On the sixth episode of Top Chef: Houston, Austin-based chef Jo Chan started off strong in the cooking competition reality series, but she got lost in the shuffle after the elimination challenge.
Last week, a misguided attempt at a brisket dish landed Chan in the bottom for the second time in a row, but she narrowly escaped the chop, as chef Ashleigh Shanti was asked to pack her knives and leave the competition.
This week, the chefs were asked to create dishes inspired by the legacies of five trailblazing women from Texas.
Chan misses home
The episode begins with an emotional FaceTime between Chan and her fiancée back home, mixed with photos and video clips of the couple. During a confessional, Chan talks about how important it is to represent openly gay women on the show. The moment gives viewers another peek into her personal life, which we’ve been able to learn more about as she continues in the competition.
Then, the chefs walk into the main kitchen where judge Padma Lakshmi is joined by this week’s pair of quickfire judges: previous Top Chef contestant Nini Nguyen and winner of Top Chef: Kentucky chef Kelsey Barnard Clark. Before the challenge, the winner of Top Chef’s concurrently airing web series Last Chance Kitchen (where eliminated chefs compete to win a chance to return to the parent show) is announced. It is chef Ashleigh Shanti, who had been eliminated last week. After a brief congratulatory moment, the judges introduce the quickfire challenge.
The chefs serve sponcon Talenti realness
In an unapologetic product placement move, the chefs are asked to select either a sweet or salty ingredient and pair up with a chef who picked an opposite taste profile to create desserts inspired by gelato company Talenti’s new line of flavors. Chan chooses Marcona almonds, while her partner chef Evelyn Garcia has peaches. This marks the first collaboration between the two since they were at the bottom together in episode four.
After some slight difficulties with a finicky mold, Chan and Garcia complete their dish — a salted almond buñuelo with candied peaches and basil cream. The judges praise the dish for its simple presentation and complex flavors. Chan and Garcia make it to the top three, but the win ends up going to Shanti and chef Nick Wallace, who are awarded a cash prize and immunity from the elimination challenge.
Texas women get the Top Chef treatment
Next, Lakshmi presents the elimination challenge alongside Texas chef and former Top Chef contestant Tiffany Derry. The chefs will make a dish honoring one of five Texas women who have made history, including Governor Ann Richards, Tejana superstar Selena Quintanilla, U.S. Representative Barbara Jordan, pilot Bessie Coleman, and athlete Babe Didrikson Zaharias. The dishes will be presented at a tasting for a group of “trailblazing” Texan women who will vote on their favorite dish.
Chan, who selected Richards for the challenge, gives a confessional vaguely addressing “everything that’s happening in Texas,” dubbing this challenge an important one for highlighting women who’ve made this state great. Lakshmi announces the guest judge Christine Hà before setting the chefs off to do research on their inspirational women.
After discussing their choices in the kitchen, the competitors head out to do some grocery shopping. Interspersed are various chefs’ confessionals presenting fun facts about the women they chose and how they plan to represent those qualities in their dishes. Back in the chefs’ living space, they sit around talking about the powerful women in their lives.
Chan’s Ann Richards-inspired dish fails to impress
The following day, the chefs hit the kitchen at Brennan’s of Houston and begin creating their dishes. Chan decides to center her dish on a Texas ingredient Gulf shrimp, mentioning that Richards enjoyed Thai influences in her meals. It gets down to the wire, and the chefs add their finishing touches as the women (and Tom Colicchio) arrive for the tasting. Like the barbecue challenge, the chefs will present their dishes in pairs but will be judged on their individual dishes alone.
Chan is paired to present hers alongside chef Wallace, who also selected Richards. Chan’s dish is an interpretation of shrimp and grits, with Gulf shrimp tossed with a coconut-lime salsa verde with fresh corn polenta and a salad. Richards’s daughter, Cecile Richards, is at the dinner and mentions that the ingredients are all things that her mother loved, while other women noted some spice was missing in Chan’s dish. The tastings wrap up, and the women (and Colicchio) place their votes for their favorite dishes.
Chan receives zero feedback from judges
Back in the kitchen, the judges give their critiques. Ultimately, Garcia is the winner for her dish dedicated to Selena Quintanilla, marking her second win in a row. For the bottom, the judges call out chefs Monique Feybesse, Luke Kolpin, and Shanti (who had immunity from the quickfire challenge). After deliberation, the judges decide that Feybesse failed to rise to the occasion and she is asked to leave.
As Top Chef: Houston goes on, we’re continuing to learn a lot about Chan personally through the confessionals, but her place in the competition is still in flux as she hasn’t had a slam dunk since the second episode. Will next week be her chance to finally rise to the occasion? We’ll just have to wait and see.