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Top Chef New Orleans Recap: Rebuilding and Feeding

New Orleans is one of the oldest and greatest cities in the United States, filled with people who have deep roots and love for their crazy, enchanted place in the world. A visit to the French Quarter or Garden District now, shows an area that's thriving and alive. But further up the road, there is still much work to be done years after Hurricane Katrina ravaged much of the Crescent City and its surrounding areas.

Last evening's Top Chef episode dealt with Katrina in a most respectful way -- by highlighting Habitat for Humanity and the work they're still doing to rebuild homes either damaged or lost in the aftermath of the storm.

See also: Top Chef New Orleans Recap: Miami is The Queen of the Swamps

But before the cheftestants could feed the volunteers who work so tirelessly to help their fellow citizens, there's a gumbo quickfire. Leah Chase, the 90 year-old chef and owner of Dooky Chase's restaurant that's been serving fried chicken and red beans and rice since 1941. Since a dark roux is the basis of a good gumbo, the cheftestants are told by Padma that they have pretty much all night to work, before finishing the next morning. Out come the crock pots, as each chef makes a gumbo that's "steeped in their personal history".

The next morning, Leah Chase and Padma try the results. There's an Iowa/Trinidad gumbo (Carrie); a Polish-inspired gumbo (Jason); a drunken chicken version (Michael); and a mofongo-ish dish (Patty) in the mix. In the end, the greenish Iowa/Trinidad stew wins immunity.

Susan Spicer of the French Quarter's Bayona restaurant (who will, by the way, be at the South Beach Wine and Food Festival this year), is the guest judge for this week's elimination challenge. Chefs will be divided into teams and will have to serve Habitat for Humanity volunteers from a food truck. Leah Chase is still there and she said that when Katrina hit she was happy to see a food truck -- or any food at all. Each team has 30 minutes and $1,500 to shop for food.

As the judges walk through the still-damaged neighborhood, Gail notes that 50,000 houses are still in need of repair. We see people working on a house with a Habitat for Humanity banner on it. For once, it's nice to see product placement of a worthy organization instead of a car, supermarket, or food.

As the cheftestants start feeding the volunteers, we hear one young person tell Tom that she was about 12 when Katrina hit and that she's volunteering because it's just the right thing to do. Another two young women say that their homes were damaged and they're paying a good deed forward. Another woman explains that she visits houses she helped repair. "When I see a garden growing and a bike on the front lawn, I just feel good."

Damn, those cheftestants better be serving these people some good food. And, for the most part, it is. Gail says the food was "pretty thrilling" and Susan calls the Green team's food "light and crisp". Of course there's a bottom team -- the surfer-dude-inspired Blue truck, which served soggy hand rolls, meh tuna, lukewarm ceviche, and yucky wasabi peas.

But first to the winner. Carrie reigns supreme (she won the quickfire), for her empanada dough, which she rolled with a wine bottle on the truck.

The loser? Surfer dude dud Jason, who spent more time schmoozing than worrying about his food. The good news? Miami cheftestants (including last week's winner Nina Compton) are safe for another week..which is good, because the cheftestants are going to the iconic Commander's Palace for the next challenge.

Follow Laine Doss on Twitter @LaineDoss and Facebook.

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