Top Chef: Houston is back this week with a riveting Quickfire, requiring contestants to craft a West African food staple as a nod to the city’s large Nigerian community.
While this challenge surely encapsulates Clutch City, the Elimination Round in episode 7 slightly misses the mark. Despite incorporating a daring dinosaur theme with the Houston Museum of Natural Science as the setting, the challenge feels a little less Houston in that it could be held in relatively any city with an impressive dinosaur exhibit. It could just be that the last eliminations, which paid homage to Texas Trailblazers, barbecue, queso, and football — are really hard to beat.
Nonetheless, chefs show their creativity. Some shine and one person goes home.
Warning: Spoilers ahead. Here’s a recap of Top Chef: Houston Episode 7.
Quickfire: Ope Amosu, the chef behind Post Houston’s West African fast-casual restaurant ChopNBlok, and Kwame Onwuachi, a Top Chef: California alum, lead the cheftestants through a challenge in which they attempt a Nigerian dish to accompany swallow — an African starch that is boiled, cooked and used to dip into stews. Chefs draw knives to choose their version of swallow — amala, eba, or iya — and after getting a hands-on tasting from Amosu and Onwuachi, the heat is on to make the best dish.
But there are some failures. Amosu and Onwuachi say Houston chef Evelyn García’s tamarind and chicken wing stew with crab fat has overpowering flavors, and Mississippi chef Nick Wallace’s okra stew with chicken thighs and crab is too sweet.
Luke Kolpin, who expresses worry at the beginning of the episode, makes chicken thighs with bitter greens and dried crawfish broth, and Jackson Kalb, who still can’t taste anything thanks to a recent bout with COVID-19, made snapper with tomato sauce and herb salad that judges loved. Damarr Brown worries that he was a little too heavy-handed on spice in his scotch bonnet and shrimp stew, but Onwuachi calls it “bold in all the best ways.”
“You let those ingredients sing,” he says.
Buddha Lo’s dish, however — a shrimp and guinea fowl with peanuts and fried plantains — was a showstopper, which judges noted successfully tied in their Nigerian roots, even inspiring Amosu to give Lo an endearing African nickname.
Elimination Round: Producers try to turn on the drama and suspense about the next elimination with flickering the lights on and off and a snippet from the Jurassic Park soundtrack. With that, Top Chef winner Joe Flamm appears in an interesting Indiana Jones-esque getup. In clear promotional efforts, Flamm and actors Bryce Dallas Howard and Chris Pratt, who tune in virtually, note that chefs will team up and channel the upcoming film Jurassic World Dominion by crafting three-course meals inspired by dinosaurs. The rather loose Houston tie here is that the judging, to include the film’s actress DeWanda Wise, will take place at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.
After drawing knives, judges are divided into groups: Those crafting the first course will focus on reflecting the essence of the Mosasaurus, a big-mouthed sea dinosaur that lived in the Atlantic. The second course is focused on Quetzalcoatlus, a flying dinosaur with remains discovered in Texas, and the third is on the Velociraptor, a land dinosaur that was reportedly native to China. Almost immediately, judge Tom Colicchio is expecting something dramatic and gory.
Most chefs, however, opt for milder interpretations. Thinking of his assigned sea creature who can down a Great Shark in one bite, Brown makes dukkah fried oysters with Fresno chow chow and oyster cream that Wise says feels like home. Brown’s teammate Ashleigh Shanti makes shito wings with a watermelon relish in homage to her flying dinosaur — a dish that many judges say was refreshing but lacked crispiness and spice. Kolpin’s braised short rib and broccoli with onions and seaweed broth had good flavor despite the beef being too tough.
The Biggest Oops
An indecisive Jae Jung, who is worrying her teammate Lo, is uncertain of what to make, which is clear from her dish. Jung makes a “lamb duo” with a spiced rack of lamb and lamb meatballs with pickled Napa cabbage, creating what judges say was a soggy, unfocused dish.
Once again, Houston represents. Judges say Garcia’s team, which used pecans as a consistent ingredient throughout their courses, had the most flavorful dishes. Wallace made an impressive crab croquette for the first course, and judges praise how the flavors came together in Garcia’s pork tenderloin, which was made with Swiss chard, an aerated sweet potato puree, pecan crumble, and black garlic sauce. As for Kalb’s graphic and gooey fudgy cacao cake, plated with sweet potato, pecan, and a raspberry “blood” velociraptor footprint, Onwuachi says its “the dish that we’ve all been waiting for.”
While Lo presents judges with another stunning dish — smoked alligator with potato, beets, and salmon roe with alligator cream — his teammates, including Jung, didn’t fare as well. Jo Chan, who makes an overcooked barbecue quail, attempts to channel a dish from the original Jurassic Park film, crafting glazed carrots that Lakshmi calls “sad.” In the end, Chan goes home, with the Austin chef admitting that she didn’t execute the dish properly.
- Lo has been impressing judges with artfully made dishes, that seemingly taste just as good.
- Judge Gail Simmons says Kalb’s gooey chocolate cake was like the best piece of the brownie in the pan. Yum.
- Onwuachi says Brown’s dinosaur-inspired dish had one of the best chow chows, or pickled relish, that he’s ever had.
In the next episode, chefs will take part in a Restaurant Wars challenge in which they’ll be required to serve a restaurant full of diners and judges. Some chefs lose their shit. Jo Chan will also try her luck at Top Chef’s Last Chance Kitchen.