TOP CHEF: BOSTON has gone to its final resting place, San Miguel de Allende in Mexico which attracts artists from around the world. LAST CHANCE KITCHEN staged its final challenge in the town prior to the arrival of Gregory, Melissa and Mei.
The three chefs who survived the time in Boston were surprised to be led to the LCK finale between Doug and George within moments of arriving. Tom Colicchio declared the contest very close, something that occurs often but when forced to decide he chose Doug.
Dougie was determined to return to the competition, as all eliminated chefs are but his point was well taken. He had been steadily progressing and at or near the top of his more recent challenges. He messed up once, when he went big and got sent packing for his undercooked foie gras presented to Chef Jacques Pepin, was applauded for its audacity, but dinged for its result.
Doug joined the final four and got ready to spend quality time in this art colony surrounded by the hills of central Mexico.
Why is this important? Because in part 1 of the Season 12 edition of TOP CHEF, local artists played a large part in the Elimination Challenge.
Guest chef/judge of the night was Enrique Olvera who led the chefs through the Quickfire Challenge. The winner would receive, in the words of Padma Lakshmi, an advantage in the Elimination Challenge facing them.
It was all about the prickly pears, particularly the local variety with xoconostle. Its strong flavor had to be balanced by something and three Cheftestants ran for meat or fish protein, while Doug went vegetarian because of the emphasis on veggies in Mexican cuisine.
- Doug presented Xoconostle and Tomatillo Stew With Roasted Peppers and Pepitas.
- Gregory chose Garlic Shrimp With Olive Oil, Prickly Pear Sauce and Xoconostle Relish
- Mei prepared Ribeye Tataki With Xoconostle Salsa and Nopales Salsa Verde
- Melissa presented Salmon Ceviche with Xoconostle, Leche De Tigre and Prickly Pear Salad
Chef Olvera and Doug mind-melded because he repeated the case for vegetables to the Cheftestants as he judged the dishes. that back Doug was rewarded with the win. It wasn’t as much of a risk at it seemed to the others, but of course, it had to be exacted to perfection. It was.
Off to the TOP CHEF finale Elimination Challenge we went, with the chefs paired with local artists who agreed to create a new piece of art that would be on display as 150 people came to sample the dishes to be prepared.
The challenge was to create a dish that reflected the artist’s style and color palette, and have it be identifiable when set in front of the artwork. The finalists were paired well with people whose sensibilities meshed well with them.
The only finalist who worried a bit about producing such a dish was Melissa, whose artist loved nothing more than spontaneity. He could not nail down specifics for her and it forced her to improvise, hoping she nailed some of the elements.
- Melissa prepared Smoked Eggplant Ravioli With Shrimp, Chorizo and Cotija, inspired by artist Leonardo Díaz
- Mei presented Snapper and Bass Crudo With Chicken Skin Crumble, Soy Gastrique and Radish Pickles inspired by artist Béa Aaronson
- Gregory’s dish was Grilled Strip Loin With Ancho Chile, Beets, Cilantro Purée and Valencia Orange Sauce inspired by artist Artemio Sepúlveda
- Doug prepared Brisket Texas Red With Tomatilla and Masa Cake inspired by artist Merry Calderoni
Doug freaked out a bit prior to the judging, thinking he was nuts to present Tom Colicchio with Texas Red, something he grew up loving. He should not have worried. Not only did Tom love it, so did everyone else. He captured the look of the artist’s work, not just its essence and cooked from the Texas roots he had not buried despite cooking in Portland.
Doug took the win.
Melissa and Mei landed in the bottom two, but Melissa’s dish was off just a smidge more than Mei’s. After acing the final round in Boston, she never expected to go this quickly.
Melissa was eliminated.
While the artist pairing was a novel concept, it wasn’t just a gag. Tom noted that it opened up the chefs’ minds to find inspiration other than in the usual places. Even plating came into the equation, with Mei noting her strict standards might have been opened up a bit to fit the free-form nature of her artist.
Next week will crown the latest Top Chef as Bravo just announced the show’s renewal for a thirteenth season. There’s no mention of the location but if you’re interested in being considered for the cast, here’s the link to Bravo’s website for more info.
Bravo will air the TOP CHEF: BOSTON finale next Wednesday night at 9 p.m. ET/PT Image credit: Bravo TV, used with permission.