TV Recaps

Top Chef Season 19 Episode 1 Recap: Primal Instincts

Padma Lakshmi and Chef Dawn Burrell welcomed 15 “cheftestants” to the Bayou City.

By Shelby Stewart March 4, 2022


Season 19 "cheftestants" for Bravo's Top Chef: Jo Chan, Jackson Kalb, Robert Hernandez, Sarah Welch, Buddha Lo, Ashleigh Shanti, Evelyn García, Sam Kang.

Season 19 of Top Chef is here, and one Houston chef is competing for the ultimate prize ($250,000) right here in H-Town. We’re keeping our eyes on Evelyn García, the chef-owner of Kin HTX. (See our Season 19 sneak peek to find out what’s to come.)

The new season premiered Thursday night. 

Dawn Burrell also appears as a guest judge, welcoming the contestants alongside Padma Lakshmi, judge, and host. 

A few chefs with heavyweight resumes caught my eye: Luke Koplin of the three Michelin-starred, world-renowned restaurant Noma in Copenhagen, Denmark; Buddha Lo, executive chef at Huso, the Michelin plate restaurant inside Marky's Caviar, and Damarr Brown, the ostensible underdog of the season. Brown serves at chef de cuisine at Virtue in Chicago and while he’s no Michelin-star chef, he says he’s on Top Chef not only to win but to prove that his “collard greens deserve to be in the same room as someone else’s cassoulet.”

Before the 15 chefs were able to introduce themselves (and their accolades), they were assigned teams for their first Quickfire Challenge. Each group was tasked with cooking a dish without speaking to their teammates, and each team member was only allotted 10 minutes to contribute to the meal. 

Meet Chef Evelyn García, in the middle, the lone Houstonian on this season of Bravo's Top Chef. 

García was grouped with Damarr Brown and Jackson, Miss., native Nick Wallace of Nick Wallace Culinary. The dish that was ultimately served was a seared New York strip with creamed corn and charred brussels sprouts. The dish was visually appetizing, yet it didn’t blow the judges away as much as Lo’s team’s Thai barbecued beef with salsa verde topped with charred scallions and fish sauce butter, earning his team the first win of the season, plus immunity and an advantage in the next elimination challenge.  

The first elimination challenge wasted no time getting to the meat of the show. The chefs worked with teams from the Quickfire Challenge and were tasked with cooking three cohesive dishes, all utilizing beef. Each team was able to select different cuts, from ribs, chuck, loin, sirloin and round. The chefs cooked their three-course meals inside The Annie Cafe & Bar in Uptown, working under the pressure of a 2-hour window. 

García’s team selected the sirloin. Damarr decided to make roasted sirloin with sunchokes, herbs, and mushrooms; Evelyn took on the second course with grilled tri-tip with charred eggplant salad and chili jam, and Nick ended the meal with braised beef with sweet potato dumplings. 

Top Chef invited several big-name chefs and restaurateurs to taste each group’s beef plates, including Top Chef Seattle winner Kristen Kish; Robert Del Grande, executive chef and partner at The Annie, and Chris Shepherd of Underbelly Hospitality.  

“I loved the eggplant in Evelyn’s dish,” Padma tells the judges. “It was so flavorful.” 

While the judges found Evelyn’s meal to be tasty, coupled with her teammate’s efforts, it wasn’t enough to pull them into the winning spot.

But this is still only the beginning for our lone Houston chef. Looking ahead though, we’ll see her Houston advantage shine through as the preview for next week’s episode shows García praying to the brisket gods.

In the meantime, we’re eagerly awaiting next week’s episode. 

Watch Top Chef on Bravo on Thursdays at 7 p.m. CT. More information here.


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