This week on Top Chef: Houston, things get closer to home for Austin chef Jo Chan, whose Filipino upbringing comes into play during the elimination challenge.
In last week’s episode, while neither team scored enough points to earn immunity, Chan (who is also the chef of Eberly) had a strong run, impressing the judges in the elimination challenge and securing her place in the competition with a barley congee, after punching it up with some last-minute black garlic.
For this week’s challenge, Chan and the other chefs were tasked with participating in an Asian night market, a nod to Houston’s abundant Asian food scene.
Asian cuisines take center stage
The Top Chef hopefuls walk onto set and see a group of 10 Houston chefs working in the kitchen, while Padma Lakshmi stands with this week’s guest judge Hung Huynh, who won Top Chef Miami back in 2007. The two explain that the local chefs are crafting Vietnamese, Indian, Chinese, Filipino, and Japanese dishes intended to inspire the competitors for the elimination challenge.
For the elimination challenge, each contestant will create a street food dish in the style of one of the five represented cuisines at an Asian night market. The competing chefs have to shop at an Asian specialty market for supplies and have one hour to cook at food hall Post Houston before service begins.
Luck of the draw for Chan, or is it?
When it comes time to draw knives, Jo Chan — who described herself as ethnically Chinese and culturally Filipino in last week’s episode — gets Filipino food, which Lakshmi notes as advantageous. After the host and Huynh finish laying out the rules, the chefs get to sample the cuisines that they were assigned.
During this tasting, Chan meets with Andrew Musico of the Fattest Cow, who made a bagna cauda with snapper and bagoong, which reminds Chan of her visits to Manila. In a confessional, the Austin chef admits to feeling both excited and nervous about tackling Filipino cuisine, as the expectations tend to be high for Top Chef contestants who cook the foods that they know in challenges.
Chan touches on the significance of Filipino food in her life, makes friends
In a car ride on the way to compete, that simultaneously serves as an ad for BMW, Chan discusses the challenge with chef Robert Hernandez, who was assigned the same cuisine. Chan talks about how she worked for Filipino chefs in the past, but she’s never been tasked to cook Filipino on a job, noting that there’s a shyness about cooking the Asian cuisine as it's not always deemed as fine-dining.
“As an adult, I’ve started to really embrace my childhood and the foods of that time,” Chan later says in a confessional interspersed with scenes of her shopping with Hernandez at an Asian food mart. “It was really tough, as a kid, to do that.” She goes on to say that growing up with her mother who made a lot of Filipino food might have scared some friends away in her younger years.
Today, Chan no longer has a problem making friends, as the chef is shown before the challenge lightheartedly discussing the day ahead with chefs Ashleigh Shanti and Evelyn Garcia. In a confessional, Chan says that she’s bonded with her fellow competitors, relating to their senses of humor in the face of stressful situations. As the chefs prepare for the night market, she hearkens back to this friendly moment, playfully lamenting to Garcia, “Evelyn, why did I do skewers?”
Chan gets mixed reviews
Night falls, the diners arrive, and the night market is underway. As the judges make their rounds, there are the usual highs and lows of Top Chef challenges, with some standout dishes like Garcia’s chilled chicken salad and chef Jae Jung’s udon noodle dish.
When the panel gets to Chan’s dish, a chicken tocino skewer with banana ketchup and chili sugarcane sawsawan, there was a question of blandness of the chicken, with some praise for the dish’s condiments. Lakshmi fulfilled Chan’s earlier prophecy by wishing Chan had pushed herself further since she knows Filipino cuisine very well.
During the deliberations, the judges praised the overall performance, giving the win to Jung, who won a $10,000 cash prize. While the critiques for Chan’s dish were so-so, she was not called up for the bottom three this week, escaping further scrutiny, unlike chef Sam Kang who was asked to pack his knives and leave the competition.
In the preview for episode four, things are looking shaky for Chan, who is shown panicking as Lakshmi hints at a double elimination. We’ll find out how it all plays out next week.