Top Chef Boston: Holy Escamole!

(Photo by: David Moir/Bravo)

Top Chef Boston brings some local flavor and cuts the final three cheftestants down to two.

If there’s one thing I don’t like about these later seasons of Top Chef, it’s that they take for-freaking-ever to name the winner of the series.  One final matchup between 2 or 3 chefs has not turned into multi-episode sagas with all sorts of bringing people back, eliminating them, Last Chance Kitchen, etc., etc.  After a while, it gets exhausting and you get to a point where you just want them to crown a chef already and be done with it.  I’m hitting that point1, and the way this season really squandered what I thought was a great opportunity to showcase the rich diversity of the Boston food scene by shooting everywhere but Boston isn’t helping.  If not for the fact that the end is clearly in sight2, I would be throwing in the towel this week.

Back in the Top Chef villa, Mei is disappointed that she was in the bottom for her dish, but she’s also disappointed that she and Melissa couldn’t be 1-2 in the final over all the boys.  Doug is on a hot streak after winning 3 challenges in a row in Mexico, but there are still 2 more challenges3 before the finale.  The atmosphere is tense, to say the least, but the chefs get away from beautiful WhereverThey’reStaying to go visit an organic farm in Jalpa.

Quickfire

Padma opens this week’s Quickfire by mentioning it’s the last one of the season4.  The chefs will be cooking with a Mexican staple – chocolate!  Mexican chocolate is its own wonderful thing that has a grainier texture if it’s been milled in the traditional way – check out Taza for an American-produced fair-trade brand of the stuff5.  The chefs must use the variety of chocolate-based products to make two dishes – one savory, one sweet – and must procure all veggies/herbs from the farm they’re staying at.  The winner of the Quickfire gets first choice of sous chef in the Elimination challenge.

After running around and picking up what they need, the chefs grab proteins and chocolate from a set area and get to work.  Gregory feels extra confident about this challenge; Doug isn’t big on desserts and struggles to figure out a sweet dish.

After 45 minutes of running around and cooking with chocolate, here’s what gets presented to Padma and the owner of the farm:

  • Mei – duck with bitter greens and chocolate mexcal // chocolate yogurt with cocoa nibs and nasturtium
  • Doug – seared hen with onions, tomatoes, chocolate, and ancho chile // chocolate with chocolate mezcal and white chocolate
  • Gregory – seared lamb with white chocolate ancho sauce // baby carrots with turmeric, dark chocolate, ginger

Doug felt like he hit a wall with this challenge, particularly the dessert, and the judges agreed (although they liked his savory dish).  Both of Mei’s dishes were well received, but Gregory’s hubris isn’t misplaced and he snags first choice of sous chef.

Elimination Challenge

We’re now down to the last elimination challenge before the final showdown.  Dinner service is up to all the of the chefs, who must create a 6-course menu that highlights 6 specific Mexican ingredients that the chefs will learn about later.  They all get 1 sous chef to help them execute their menu in 2 hours.  Gregory has first pick and selects George.  Mei chooses Melissa, and Doug selects Katsuji, who helped him win last week’s challenges.

When the chefs get back to the villa, the 6 Mexican ingredients are waiting for them.  The chefs will be working with guava, avocado, huitlacoche 6, escamole (which are ant eggs), poblano peppers, and Mexican cheese.  Gregory immediately claims guava and poblano and Mei grabs avocado and huitlacoche, leaving Doug with the cheese and ant eggs.  He’s not happy, but Katsuji notes he should have spoken up sooner than he did.  Everyone works out their shopping lists and heads for the market.  Here’s where Dug has a huge advantage – Katsuji is able to find a vendor for escamole right away.  Everyone else gets done with their shopping and plans for the next day’s challenge.

In the kitchen, the chefs choose the order of courses and set to work on their individual dishes.  After two hours, it’s time to go and the courses are as follows:

  • 1st course (Gregory): chilled guava soup with bay scallops, fresh guava, mint
  • 2nd course (Mei): guacamole with xoconostle, radish, fresh chips
  • 3rd course (Doug): tortilla espana with escamoles and escamole aioli
  • 4th course (Mei): huitlacoche agnolotti with egg and parsley
  • 5th course (Gregory): pork and poblano stew with tomatillos
  • last course (Doug): smoked queso fresco with spiced honey, tomatillo

Every dish impresses the judges, with the exception of Mei’s guacamole, which gets points for presentation but is otherwise bland.  Doug’s escamole tortilla also gets dinged for losing the natural flavor of the star ingredient.  One Mexican judge notes that one remaining chef is super-technical (Mei), one is many-flavored7 (Gregory), and one has a blend of technical and improvisational skills (Doug).  The chefs wait out the discussions in the stew room.

Judges’ Table

The judges agree that all the chefs embraced their unusual ingredients.  Padma loved both of Gregory’s dishes, and all the judges agree that he is through to the finals.  The final decision comes down to Mei vs. Doug.  Mei’s guacamole was beautiful, but uninspired, flavor-wise; there were so many other things she could have done to highlight the avocado.  Doug’s escamole dish lost the flavor they were looking for.  Doug’s cheese course comes highly praised, but there’s discussion within the judges about if it beats Mei’s agnolotti.  After much discussion, Doug is asked to pack his knives.  He’s disappointed, but stands by his dishes.

Next week: The final finale?  If not, hopefully the final part of the pre-finale portion of Top Chef.

  1. which, given that we finally name the winner next week, is good  
  2. again, next week, barring some sort of quickfire where everyone is brought back for one! last! chance! to be in the final  
  3. or 4, or 8, or 16!  This is Bravo, after all  
  4. Thank GOD  
  5. that also happens to have their factory 20 minutes from my apartment  
  6. which answers the question “What if we let corn go bad, then ate the fungus off of the corn that went bad?”  
  7. his words, not mine  

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About Ben Smith 228 Articles
Ben has been writing about TV, music, and pop culture in some form or another since 2009, including stints at Mental Floss and Temporary Obsession. When not solving puzzles of some sort or consuming pop culture at a frightening pace, he can be found collecting shiny pieces of the internet at GoodAtInter.net. E-mail: ben@whatelseison.tv