After last week’s intense elimination, sending Chef Sam Kang home, anxiety was at an all-time high this time around Episode 4 started with the sounds of a banjo and one of my favorite soul food chefs in H-Town, Chef Chris Williams of Lucille’s. The music, and Williams, told me that we’re in for some good ole down-home cooking.
And I was right.
Williams provides the cheftestants with some background on his grandmother, Lucille B. Smith, and her iconic recipes reaching historic figures like Lyndon B. Johnson and Martin Luther King Jr. Williams still uses those recipes, and this week’s quick-fire challenge required the cheftestants to make biscuits from scratch, paying homage to the chef's late grandmother. But what’s a Top Chef quick-fire challenge without a twist? Not only do the chefs have to make biscuits, but prepare an entire dish for the judges in only 45 minutes.
What I find so unique about this season is that among the elite kitchens all the chefs have once worked in, the complex simplicity of traditional Southern cooking seems foreign to most of them. Almost everyone, with the exception of chefs Damarr Brown, Nick Wallace and Evelyn García had never made a biscuit. García calmly worked through the pressure, creating a biscuit with poached egg in a chorizo country gravy and marinated tomatoes, which Williams called “wonderful.”
Judge and host Padma Lakshmi and Williams praised the top three biscuit dishes: Chef Brown (of course) wowed the judges with his dish, a drop biscuit with shirred egg, smoked bacon and hot honey. Chef Jackson Kalb of Los Angeles also received praise for his avant-garde biscuit dish, where he utilized ostrich sausage and fried cheese, and Garcia was applauded for her country Latin fusion for this week’s challenge. With room for only one winner, the judges selected Jackson’s dish, but it didn’t place Garcia, our hometown favorite, at a loss either — this week’s win didn’t grant immunity from the elimination challenge.
The chefs were then introduced to Michelin-starred Chef Wylie Dufresne, who ushered in the elimination challenge. This week’s elimination round was a team challenge, to which Jackson was able to pick his teammate first (so much for immunity). Padma and Wylie kept the chefs on their toes for this one — a line of cloches rolled out in front of the chefs and once they lifted them, they’re asked to taste the foreign dish. There’s a mix of opinions on what everyone is actually tasting because Wylie created two identical dishes with completely different tastes, or doppelgӓngers.
The chefs are tasked to do the same, and the pressure is daunting: This week marked the season's first double-elimination challenge, so whichever team loses, both chefs go home. Garcia partnered with the other Texas representative this season, Chef Jo Chan of Austin’s Eberly.
The duo was able to make two visually similar dishes; Chan, though anxious throughout the entire challenge, made a crispy pork belly laid atop a cauliflower puree with crispy garlic and a daikon relish with five-spice glaze. Garcia made a goat cheese cheesecake with a cardamom chocolate sauce, sesame crumble, apples and matcha. But from the judges’ deliberations, the two dishes weren’t the favorites this week. Padma said Garcia’s dish was too sweet, and judges Gail Simmons and Tom Colicchio agreed that Chan’s pork belly was leathery in texture, placing the two on the chopping block, next to Chefs Robert Hernandez and Sarah Welch for elimination.
Garcia tearfully shared that she was proud of what she had accomplished thus far and had zero regrets. Luckily, Garcia and Chan were barely scathed by elimination, which sent Hernandez and Welch home.
Next week though, we can expect to see our lone Houston chef in higher spirits as the chefs are faced with the barbecue challenge.