Each week we’ve seen the number of cheftestants dwindle lower and lower, and just last week, five chefs remained. But in the eleventh hour — better known as Last Chance Kitchen — I witnessed one of the previously eliminated chefs, Sarah Welch, reenter the cutthroat competition, making it six chefs to compete for the title.
This week, the chefs hit the pavement for a trip to Galveston Island, where Judge Padma Lakshmi and Top Chef Portland finalist Shota Nakajima greeted them. The journey to Galveston was a dead giveaway in which seafood was involved, and the chefs were tasked with the quickfire challenge to create a seafood tower with a mix of hot and cold dishes.
The chefs dove into the challenge with 45 minutes on the clock, eager to beat the time. Chef Nick Wallace, who, at this point, has racked up thousands of dollars on the show, served a cold oyster with watermelon mignonette, and a hot orzo salad with grilled shrimp and mango chili vinaigrette. Ashleigh Shanti prepared cold gulf oysters with country ham and kanzuri barbecue sauce and included hot peel and jerk shrimp (no, really, Lakshmi said the dish was spicy.) Chef Evelyn Garcia went for a Viet-Cajun-inspired seafood tower, and cooked raw oysters with a fish sauce vinegar, chili oil, crispy shallots, and a cold Thai Cajun shrimp with chili butter and lime. All three seafood towers were favorites for the judges, and Garcia won this week’s quickfire, her first of the entire season (can you believe that?). The win granted her 30 minutes extra cooking time going into the elimination challenge.
The elimination challenge centered around family, and little did they know; it would be their own. Each chef had to make a family-style dish that catered to one of their family member’s tastes; it left the chefs wondering who the family member could be. While everyone rushed to cook, the chef’s family members entered. For a brief moment, the chaos of the kitchen stopped, and everyone embraced their loved ones. It marked an emotional moment for everyone, including myself. Think about it — the chefs haven’t seen their families in weeks.
Wallace prepared a seafood herb pasta with crab veloutté and smoked pork crumble in honor of his mother, while Garcia made a red snapper with sweet vinegar and sticky coconut rice for her dad. Lo made his wife’s favorite “marry me pasta,” and Shanti went for paella-inspired heirloom rice with red shrimp and calamari. Brown made an herb-crusted redfish for his mentor, while Welch created a tuna tataki for her sister.
Lakshmi told the chefs to prepare enough food for 20 people, but what the chefs didn’t know was the additional guests were themselves. For once, we got to see the chefs enjoy the food they cooked and spend some wholesome time with family.
The judges gathered at a separate table to taste each of the chef’s dishes — Lo, Brown, and Garcia had the top three plates of the evening. The judges unanimously decided that all three chefs executed their dishes perfectly. Chef Lo won the challenge, making it his second elimination win.
With only six chefs left, it’s much easier to identify who’s excelling in the competition. After applauding the top three, the judges brought Wallace, Welch, and Shanti to the stage to discuss the least favorite dishes of the night. Judge Tom said Wallace’s plate wasn’t cohesive, and Welch’s tuna and Shanti’s calamari were served raw. Unfortunately for Shanti, her undercooked squid sent her home this week, leaving five chefs remaining.
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