We’re ten episodes into the season, and at this point, I can feel it – Chef Evelyn Garcia will soon be named the winner, so I hope. Garcia has only been up for elimination once, and week after week, she's shined – this challenge wasn't any different.
This past episode opened with the six remaining chefs at the Houston Farmer's Market. Judge Padma Lakshmi and two-time Top Chef alum Claudette Zepeda welcomed the contestants, introducing the Tex-Mex quickfire challenge: fajitas. (Houston factoid: legend has it that fajitas were popularized in Houston by Mama Ninfa Lorenzo.)
The chefs placed their twists on the Tex-Mex favorite — Chef Jae Jung and Buddha Lo made Korean-inspired fajita dishes, and Nick Wallace (aka "The Baker") made his tortillas from scratch. Garcia brought it to her Mexican-Salvadorian roots by making authentic fajitas with all the fixings: salsa, condiments, and peppers. A lot is a stake for this quickfire; there's $10,000 on the line, but for Garcia, the stakes are even higher — as she gathered all her ingredients, she laughs and says, “I have to make a good fajita platter, or my mom is going to yell at me.”
The 30-minute challenge placed immense pressure on the chefs — Ashleigh Shanti and Jung failed to finish their dishes for the judges. Nonetheless, chefs Wallace, Lo, and Garcia landed in the judge's top three, and Wallace maintained his title as the Mississippi Baker (for winning all that bread!)
Moving into the elimination challenge, Top Chef gave the nod to Space City with a NASA-themed challenge and required the chefs to think like scientists and create a space-friendly dish.
To get some inspiration, the chefs took a field trip to Space Center Houston and met Houston's very own Dr. Grace Douglas, the lead food scientist for the NASA Johnson Space Center. Before the challenge had begun, the chefs entered the Blast Off Theater to get a message from the week's guest judge Melissa Perry and flight engineers, who were actually in space.
In the Top Chef kitchen, contestants usually have an idea of what they will prepare — but everyone was frustrated with the stipulations of astronaut cuisine — nothing can have too many crumbs, and runny juices are a big no-no. Garcia mentioned that space food lacked a lot of flavor and texture – a challenging task for the chef. All chefs had to dig deep for the challenge: Lo made a coconut mousse with berry compote and tropical salsa, Garcia whipped up Guiso Rojo with pork, pumpkin seed rice, and escabeche, while Shanti went for marinated tuna and shrimp with a sweet potato slaw. Wallace's Southern foundation created a Mississippi gumbo with collard greens, butter beans, black-eyed peas, okra, and rice. Jung's space-themed take was bulgogi with gochujang barley Demarr Brown kept it simple with chicken gravy and rice with hot pickled peppers.
The challenge was stressful, but our Houston native landed in the top three once again, alongside Lo and Wallace. The judges complimented Garcia's savory dish, which "tasted like home," said Perry. While she landed in the top three, Lo snagged the challenge, and his dish will soon inspire a new meal served to the astronauts. Landing in the bottom three were Shanti, Brown, and Jung. Shanti admittedly told the judges that she held back in this challenge, what Lakshmi called a "meager dish." Jung's dish was overly mushy, and Brown was disappointed in himself for overcooking his rice, but Shanti and Brown narrowly escaped elimination, with Jung finding herself eliminated.
Only five chefs remain, and next week the chefs will hit Galveston to cook for a VIP family.
Watch Top Chef on Bravo every Thursday night.