TV Recaps

Top Chef Episode 14: The Final Plate

Find out the winner of season 19.

By Shelby Stewart June 3, 2022

Chefs Evelyn García, Buddha Lo, and Sarah Welch stood before the judges. 

We've made it to the finale of Top Chef Houston. Hometown hero Evelyn García has remained in the running, and my stomach churned every second of this nail-biter. The twists and turns of the season were unprecedented, and for the decisive competition in Tucson, Arizona, we saw no difference. García, Sarah Welch, and Buddha Lo stood before the judges to learn about their last challenge. Luckily for them, the three were each able to enlist a previously eliminated chef to work as their sous chef in the finals. 

García chose the other Texas representative, Jo Chan, to work alongside her for the challenge; Welch chose Robert Hernandez, and Lo chose Jackson Kalb – the chef who had no sense of smell throughout the entire season. The final elimination tasked the chefs with creating the best progressive four-course meal of their lives – from their particular point of view. Each of different backgrounds, the chefs took unique approaches to their menus — Welch's as an ode to Tucson and her home state of Michigan, Lo’s as a dedication to his family, and García’s as an evolution of her cooking throughout the competition. 

García told Houstonia in an exclusive interview before the finale aired that she was proud of how far she had come. "I'm humbled by the whole experience; I think it was all at the right time. I think going into [Top Chef], you have to have a certain amount of confidence to just be able to put yourself on that platform," she explains. "But I think I I feel so much more confident now, and proud. And I think going into it knowing that, you know, I'm not only representing myself, but I'm representing my family and, you know, the Latina community. It was just – it was bigger than me."

In the kitchen, I'd begun to see the development of the courses. Lo started with a luxurious opener, hamachi with caviar, followed with a lobster laksa and Mongolian lamb, and finished with a pumpkin pie mille-feuille. García's first course was a scallop crudo, then a crystal dumpling with an aromatic broth for her second. Next, she had a goat curry mole, and she closed the four-course meal with a buñuelo with panna cotta, whipped cream, and basil. 

Though García is the hometown favorite, Welch had become the wild card in the competition. After being eliminated, she clawed her way back into the kitchen and redeemed herself in Last Chance Kitchen. Her hunter-gatherer-inspired menu started with a venison tartare with smoked butter, with a squash tortellini for her second course. For her third dish, she created a rabbit ballotine with grains, nuts, and a green salad, and she chose smoked buttermilk ice cream and acorn cake for dessert. 

In the kitchen, a high degree of complexity in each dish was achieved by all three chefs. The growth of each competitor from the beginning of the show until this crowning episode can't be overstated. At this point, all three of them deserve to hold the title of Top Chef. After the chefs finished prepping, the chefs met the judges for a change of pace — for the first time, the judges cooked a feast for the chefs, a “last supper” of sorts before the elimination. 

Chef Stephanie Izard, Judge Tom Colicchio, Judge Gail Simmons, Chef Gregory Gourdet, and Chef Edward Lee

The finale judges’ table was a group of heavy-hitters in the cooking arena, from the likes of Eric Ripert, owner of Le Bernardin in New York, and Top Chef Boston alum Gregory Gourdet. I could tell that the final decision wouldn't be an easy one. The chefs brought their A-game to the finale, and at first glance, there was no certainty on who would win – every single dish was visually appetizing and, according to the judges, had the flavors to match. 

At the judges’ table, a mix of praise and criticism was given for each chef's four courses. Judge Tom Colicchio said some of Lo's plating was "cleaned up too much." Welch's rabbit was undercooked and overcooked in some places, the judges agreed, and García missed an opportunity to blend her mole flavors with her goat dish. 

The flavors of Welch's acorn dessert came in for particular praise from the judges, and Judge Gail Simmons said Lo's pumpkin pie dessert changed how she looked at pumpkin pie. García's buñuelo was deemed delicious by all judges, especially Judge Edward Lee – he took it home with him. 

But alas, there can only be one winner. The brief pause before Judge Padma Lakshmi announced the winner was agony for a Houston-proud native like myself, and I had to hold my breath. In the end, Lo was named the new Top Chef. He may have won Top Chef Houston, but Houston’s Top Chef, after her epic performance this season, will forever remain Evelyn García. 

“Before I even went into the show, I was working on my first standalone restaurant, so that's definitely in the very near future," she recalls. "I know it's the end of the show, but it's really just the beginning. It really doesn't feel like, oh, ‘it's the end’ or ‘it's the last episode.’ I feel like there’s so much to look forward to and so many things that I've been working on that are coming into fruition. So if I thought I was busy before — just hold on.” 

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