Top Chef: Houston has tackled barbecue, biscuits, queso, Asian cuisine, Texas toast, and carb-loaded, football-inspired eats. Now, in what might be its most emotional episode yet, the competition pays homage to some of the Lone Star State’s most influential female trailblazers, including Houston’s Barbara Jordan, and the queen of Tejano music — Selena.
The excitement doesn’t stop there. One chef returns after dominating Top Chef: Last Chance Kitchen, a Texan earns more bragging rights, and there’s enough girl power packed into this one episode to leave you feeling inspired.
Grab some tissues. This one’s a tear-jerker. Warning: Spoilers ahead. Here’s a recap of Top Chef: Houston Episode 6.
Quickfire: The episode starts with an exciting twist. North Carolina chef Ashleigh Shanti returns after winning Top Chef: Last Chance Kitchen and comes in swinging.
Guest judges Nini Nguyen and Kelsey Barnard Clark of Top Chef: Kentucky require half the remaining eight chefs to choose a sweet ingredient and the other to choose salty before pairing up to create a sweet and salty dessert inspired by Talenti gelato and sorbetto pairings. The winning team gets $10,000, immunity, plus will inspire a new Talenti flavor.
Mississippi’s Nick Wallace realizes that his salty pick is less than stellar. “I got pork fucking rinds. Everybody don’t run away from me, shit!” he says, but soon pairs up with Shanti, who chose gingersnaps. The two roll with it, crafting a gingersnap bundt cake with lemon ice, salted molasses buttermilk, and brown butter pork rind mulberry crumble that judges immediately love.
The Texans — Evelyn García, who dominated last week’s barbecue challenge, and Austin’s homesick Jo Chan — plan for salted almond bunuelos with candied peaches and basil cream. Though the bunuelo, a Mexican fried dough, initially sticks to its metal mold, García and Chan pull through to create a judge favorite.
Luke Kolpin and Buddha Lo stay true to their miso and honey ingredients, crafting a miso cake crumble with miso-honey ice cream topped with miso-honey caramel with miso and honey leaves. Monique Feybesse and Damarr Brown team up again to create cornbread with corn ice cream, pumpkin seed, and parmesan crumble with pumpkin curd, while Jae Jung and Jackson Kalb combine their ingredients into a rosemary-poached Asian pear with pistachio cookie, pistachio cream, and salted creme fraiche.
In the end, Shanti and Wallace win, with judges noting that their dessert was like cereal or a tres leches.
Elimination Round: The pressure is on when host Padma Lakshmi announces that chefs will each be required to create a dish inspired by one Texas trailblazing woman, and then serve it at Brennan’s of Houston to modern-day inspirations, including: Lauren Anderson, former principal dancer of Houston ballet; Lori Choi, co-founder of I’ll Have What She’s Having, a women’s health advocacy and education group; Christine Ha, executive chef of Xin Chao and the Blind Goat; Cecile Richards, activist and daughter of Ann Richards; Suzette Quintanilla, Selena’s sister and drummer; and Sheryl Swoopes, WNBA All-Star, and three-time Olympic gold medalist.
Wallace and Chan choose Ann Richards, the second female Texas governor. Wallace crafts a red snapper with beet risotto, kale romesco, and cute potatoes shaped into mushrooms. Chan plays on Richards’ reported love of Thai fusion and channels that into Gulf shrimp tossed in a coconut-lime salsa verde with fresh corn polenta and salad. While Richards says her mother would have loved both dishes, Anderson says it’s too sweet, and not as spicy, saucy, or bold as Richards was.
Brown and García get Selena — and it’s clear García is elated, noting that she’s dressed as Selena for Halloween at least five years in a row. Taking inspiration from her favorite Selena song “Como La Flor,” which means “like a flower,” García finds inspiration for her beautifully plated snapper dish with Asian pear, avocado, orange zest, and aguachile with chipotle chile olive oil. Brown decides to make tortillas for the first time with a heartwarming green pozole with cabbage, radish, and cilantro. Selena’s sister Quintanilla loves both dishes — with Ha saying García has a well-balanced texture, temperature, and flavor. Quintanilla says Brown’s as a dish is perfect for family gatherings.
Jung melts into a puddle, eliciting tears from the room when she talks about how Leah Chase, an iconic Creole chef from New Orleans who launched the restaurant Dooky Chase, was one of her greatest mentors and the inspiration behind her seafood gumbo and okra kimchi. She and Shanti, who crafts too-tough candied pork with salt-and-vinegar potatoes with wilted lettuce and herb yogurt, fail to truly honor their assigned trailblazer Mildred “Babe” Didrikson Zaharias, who is widely considered one of the best female athletes of all time.
Jackson Kalb honors Houston heavy hitter Barbara Jordan, the first African American elected to the Texas House of Representatives, by using lots of chicken heart and guts in his creative dish of offal ragu with tagliolini pasta that Swoopes called incredible. Feybesse did her best to incorporate ingredients true to the late Jordan’s Houston hometown, opting for fried oysters with pickled okra and a pancetta bean broth, but many judges say it fell short. “It didn’t wow me, and Barbara Jordan was wow,” Anderson says.
Luke Kolpin and Buddha Lo take note that Bessie Coleman, the first Native American and African American woman licensed pilot, moved to Paris, France, to learn how to fly. As a nod to her Indigenous roots, Kolpin creates a cured salmon with an oyster emulsion and chicken fudge that judges say falls flat.
The Biggest Oops
Feybesse cutting oysters seems to be the judges’ least favorite decision of the night.
The Best Turnaround
With a little help from García, Damarr Brown adds more flour to his sticky tortillas and turns them into works of art to complement his pozole.
Judges cast their ballots for the winning dish, with Kalb, García, and Lo all highlighted for their creativity. In the end, though, Houston’s own García wins — making this her second Elimination Round win in a row. García is moved to tears, and Houston cheers.
Shanti seems disappointed and surprised that she’s in the bottom three, and Kolpin, who has been an inconsistent seasoner, is again criticized for his lack of salt. Judges ultimately eliminate Feybesse, with judge Tom Colicchio noting that her hesitation in this stage of the competition is not ideal.
- Lo chooses to take a risk with chicken breast and cooks up a “poulet en Bessie” with a Paris mash formed into a figure eight (to pay homage to Coleman’s tricks) along with a brown mustard sauce and a chicken mousse, plus a piece of popcorn, because if Bessie is flying, he says, you’re going to want to watch the show, he says.
- Whether or not organ meats are your thing, Kalb’s offal ragu sounds heavenly.
- Shanti and Wallace’s gingersnap bundt cake with pork rind sounds too intriguing not to try.
- When Ashleigh Shanti busts out in Top Chef-themed freestyle in her mirror. Okay!
- The heartwarming display of teamwork. Jackson helps García drizzle chile oil on her dish when she begins to worry that she doesn’t have time. García helps Brown assess his tortillas. Chan wipes Nick’s plate to make sure it looks perfect.
- Cecile Richards shares that her mother Ann Richards and Barbara Jordan sat on the floor to watch Sheryl Swoopes play basketball, showing how these trailblazers inspired each other.
The next episode has a Jurassic Park theme, with glimpses of chefs handling skinned alligator. Gator bites, anyone? Feybesse will also head to Last Chance Kitchen, where Detroit chef Sarah Welch is hanging in there. Who will return?