Houston’s Season 19, Episode 7 Recap

Top Chef

Swallow the Competition

Season 19

Section 7

Editor’s assessment

3 stars

Photo: Well done

Although this season has been seriously lacking in the suspense department, and we have barely had as much as a single snarky comment between the chefs, there is no doubt that focusing on culture-specific challenges has been a pleasure to watch. For tonight’s Quickfire, Top Chef: California participant Kwame Onwuachi and Houston chef Ope Amosu are here in the Top Chef kitchen to introduce the participants to some Nigerian cuisine. The chefs get to try stews and swallows to get inspiration. For those of us who learn along with the chefs, a swallow is a soft starch meant to be pulled apart and dipped in the pot. There are three different swallows, made from either cassava, African yams or banana. The chefs draw knives to see which ones to make a meal with.

It’s really nice to see Kwame and Ope explain all the ingredients offered and give a quick overview of what to include in the dishes. Many chefs have been worked up in previous seasons when it comes to cooking, they are not very familiar with, but with every challenge this season that has been in this style, the chefs just take the inspiration and run with it. It’s never going to be perfect, but they’re all excited to give it a try, and I appreciate that.

Our nine remaining chefs present their meals, and Kwame seems impressed with everyone’s attempts at traditional Nigerian food. “Seeing you transform these ingredients and still put your spin on it was certainly inspiring,” he says, before announcing the weakest dishes in the challenge. After a back-to-back Quickfire victory, it’s a skirt to see Nick miss the goal on this one. Kwame and Ope just do not love his overly sweet interpretation. In a rare turn of events, Evelyn is also at the bottom this evening. Surprise, surprise: Buddha and Jackson are in the top three along with Damarr. These guys have all killed it, and even a first attempt at a new culture kitchen can’t stop their momentum. But there can only be one with immunity, and that honor goes to the Buddha again.

If there is one thing Top Chef love, it’s a small product placement. Last week we had the Talenti dessert challenge, and tonight the elimination challenge is in honor of Jurrasic World Dominion. We even have Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard introducing it (via video chat, of course). “Do something the chefs want Consume. “Thank you, Chris Pratt, for this insight! Top Chef: Colorado Winner Joe Flamm steps into the kitchen adorned with his best Sam Neill look, red bandana and all. The chefs work in teams to create a progressive meal with each of the three dishes inspired by a different dinosaur and the habitat they lived in. Jae, Jo and Buddha form the red team, and with Buddha’s immunity, it puts Jae and Jo in danger if the red team loses. The green team consists of Damarr, Luke and Ashleigh, leaving Nick, Jackson and Evelyn on the brown team. Evelyn and Jackson have been beasts this season and they have completely crushed the last couple of episodes, and although he has not been quite as successful in elimination challenges, Nick won the last two Quickfires. Easy money on the brown team that takes W on this.

Tonight’s elimination challenge is held in the beautiful Houston Museum of Natural Science, which takes the dinosaur theme to the extreme. In addition to Kwame, Joe and our judges, Jurassic World Dominion star DeWanda Wise parties tonight. Buddha, Damarr and Nick present their meals first. These three chefs were inspired by the dinosaur representing the ocean, the mosasaur. All three of these meals were hits with the judges table, especially Buddha’s smoked alligator soup and Demarr’s chowchow. But with such a beautiful start to the meal, as Padma describes it, there must be some missteps on the horizon.

The second round is far more shocking than the first. Inspired by the aerial dinosaur quetzalcoatlus, Jo presents a simple stuffed quail and carrot dish. She is already concerned about the simplicity, because you’d better cope with the execution with such a low-key meal. Evelyn has made a juicy-looking pork tenderloin, and Ashleigh drew inspiration from quetzalcoatlus’ wings and made a shito chicken wing. Of course, Evelyn stands out, and her right is the most well received. Once again, she balances everything on her plate perfectly and the judges praise her perfectly cooked pork. Unfortunately, Ashleigh and Jo do not have the same success. Ashleigh’s wing is soaked and “flabby”, while Jos’ right is just… boring. She tries to think through the flying dinosaur aspect by giving the judges a stuffed bird, but she overcooks the quail and runs out of the glaze before her carrots can soak up the flavor. No one is impressed.

In our last round of the evening, there is finally (!) Someone who goes all the way up to the theme. For his velociraptor meal, Jackson makes a fudgy spicy brownie. But even more impressive than the actual food, he decorates his dish to leave a “bloody” bird of prey footprint made from a raspberry sauce. He thinks it’s silly, and so do the judges – but in the best possible way. This is supposed to be a fun challenge inspired by a fun movie franchise, and it takes quite the end to see someone take it to this level. It is a graphic and beautiful plate that gets great praise. In addition, it is still a risk to be the only one making dessert, especially at this stage of the competition. In contrast to this simple but well-executed dessert is Jae’s lamb dish. Her plate has so much going on, and none of it appeals to Tom at all. Making lamb in two ways opened up the possibility of screwing up at least one, and in general, Jaes is quite unappetizing and poorly cooked. Luke makes a short rib that is not quite tender enough, but it looks like Jae is really taking his head off the heat from this round.

At Judges Table, it is clear that the brown team has won. The panel loved Nick, Evelyn and Jackson’s dishes, and there is no individual winner. That makes three in a row for Evelyn! Houston natives certainly make their city proud and represent the best of the best. But someone is still going home, and the considerations of who should send packing are really interesting tonight. I can not think of another time where we’ve seen a judge outright say, ‘I want X to go home,’ as we do tonight. The red team was the weakest team, and with the Buddha’s immunity (and great meal anyway), Jae and Jo are in trouble. The judges seem very divided in the decision, and Kwame pushes for Jo to leave, while Tom is tough on Jae. The two women are on opposite sides of the spectrum tonight, with Jo going too simple and Jae being too complicated. But both are extremely weak dishes that did not come close to the others. It’s fascinating to see Jo go home with Tom and Kwame hitting his head so explicitly. I do not disagree with the decision, but it is interesting to know that Tom does not have the ultimate word. Judges Table is probably a democracy!

Jo has been an amazing cook to watch this season and her closing speech is so gracious. She really struggled to elevate herself to Top Chef caliber cooking, but she reached ninth place and deserves to be proud of herself. As many of us do, Jo seems to be struggling a bit with her confidence, and I hope this experience revived her love of cooking. With Jo’s exit, we are down to eight, so you all know what that means: Next week there is finally a restaurant war! This is historically a very tense and stressful day too Top Chef participants, but will that be enough to shake up any drama among these very pleasant chefs? We’ll see.

Chef Ope Amosu’s delight when he saw Evelyn go to prove my running theory that everyone in Houston loves and respects her, and I love it! I love Evelyn too!

• If anyone can find out where I can buy Kwame’s extremely cool Quickfire shirt, let a girl know!

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