Fresh off of a grilled potato fiasco in Episode 3, Top Chef: Houston is back this week with another round of cooking mishaps and dashed dreams complete with a trippy doppelganger challenge that sends home not one, but two chefs.
Episode 4 nods to Houston with a biscuit quickfire, while the elimination round plays to the strengths of the molecular gastronomy crowd. Who will live to see another episode?
Warning: Spoilers ahead. Here’s a recap of Top Chef: Houston Episode 4.
Quickfire: Houston’s own Chris Williams of Lucille’s sets the stage for the quickfire challenge. The challenge pays homage to Williams’s great-grandmother Lucille B. Smith, a culinary trailblazer who fed figures such as Martin Luther King Jr. in addition to inventing the original hot roll mix and publishing a cookbook. In honor of that legacy, the chefs are tasked with making their own biscuit dish for the judges. Chef Jae Jung is already feeling feisty. “I don’t bake. I don’t like baking. I just like to get baked,” she says.
Most of the chefs go the savory route with their recipes, with the exception of Robert Hernandez, who makes a sweet corn biscuit with strawberries and a Japanese brown sugar whipped cream. Hot honey abounds and Jackson Kalb tries to redeem himself from a previous challenge by making a very crispy layer of cheese for his ostrich sausage breakfast sandwich.
Meanwhile, Chicago’s Damarr Brown is defending family honor with his drop biscuits. “In my family, you didn’t just get the recipe,” he says, “you had to make it with them over and over again.” Nick Wallace is leaning into his Mississippi roots with a state-shaped biscuit cutter.
Both Texas contestants Evelyn García and Jo Chan did iterations of biscuits with chorizo (García’s dish earns a “Wonderful” from Williams), while Ashleigh Shanti attempted to rescue under-baked pepper biscuits by frying them.
Shanti’s improvisation fails to impress the judges who find the biscuit over-seasoned and crumbly. Buddha Lo’s buttermilk biscuit with fried chicken, hot honey, and cheddar also falls short of expectations. Jae, who’s channeling a “fuck biscuits” attitude, also falls to the bottom of the pack for overworked dough.
Kalb’s creative scallion biscuit breakfast sandwich pleases the judges, winning him a leg up in the elimination round.
Elimination Round: Modernist chef Wylie Dufresne joins the judges, followed by a parade of cloches. Underneath the lid? It’s the same weird dish — or at least it looks like the same weird dish. We’re doing molecular gastronomy like it’s 2005, people. Dufresne reveals that what sits before the contestants are in fact doppelgangers: dishes that look identical but are prepared with completely different ingredients.
Buddha Lo is absolutely amped to get a challenge that’s in his wheelhouse and to serve Dufresne. Kalb, who gets the first pick of partners in the double-elimination challenge, selects Lo, and they receive an extra 30 minutes of work time as Kalb’s reward.
The others scramble for partners. Texas chefs García and Chan team up — meaning both could be eliminated. Adding to the tension is the fact that modernist cooking is not in either chef’s wheelhouse. “Real cooking is my shit, not shapes!” Chan declares. The Austin chef is worried that she’ll bring García down. “You just don’t want to be the person that sinks someone’s dream,” she says.
After a rocky prep day, García and Chan run out of time to fully tenderize their pork belly. Detroit’s Sarah Welch and Hernandez struggle to execute similarly textured domes of panna cotta and shrimp terrine. And, if anyone’s wondering, Kalb still has no sense of taste due to his bout with COVID-19. “Tasting’s not my thing right now,” he remarks.
The Biggest Oops
That fried biscuit from Ashleigh Shanti was a mess, and it didn’t help that she tried to play it off as intentional. Folks know a Hail Mary when they see one.
The Best Turnaround
Shanti may have fumbled in the quickfire, but alongside three-time teammate Luke Kolpin she redeemed herself in the eyes of the judges with a well-executed scallop served with compressed honeydew. Next to Kolpin’s twin dish, they together nearly won the night.
Jackson Kalb and Buddha Lo came out on top, with their playful dishes “Everything But the Bagel” and “Strawberries and Cream” dupes. Kalb served a salmon tartare with caper, shallots, cream cheese bavarois, marinated tomato, and buttermilk scallion dressing with an “everything” tuile that looked nearly identical to Lo’s white chocolate panna cotta dipped in strawberry jelly, with strawberry bonbon and strawberry tartare cream dressed with basil oil dressing and a traditional tuile. Dufresne compliments the chef’s ability to make everything different down to the tuile, while Padma Lakshmi uses uber compliments (“Whimsy”! “Sublime”! “Delicious”!). Shanti and Kolpin redeem themselves with a close second place.
Hernandez and Welch’s team and Chan and García’s Texas duo landed at the bottom of the pack this week — making for a real Lone Star State nail-biter. Team Texas stumbles on flavor and texture. Tom Colicchio describes Chan’s dish as “like pork belly leather,” while Lakshmi says that García’s dessert was too sweet. Both teams struggled with basic cooking techniques, Colicchio says. An emotional García felt the weight of being in the bottom and shed some tears, vowing to continue pushing herself.
Welch presents shrimp sausage (despite a mild shellfish allergy) over brioche toasted in brown butter with a brown butter crumb and pressed, pickled cucumbers. Robert serves strawberry panna cotta with creme fraiche, Japanese brown sugar crumble, kiwi, and basil. Both look similar but fail in execution with poorly textured main components. (Hernandez has to re-set his panna cotta on day two after it fails to gel.)
In the end, Welch and Hernandez are sent packing. “We’ve formed such a bond together, and I think we both feel like we’ve let each other down, which is so hard about this situation,” Hernandez says.
- Biscuits. Just give me a biscuit now, please.
- Honestly, would eat everything that Kalb put out during these challenges. The taste bud issues do not seem to be slowing him down, and the biscuit sandwich with a thick piece of fried cheese looked dope.
- Shanti’s scallop with compressed honeydew kanzuri, toasted walnut, and apple cider broth next to Kolpin’s king oyster mushroom with pickled cucumber, carrot puree, and mushroom seaweed oil broth seemed to taste just as good as they looked.
- Can we please get a taste of Monique Feybesse’s coffee ice cream sandwich?
- Wallace coming to the kitchen prepared with a Mississippi-shaped biscuit cutter demonstrates some next-level hometown pride.
- When Welch tells Jung and Wallace that they’re “like a perfect odd couple — you’re like our parents.”
- When Feybesse imitates her teammate Damarr Brown in the confessional booth.
Chefs are stepping up their game. Lakshmi describes the elimination challenge as a “very spectacular night of eating.”
Cue drumroll: Next up is barbecue week and there will be brisket! Let’s hope the Texans show us what they got. Catch Top Chef: Last Chance Kitchen where Welch and Hernandez will fight to return to the main competition.