Our hometown hero Chef Evelyn Garcia has been on a roll with her two-week winning streak, and I crossed my fingers that this week would make three.
In the Top Chef kitchen, the chefs were welcomed by Judge and Host Padma Lakshmi, along with Houston’s very own Chef Ope Amosu, the owner of ChòpnBlọk, and Top Chef All-Star, Kwame Onwuachi.
The spread of ingredients and guest judges gave away this week’s quickfire challenge: African cuisine. Houston is home to one of the largest Nigerian populations in the country, so it’s no surprise that the chefs were tasked with the challenge to make a dish with traditional African swallows – Iyan, Amala, and Eba. The chefs got a crash course in African fare and seasoning. Chef Amosu and Onwuachi had the chefs try traditional soups and stews, like Egusi, grounded melon seeds with beef, and, Efo Retro, a Nigerian spinach stew.
Each week, I’ve watched all chefs explain how their experiences have shaped their cooking, and this week was no different – Chef Nick Wallace’s Mississippi upbringing allowed him to approach the challenge in a southern way, having made a gumbo-like stew. Garcia cooked a tamarin and Chicken wing stew. Unfortunately, her flavors overpowered the dish, placing her among the judge’s least favorites in the quickfire. Chef Buddha Lo’s shrimp and guinea fowl with peanuts and fried plantains prevailed and granted him immunity going into the elimination challenge.
Naturally, we can’t go a week without an omen from Lakshmi, and this week she said to the chefs, “if you want to win, you have to dominate,” as the lights went out in the kitchen. When the lights turned on, Garcia blurted out, “Jurassic Park?” and walked in Top Chef Colorado winner Joe Flamm.
After a brief trailer for the upcoming Jurassic World Dominion film played, Lakshmi and Flamm explained that the dinosaurs would serve as inspiration for the elimination challenge. In the new movie, dinosaurs dominate the Earth by air, sea, and land, and the chefs are challenged to do the same, but instead, “to rule the kitchen.” Contestants received a message from actors Bryce Dallas Howard and Chris Pratt, assigning chefs a specific dinosaur whose diet would need to reflect in each of the chef’s dishes.
And, what better way to set the scene for a sci-fi-inspired dinner than eating it at the Houston Museum of Natural Science?
The chefs were then divided into groups of three and charged with creating a three-course meal that showcased inspiration from each of their dinos. Garcia is placed with Chef Jackson Kalb and Wallace, and she’s assigned the Quetzalcoatlus, an air dinosaur (which was coincidentally discovered right here in Texas.) The brown team’s three-course meal went in a southerly direction and consisted of a crab croquette with pepper puree, a pork tenderloin as the main entree, and a fudgy cacao cake finish. Garcia’s pork tenderloin was a hit with judges, given high praises across the board. Kalb’s bloody velociraptor-influenced dessert brought it home for the brown team, giving Chef Garcia a third win for the week.
Sadly, our fellow Texas representative, Chef Jo Chang, did not beat the elimination, leaving Garcia as the lone Texas delegate left in the competition. Next week though, the chefs will compete in restaurant wars at the newly opened Post Houston.
Watch Top Chef every Thursday night on Bravo.