This week, the competition rolls on as the six remaining Top Chef: Houston contestants head to Space Center Houston and create dishes that are out of this world for a space-themed challenge. While some chefs rose to great heights, others struggled to find their footing, leading to a somewhat shocking elimination in the end.
Warning: Spoilers ahead. Here’s a recap of Top Chef: Houston Episode 10.
Quickfire round: The chefs meet up at the Houston Farmers Market, which Houston chef Evelyn Garcia describes as a Mexican market. Dubbed-over Spanish guitar and camera zoom-ins on chile peppers, sarapes, and mangos set an obvious scene, as the chefs walk in to greet host Padma Lakshmi, who is joined by former Top Chef contestant Claudette Zepeda and a whole lot of Chipotle merch.
For the challenge, the chefs will be have 45 minutes to shop for ingredients and cook up their takes on Tex-Mex fajitas, with a Chipotle-sponsored prize of $10,000 for the winner. The usual panic ensues as everyone grabs what they need and heads to their stations, except for chef Ashleigh Shanti, who appears to struggle finding her ingredients.
After talking some playful smack to chef Nick Wallace, Garcia marinades her beef with papalo, garlic, lime, and jalapeno. Soon after, Shanti finally arrives to the station with 24 minutes left, and she talks about missing her girlfriend, whose burrito recipe influences her dish. Nearby, chef Jae Jung is charring pineapple and tofu with plans to create a Korean-inspired dish, and you can hear the meats sizzling as the chefs whip up their fajitas.
The six contestants present their dishes, and Lakshmi makes the tasting rounds with Zepeda. Chef Demarr Brown is critiqued for making his fajitas too thick and his salsa too sweet, while Shanti is called out for failing to fully plate her dish along with Jung, who also presented a half-finished dish. Wallace, Garcia, and chef Buddha Lo were all praised for bringing skill and flavor to the challenge, and ultimately, Wallace is announced the winner.
Elimination Round: Lakshmi brings out chef Marcus Samuelsson, and together, the two announce the NASA-themed elimination challenge, which’ll have the chefs thinking like food scientists to create dishes for astronauts on an imagined mission to Mars. This challenge has strict guidelines to avoid free-standing liquids and possible crumbs, because up there, everything floats.
Later, the chefs arrive at Space Center Houston and chat with the center’s president and CEO William Harris and astronauts Catherine “Cady” Coleman and Tony Antonelli with a backdrop of literal rockets surrounding them. Coleman, who lived on a space station for six months, emphasized the importance of food and eating during space travel. The chefs are then introduced to Dr. Grace Douglas, the lead food scientist at NASA Johnson Space Center, who gives them a breakdown of the basic of feeding astronauts on space missions. After, the chefs are taken to a theater where they have a Q&A with astronauts currently in space, who give a demonstration of what eating in space is like.
With all that in mind, the contestants hit up Whole Foods the following day to look for ingredients. Brown admits in a confessional that he’s having something of a mental block for this challenge, but he later decides go the comfort food route. Lo chooses to make a pavlova, a nod to his pastry sous chef wife Rebekah Pedler, and Shanti considers creating a reimagined tinned fish.
The chefs return to the Top Chef kitchen, which has been NASA-fied with space decor, mood lighting, and a giant model of a rover. As they get cooking, Jung appears to struggle with the restrictions of zero gravity, Wallace is shown whipping up a gumbo, Garcia is adding texture to her rice, and Brown is pacing his station with a puzzled look. The judges arrive and the timer beeps before the chefs present their dishes.
First up is Garcia’s guiso rojo with pork, toasted pumpkin seeds, and escabeche, which is presented alongside Lo’s pavlova coconut mousse with berry compote and tropical salsa; both receive high praise for presentation and range of flavor. Next, Shanti presents her marinated tuna and shrimp with sweet potato slaw, the latter of which is sealed in a plastic and served with a set of sheers. She receives some positive feedback for her presentation but is criticized for a lack of flavor. Wallace brings his Mississippi gumbo to the judges, who unanimously love it.
Jung and Brown are up last, and both appear to lack confidence in their dishes. According to the judges, Jung’s bulgogi turned out mushy and her gochujang barley is undercooked, while Brown’s chicken gravy with rice and hot pickled peppers severely lacked in creativity.
Garcia, Wallace, and Lo found themselves in the top once again, with Lo being named the winner for his creative, interactive dessert, which played to his strengths and showed technique without being gimmicky.
Unsurprisingly, Shanti, Jung, and Brown landed in the in the bottom, each receiving extremely poor critiques. After deliberation, the judges announce the loser, and Jung, last week’s challenge winner, is asked to pack her knives and go home.
The preview for next week shows the chefs traveling to Galveston to create dishes for an unnamed VIP family, which is just vague enough to sound interesting. We’ll find out who the mystery family is on Episode 11 of Top Chef: Houston.