The final Boston-based challenges attempt to get the chefs outside of their comfort zones before the finale in Mexico.
We’re getting down to the final few cheftestants on Top Chef, which means it’s time for a finale process that somehow manages to take more AND fewer weeks than expected to just get to the final coking challenge. Since Melissa ended up going to the finale in Mexico last week and we’re still in Boston this week, it’s safe to say that we’re not quite done yet.
In the apartment, the chefs are reviewing their last challenge. George loved getting a chance to cook with his father, while Melissa feels really proud to have won a place in the final for her dish last week. It’s definitely a load of pressure off this week. The chefs are wondering if this will be another week with no Quickfire, or if there will be two challenges before they get to the final.
It’s time for the final Boston Quickfire! Padma is in the kitchen with Wylie Dufresne. Melissa seems a little intimidated at the prospect of cooking for him.
It’s a Beantown-themed challenge! I’m honestly surprised this wasn’t one of the first quickfires they did, given the range of beans available and how obvious some of the other challenges have been in terms of Boston connection. It’s a pretty simple challenge – the chefs have an hour and full pantry access to make a dish highlighting beans. The winner gets a trip to Napa from Terlato wines.
Gorge spends most of his interview and kitchen time focusing on how beans make you gassy. Gregory loves Asian influences1, which don’t do a whole lot with beans. Melissa sees this narrow focus as a weakness, and she’s got a point – you can’t win Top Chef just by making curries2. Mei knows Wylie loves eggs, and incorporates them into her dish, adding a layer of difficulty by also attempting a pinto bean foam.
Once the hour is up, here’s what everyone presents to Padma and Wylie:
- George – tomato base with chickpeas and pork
- Mei – black beans and corn with chipotle fritters with pinto bean foam
- Melissa – seared pork tenderloin with bacon butterbean puree
- Gregory – navy beans with sake, ham avocado, and carrot chips
Wylie seems disappointed with the overall output from the group. George’s dish didn’t really need the pork, Melissa didn’t really highlight the beans, and Gregory’s dish needed better texture. Only Mei’s dish really felt like it honored the beans they were supposed to use, and she’s brought technique to her final dish as well. For all this, she wins the quickfire, promising to get hammered on the Napa Valley trip.
It’s time for the final Boston challenge! I’d be a little sad about that if I didn’t feel like they underused my beloved city’s culinary scene and history. For the last challenge, the chefs have a challenge that’s simple but complex: make a dish that is innovative to you. The winner joins Melissa in the finale and gets 10k. Gregory wants to eat his way across Thailand3 and has his eyes on that prize. As everyone shops at Whole Foods (with one of the larger budgets I’ve seen this season – $1000), George is disappointed that in the one week he wants to get pork belly, the store is out. His plan to pair octopus with the belly needs sudden revision.
The next day, everyone is nervous/restless, except for Melissa, who seems calm knowing that she is already through to the finals. Hey, they’re cooking at Catalyst! I literally just walked by that place this week while on my way to another restaurant. It’s in the up-and-coming Kendall Square area of Cambridge, which is moving past just being tech companies and labs and starting to develop a culinary scene of its own. It’s about time they cook on my side of the Charles River.
Tom makes his rounds with Wylie to see how the chefs are doing. Gregory struggles to explain how he’s being innovative – his combining of salmon and a thai coconut/lime broth seems like an odd combination, but it doesn’t feel like he’s breaking any new ground for himself. George is going all out with his dish, presenting octopus multiple ways, including an octopus head fritter and a green apple based harissa. There’s concern he’s trying to do too much with his dish. Mei and Melissa are each doing duck and are helping each other up. Both dishes feel innovative for their respective chefs, which feels like a good omen.
Cook cook cook, chop chop chop, plate plate plate. Everyone’s time runs out and it’s time to present to the judges.
Greg: Pan-roasted salmon with tom kha broth with crispy chicken/salmon skin
The judges find this tasty and nicely cooked, but don’t see any innovation in the dish.
Melissa: seared duck breast with farro walnut miso and pickled cherries
The judges love the combo of farro, walnut, and miso.
George: charred octopus, yellow split pea puree, green apple harissa, bacon chip, pickled mustard seeds
The harissa/apple combo is praised, but multiple judges find their octopus bitter.
Mei: duck curry with vadovan and yuzu yogurt
The judges love Mei’s broth and find the way her dish changes flavor profile depending on how you eat it truly innovative.
With everyone’s dish presented, the judges argue whether Mei or Melissa should get the prize for their dish. Based on their reactions earlier in the meal, I’d give it to Mei, but the judges award the money to Melissa. Both are through to the finals in Mexico, with only a few more challenges standing between them and the title of Top Chef.