Top Chef: Houston took to Galveston last week for a family-oriented challenge but it looks like they’re not quite done with the island just yet.
Judges skip the Quickfire round, and jump straight into the fun of the elimination. Before hopping on the “Island Girl” boat in Galveston, contestants are told that they are required to fish for their dish — meaning what they catch, they’ll then gut, clean and cook in two different ways. Let’s see how they fare.
Warning: Spoilers ahead. Here’s a recap of Top Chef: Houston Episode 12.
Elimination Round: The catch part, itself, is challenging. Chefs are on the water for at least an hour and a half before they move to a different spot in hopes of having better luck. Thankfully, reels begin to move.
Houston’s own Evelyn García makes the first catch — a small catfish that she isn’t thrilled about, but she later redeems herself with two hefty redfish.
Damarr Brown catches the second fish, a juicy redfish measuring over 37 inches, and the momentum on the sea builds, with each chef catching enough fish to successfully make a dish.
After supplementing their supply at Katie’s Seafood Market in Galveston and Whole Foods, the chefs head to Houston’s New American restaurant Bludorn to serve the chef-owner Aaron Bludorn, renowned chef Daniel Boulud, Top Chef: Chicago winner Stephanie Izard, and Top Chef: Portland finalist Dawn Burrell.
Nerves are high as time ticks. Welch burns her fish sauce, leaving only half of the amount that’s needed. In a frenzy, Wallace flops around his tortillas and forgets to put a vital binder in his fishcakes, and Garcia nearly slips on liquid spilled on the floor.
Buddha Lo, who readily welcomed the fishing challenge, cuts up his impressive 36-inch redfish catch, wraps it in seaweed, steams it and pairs it with a shrimp farce that makes Boulud groan in delight. He also makes an innovative fish and chips, using a flouder, a vadouvan sauce, and crispy potato gribiche as a garnish after a slight pivot. Though some judges say Lo’s fish is slightly dry, judge Tom Colicchio says Lo knocks it out of the park, making it one of the top dishes of the episode.
García makes caldo de pescado, a Mexican soup, with poached redfish and roasted vegetables with catfish to fortify the broth, but judges want more fish to match the bright flavor. Boulud also notes that García’s roasted redfish taco al pastor, paired with pineapple chili salsa, was a bit “too precious” for a taco, with not enough fish or garnish, and too thick of a tortilla. And Bludorn called García’s approach “incredibly safe.”
Though Sarah Welch is one of the last chefs to catch a fish, she turns it into a winning dish — smoking her redfish and covering it in pastrami spice and pairing it with carrot butter and Parisian gnocchi for a “pastrami sandwich” that blows judges away. Simmons says that Welch’s creation will be impressive no matter where she goes, and Boulud says Welch’s Gulf snapper “pseudo crudo,” which is made with silken tofu and kraut broth, is perfectly executed with a beautiful combination of warm and cold elements.
Close friends Nick Wallace and Brown sadly end up in the bottom two for creating dishes that just didn’t seem to come together in the way they had planned.
Brown makes a bland snapper crudo with marinated apples and radish and a coconut vinaigrette, plus a blackened redfish with marinated vegetables and herb salad using a vinagrette with ground up peanuts that judges say make things too grainy.
And while Simmons raves about the flavor, the crunch and seasoning in Wallace’s redfish tacos, other judges say the fish was dry, and that his fishcakes lost their shape and seemed incomplete. In the end, Wallace is sent home, but not without him expressing his immense gratitude for judges, the other chefs, and Brown.
Brown is crushed. “My big brother just left,” Brown says, in tears.
It’s about to get spicy, but sadly, not in Houston. The final four head to Tucson, Arizona — the first UNESCO City of Gastronomy designated in the United States. There, they’ll take on a challenge to make two dishes — one with cactus, and the other with chiltepin peppers.