exclaims, “Good job!”

10:18 p.m. Nancy makes Bryan feel better, noting that he still made a great dish. But downer Padma declares it was their least favorite dish because of how little it resembled the intended meal. On top are Melissa, Lee Anne and Kevin. Nancy says his pork was outstanding. And, yes, the best dish was Kevin’s. He was lucky to have wed someone with super taste buds. He now has won three quickfires – and has immunity as well as $10,000. Nancy advises that he needs to split it with his wife. Kevin assures them that his wife will probably get most of that cash.


10:20 p.m. Padma tells us that these days the most successful chefs aren’t just restaurateurs, but are also entrepreneurs. Nancy tells the chefs, “I assume most of you know I was the creator of La Brea Bakery breads. That is my brand.” She also started a gelato company called Nancy’s Fancy. Cute! The elimination challenge requires the chefs to create their own signature product. They will be hawking their wares at Westfield Century City. They will also have to make a dish featuring their product, and shoppers will get a ticket to take just one of the products home with them. The chef with the most tickets will be safe from elimination.

10:22 p.m. The chefs get $600 to shop at Whole Foods. After they shop, Padma says, “Each of your loved ones will be here to assist you tonight and tomorrow.” Jennifer has had some experience testing a product but not in 24 hours. She asks for skirt steak at the meat counter. Nini chooses to make nuoc mam, a Vietnamese dipping sauce that she plans on using on a rack of ribs. Kevin is doing chicken ‘n waffles.

10:25 p.m. Shopping is over. As they unpack their groceries, the loved ones have arrived. Lee Anne zealously hugs her mom. Eric thoughtfully bought his wife some flowers — then he immediately puts her to work to help him make calypso hot sauce. He will serve it on a classic fried dough called doubles because it actually doubles up in size. Karen pairs with sister Jennifer to make a romesco sauce. Stephanie and her hubby are cooking up a vegetarian chili base with short ribs. Jennifer tells her sister to place her peeled lemons into a pot. She says she is making something called Sunny Lemon Ginger Love sauce in honor of their other sister, Sunny. Bryan and Staci are making calamari Bolognese and will serve it on pasta.

10:28 p.m. Gregory and his mom are making a special type of Asian pickle that they will serve with Haitian-style chicken in creole sauce. Lee Anne’s mom is making a Sichuan tofu with mapo sauce. She adds that she will have to make 20 quarts of the sauce and 150 dumplings. Whoa! Malarkey shouts out commands to wife Chantelle as they make a relish that will be named after their twins, Sailor and Miles, which is called S’miles. Melissa is making double-fried chicken wings with her kimchee vinaigrette.

SEE ‘Top Chef’ season 17 has a new after-show: ‘What Would Tom Do?’ [WATCH VIDEO]

10:31 p.m. Lee Anne’s mom Rose suddenly feels faint and almost falls over. The others rush to make her feel better as she drinks water. Rose ends up leaving the kitchen to lie down. Lee Anne still has 200 dumpling wrappers to roll, so Stephanie sends over her husband to lend a hand. Others start to pitch in as well. This crew obviously qualify as All-Stars for many reasons. Lee Anne is quite moved by all the offers of help.

10:33 p.m. Jennifer says her sauce is “super delicious,” and she adds yogurt to make it creamy. Someone yells  “Fifteen minutes, guys!” Nini pours her mom Cindy a glass of red wine as a reward for her hard work. But mom can’t help but say, “I like white.”

10:35 p.m. There is a food festival going on and the chefs rush to their spaces. Rose says she is feeling better and adds she “wouldn’t miss this for anything.” Eric is stoked to have worked with his wife on his sauce. They are also doing it for their sweet young daughter. Karen gives her sister a hard time for not putting on her apron before they can start cooking. Ten minutes before service is called. Melissa is happy to have family friend Tiffany on her side since she is great with talking to people.


10:37 p.m.  A horde of hungry folk start to arrive to taste their sauces and the judges aren’t far behind. Padma suggests trying out Melissa’s booth first and try her kimchi-peach vinaigrette on fried chicken wings. Gail Simmons likes the way the food was presented. Head judge Tom Colicchio thought the sauce was terrific but had some issue with the application, saying that there should have been less of it. Both Nancy and Padma agree there could have been a little more kick to it.

10:39 p.m. Lee Anne is next with her stuffed shrimp dumplings featuring Mama Wong’s Mapo Sauce. Padma describes the food as “delicious.” Tom notes that the sauce is a time saver and isn’t something he would make at home – nor would anyone else. Kevin is pitching Hotlanta Hot Salt that he features on his chicken and waffles dish. Tom asks how he used the salt and he says it is inside the brine and the breading. Tom says the product was good but the dish was basically the star.

10:42 p.m. Padma is quite excited that Eric is making his doughy doubles, which are served with fried chickpeas and pancetta. He calls it “the ultimate bar snack” and it is topped with his Mighty Calypso Pepper Sauce. Tom says, “That was pretty damn good. I thought the flavor of the sauce was great, but the dish itself?” Gail dubs it “amazing.” Brian’s sauce is a citrus, fennel and tomato chili relish. He serves it on swordfish. As Padma and the other judges walk away, she asks, “Do you think Brian’s swordfish ate greasy at all?” Nancy thought the sauce tasted “confusing.”

10:44 p.m. Next are Gregory and his mom. He has made GG’s Party Pikliz – a spicy Haitian pickle. His dish is a Haitian Creole chicken with rice. Nancy likes the way his chicken was braised. She asks if his product is a shelf item and he confirms it is, no refrigeration needed. Nancy tells her fellow judges that he really met the challenge of “picking a product and showcasing the best way to serve it.” Nini is next with her pork rib that has been braised and boiled. She describes her classic Vietnamese sauce nuoc mam. “Padma gives Nini’s sauce the ultimate compliment: “I would buy that in a heartbeat.” Karen is next with her romesco sauce that tops her pork belly dish. Unfortunately, the judges thought the sauce was not bold enough.

10:46 p.m. Stephanie and her husband serve their vegetarian chili base sauce that she says can be used as a salsa or a marinade. Her dish is a two-bean chili accompanied by a homemade cracker. But Nancy thought her dish lacked some depth and complexity. Bryan V. is next with his sis and their calamari Bolognese that is served on kale and nori spaghetti. Nancy declares it’s “a restaurant dish” – a high honor. As for the sauce, Tom notes that pasta sauce with fish in it is rare in the U.S. and is a “hard sell.” Jennifer is next with her Sunny Lemon Ginger Love sauce that she serves with skirt steak. Tom says, “I think that sauce needs work.” He adds, “I thought the texture was terrible.” Oh boy, that’s trouble.


10:48 p.m. Tom says overall there were some really great sauces and pickles. Padma asks the chefs who sold the most, and they all look at Melissa. Rightly so, since she sold 31 bottles of her kimchee vinaigrette. She is safe from elimination. As for the three who did the best, they are Gregory, Nini and Eric. The judges loved Gregory’s Haitian pickles and also have high praise for his chicken dish. Nancy loved Nini’s ribs, praising their tenderness and the fact that her sauce was so balanced. Gail was crazy for Eric’s doubles. He says, “Anytime I get a chance to show off West African heritage, I do it.”

10:50 p.m. Nancy gets the honor to announce the winner … and it’s Gregory! It is his second elimination challenge win. He can’t wait to tell his mom that they won, adding that, “She worked so hard.”

10:53 p.m. The chefs on the bottom? Stephanie, Jennifer and Brian M. Stephanie said she was pleased with what she and her husband made. Tom says, “The product I felt was interesting, but I don’t know if you illustrated the convenience by making chili.” Gail thought it was a good chili but she didn’t think it differentiated itself as a base. Nancy goes the harsh route and says, “There was no surprise.”

10:55 p.m. As for Brian, he says his day went great. “I was looking for an ultra-healthy, bright relish that you could really sell to the masses.” Padma says, “I found it ate very oily.” Nancy was expecting fresh and bright but she didn’t feel it. Her word for it: Muddy. Tom thought the dish he made was fine but the product was a problem. Jennifer stands up for her sauce: “I liked all the rawness of it.” Tom wonders why she didn’t strain it. Nancy, once again, gets down to the nitty-gritty, saying, “I expected it to be more sunny.”

10:58 p.m. Tom knows how hard it is to make a sauce product from experience. But  he goes on to say that the chefs on the bottom all produced a sauce that felt unfinished. Of those, the one who is leaving is … Jennifer. As someone who has competed three times on “Top Chef,” she  is psyched for “Last Chance Kitchen.” Citing her Philly roots, she says, “Rocky keeps coming back. I’ve been back a few times.”

Next on “Top Chef”: The chefs will be toasting the 100th year of the L.A. Philharmonic and it is a pairs challenge. Nini and Karen immediately pick one another while declaring themselves “best friends.” But it will be a double elimination, so watch out!

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