Restaurant Wars was a high-stress situation for all the chefs last episode, and this week, the chefs were still recovering. Episode 9 opened with the chefs talking to each other after Restaurant Wars, reflecting on how small the competition was, especially as the challenges have gradually gotten harder. Houston Chef Evelyn Garcia stated, "You soak in your win," speaking to Chef Ashleigh Shanti. "I soak in that I'm still here."
Judge Padma Lakshmi and Top Chef Texas alum Nyesha Arrington welcomed the seven remaining chefs. Arrington is known for her vegan cuisine, which was the focus of the quick-fire challenge: Each chef had to make a monochromatic dish with vegetarian ingredients. The chefs drew knives to pick what color food they'd cook with, and Garcia got the short end of the stick and chose black (which made me question how exactly she would pull that off?). Not to mention this week marked the final immunity of the season.
It's no shocker that each chef put their best creations together in only 30 minutes, and everyone's meat-free dishes looked tasty. Chef Demarr Brown drew green and made a harissa glazed broccoli with chermoula and avocado puree. Chef Jae Jung got red and whipped up strawberry gochujang glazed beets with walnut puree. With black, Garcia rose to the occasion, making a charred eggplant and black bean soup with dill yogurt and black radish crumble. However, Brown won the challenge, which granted him immunity from elimination.
The chefs didn't dwell on the quick-fire challenge long because our hometown favorite, Chef Dawn Burrell, entered the Top Chef kitchen to introduce the elimination challenge. The chefs had to create a dish that "spoke to their soul" and serve it at a fundraiser in Freedmen's Town in Fourth Ward.
As guests entered Bethel Church to taste the chef's dishes, I picked up cameos from Mayor Sylvester Turner, Insecure star Kendrick Sampson, and Lucille's Executive Chef Chris Williams, so I knew the pressure was on.
To create a tremendous feel-good dish, many of the chefs pulled from their childhood experiences of comfort food — Garcia cooked a beet sope with chorizo, chopped pineapple, and salsa verde, which incorporated her mother and grandmother. At the same time, Chef Buddha Lo made Nasi Lemak, where he utilized his grandma's curry recipe and marked the last meal he ate with his father before he passed away. Chef Nick Wallace took a more traditional soul food approach, where he cooked his nana's salmon cake with remoulade and Hoppin' John salad, and Jung made her mother's flaked codfish with Korean sweet potatoes kimchi and shrimp bisque.
Tom Colicchio praised Brown for his collard greens at the judges' table, and Lakshmi applauded Shanti for her gravy. Garcia received rave reviews across the board for her beet sope, and she got emotional explaining the meaning behind the dish, as it honored her late grandmother, who passed away last year.
Although Garcia's emotional connection showed promise, Jung's flaked cod won the judges over this week. Chef Luke Koplin went home due to his underwhelming meatloaf, and now we're left with six chefs.
Next week, the heat gets turned up a notch, and the chefs will cook a meal for astronauts.
Watch Top Chef every Thursday night on Bravo.