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The ‘Top Chef: Houston’ Barbecue Challenge Puts the Heat on Austin Chef Jo Chan

After a tough episode last week, Chan faces a new challenge with brisket

Jo Chan wearing black gloves to unpackage an uncooked hunk of brisket.
Chef Jo Chan preparing a brisket on Top Chef: Houston.
David Moir/Bravo

During the fifth episode of Top Chef: Houston with a whole barbecue theme, Austin chef Jo Chan took a risk that doesn’t pay off.

Chan had a rough go on last week’s episode where the competing chefs were asked to pair up for the elimination challenge, which required each team to create two dishes that look identical but had completely different flavor profiles. During deliberations, Chan and her partner, Houston chef Evelyn Garcia, landed at the bottom but were both safe in the end.

And during last night’s episode, the chefs tried their hands at Texas barbecue, giving their takes on the classic Southern staple.

A Texas barbecue challenge

The episode picks up right where the previous one ended, as the remaining competitors unwind backstage after the double elimination. Just as Chan and Garcia are chatting about their close call, Padma Lakshmi enters the room and informs the chefs that they’ll be meeting with judge/chef Brooke Williamson on location the following day. After Lakshmi leaves, Chan jokes, “From now on, someone has to be on watch out for the door.”

The next day, the chefs discuss what lies ahead as they carpool to meet Williamson. Chan comments that because they were given a heads up, they are likely in for something more challenging than a quickfire challenge. They arrive at J-Bar-M Barbecue and Williamson announces that the chefs will take on a barbecue challenge this week. Since the competition is based in Houston this season, Williamson states that this challenge will center on a Texas barbecue classic: the brisket.

The chefs are tasked to create a unique dish that highlights the flavors of smoked brisket while putting their own twists on it. They’ll have 30 minutes to select a brisket, trim it, rub it, and get it on the smoker before heading to Whole Foods to grab the rest of their ingredients. The pressure is on as Williamson lets the chefs know that their guest judges will include pitmaster Greg Gatlin of Gatlin’s BBQ as well as 20 of Houston’s best pitmasters.

Brisket rubs and Texas toast

The chefs rush to grab their briskets, and soon after, Chan is shown selecting the spices for her rub as she describes the smoking process during a confessional, noting that a good brisket has flavor all the way through to its center and if it doesn’t, you won’t find out until 12 hours later. As Chan is shown trimming her brisket, she states that her rub will have a blend of paprika and harissa.

After a shopping trip, the chefs arrive back at J-Bar-M to see Williamson joined by judge and chef Tom Colicchio. The two announce a surprise quickfire challenge in which the chefs will create their own version of Texas toast. The winner will receive immunity and $10,000, raising the stakes for the competitors.

Two chefs in white tops and dark aprons.
Jo Chan with Buddah Lo.
David Moir/Bravo

Chan decides to use both lion’s mane and maitake mushrooms for her toast, and in a confessional, she mentions how money could help her and her fiancé with their wedding costs. The chefs wrap up and begin presenting their Texas toasts, some of which don’t look very Texan or toast-like. When it’s Chan’s turn, her dish, a mushroom and arugula toast with espelette peppers and paprika, receives praise for its flavor, but in the end, chef Nick Wallace wins the challenge.

Chan’s brisket underwhelms the judges

The chefs return to the kitchen after the quickfire challenge and continue preparations on their brisket dishes. Chan gives a confessional discussing the dishes she’s made throughout the competition so far, which have been primarily Asian cuisine. In this particular one, she decides to delve into her past experience in a Californian Italian restaurant and begins making pasta, which she says is her favorite prep task.

The next day, the chefs enter J-Bar-M and begin carving their briskets. After a taste test, Chan is incredibly pleased with how her brisket came out, but begins to worry about how she’ll highlight it within the context of a dish. As the chefs are transforming their briskets and wrapping up their dishes, the dining room fills with pitmasters and the judges, awaiting to be served.

Though this was an individual challenge, the chefs present their dishes in pairs. When it comes time for Chan to bring up her dish, she presents alongside chef Buddha Lo, who receives praise for his brisket take on beef bourguignon. Unfortunately, Chan’s brisket pappardelle with harissa cabbage and corn received universal criticism, with Colicchio calls whelming.

Another close call

When it comes to judging, the top three include Lo, Garcia, and chef Jackson Kalb, with the win going to Garcia, who is over the moon upon hearing her name. On the flip side, Chan was selected as one of the bottom three, along with chefs Monique Feybesse and Ashleigh Shanti. When it’s Chan’s turn to face the judges, she eloquently describes how she wanted to make pasta since they were allotted more time on this challenge, but it didn’t serve to highlight the brisket.

Ultimately, it was Shanti who was asked to pack her knives, giving Chan another opportunity to show her skills in the competition. After two back-to-back episodes of struggle, can Chan pull it together and shine as she did in earlier episodes? We’ll have to wait untill next week to find out.


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