The Top Chef: Houston competition continues, and as expected, there’s another twist. After battling it out in Last Chance Kitchen for weeks, Detroit chef Sarah Welch returns after making a killer ricotta gnocchi — increasing what was five chefs to six again. And this week, the chefs are taking a vacation — well, sort of.
The show ventures off to Galveston. Though once a crucial port of entry for Texas immigrants and a premiere site of Mardi Gras celebrations, the show focuses instead on the Gulf Coast beach city’s reputation as a touristy, getaway site, with its beautiful vacation homes and plenty of VRBO shoutouts. The chefs are, once again, put to work.
Warning: Spoilers ahead. Here’s a recap of Top Chef: Houston Episode 11.
Quickfire round: Capitalizing off of all the wonderful seafood in Galveston, chefs are required to craft, a seafood tower with a hot and cold component for host Padma Lakshmi and Top Chef Portland alumnus Shota Nakajima — all the while sweltering in the hot sun on the beach.
Welch, who is already missing the many cushy, in-house amenities of Last Chance Kitchen, breaks her oyster knife while shucking, but still is able to create a OK dill pickled shrimp with togarashi and sesame that judges say needed a little more salt, and hot buttered oyster with breadcrumbs and peach relish that Lashmi said needed to be taken up a notch.
Buddha Lo creates an underwhelming cold jumbo shrimp and XO cocktail, and soft shell taco “yaki,” which Nakajima says was too creamy. Ashleigh Shanti pairs her oysters on the half shell with a country ham kanzuri barbecue sauce and peel-and-eat jerk shrimp that packs flavor. Nick Wallace learns late in the Quickfire challenge that there’s no tortilla press for his masa, and switches gears to instead accompany his grilled shrimp and mango chili vinaigrette with an orzo salad that judges praise. For his cold dish, he offers oysters on the half shell with a watermelon mignonette that Nakajima says is his favorite of the day.
Damarr Brown also does his rendition of raw oysters with peach and a tamarind vinaigrette and Thai chili, and a hot seared shrimp, with a shrimp and crab XO sauce that judges loved.
Houston’s Evelyn García wins the Quickfire challenge — her first of the season — with a Thai-Cajun spin, crafting oysters on the half shell with a fish sauce vinaigrette, chili oil, and crispy shallots, and a no-frills Thai-Cajun boil with Thai chili butter and roasted lime.
Elimination Round: Chefs recoup from the beach cookoff, and head off to a vacation home, where they prepare a family-style dish for a “VIP” group of family that’s having a reunion. Almost immediately after being given the flavor profiles for the family member they’re preparing for, chefs begin to suspect that it’s someone they know well.
Lo, for one, is the first to immediately realize his wife is on the VIP list, and decides to make pasta amatriciana — the first dish his wife made him that made him fall in love with her. Others begin crafting their family-style dish in their head, and just as they begin cooking in the VRBO vacation home, the chefs’ family and friends stop by for a surprise visit, making for a tearful reunion.
Then, it’s back to work, but six chefs cooking in a vacation home is no small feat. There are only four burners, an outdoor griddle, and a grill, but somehow, they make it work. Welch, at one point, is plating on a TV table, while Shanti plates in the living room.
Quickfire winner García almost immediately recognizes her father’s request for eggs, and Southeast Asian and Mexican cuisine, and uses the extra 30 minutes she’s given to fry up a crispy red snapper with sweet chili vinegar, sticky coconut rice and pickled chilis.
The flavor profile Wallace is provided seems all over the place — crab, pork, and chocolate? — and it leads him astray. He makes a confusing seafood herb pasta with crab velour and a smoked pork crumble that though had robust flavors, seemed disjointed, and overcooked, according to judges.
Knowing his aunt and mother could not come due to health issues, Damarr Brown assumes his mentor, friend and boss chef Eric Williams is his guest, and crafts a herb bread-crusted red fish with little neck clams, showstopping white beans with ‘nduja and pine nuts. Judges raved about the dish, calling it satisfying and comforting.
Welch channels her sister’s favorite dish creating a tuna tatami with crispy ramen noodles and peanut dressing, but judges said it needed a harder sear, a different cut, and more ambitious flavors — particularly considering she recently came back to the competition from Last Chance.
Though Lo’s past dishes haven fallen flat while trying to channel influences from his family, Lo impresses the judges with his “Marry Me Pasta,” with judge Gail Simmons calling it the most rustic dish he’s made this season with deeper flavors. Lo wins $10,000 from VRBO to rent a vacation home anywhere around the world, and already, he has his eyes on Rome.
Wallace, Welch, and Shanti had the least favorite dishes of the day. Shanti, who took notes from her mother’s profile, served a “paella-inspired” heirloom rice with red shrimp and undercooked calamari — her biggest mistake of all, according to judge Tom Collichio. She’s sent packing for the second time this season.
- Seeing the chefs reunite with their favorite people for the first time in weeks. I’m not crying, you’re crying.
- When Lakshmi announces that the chefs themselves are the “other guests,” and tells them to take off their aprons and join their friends and family for the meal they cooked.
In the next episode, Top Chef explores seafood again, taking chefs on a boat, and requiring them to cook what they catch.