For their elimination challenge, Padma hands the chefs a random envelope. Each contains the address of a local Mexican artist. The chefs will be collaborating with these artists to make a dish that captures the artist’s work, including a piece they’ll be finishing at the event where 150 people will be served the chef’s dishes. Since that’s a pretty big crowd to take on alone, the chefs will get some help – from previous cheftestants. All the former contestants from this season are back, and each chef gets to choose 2 to assist them in executing their dishes. Doug’s advantage is that he gets to choose both of his before everyone else chooses round-robin style. The teams end up like this:
Doug – Adam & Katsuji
Melissa – George & James
Mei – Rebecca & Keriann 1
Gregory – Katie & Stacy
The chefs then go to meet with their artists. Gregory is paired with Artemio, who’s an expressionist painter. His work focuses on peasant workers, and he’ll be doing a large scale portrait of one at the event. Gregory connects with his earthy colors. Melissa’s artist, Leonardo, has a graffiti-ish style and plans to improvise some of his painting on-site, which isn’t the mostly helpful when you’re trying to plan a work that goes with that. Melissa gets inspired by the color schemes he uses and the planned parts of the work. Mei has been paired with Bea, who can best be described as “eccentric” and makes VERY colorful sculptures and paintings of bird-like creatures. Doug is paired with Merry, who’s a fellow Texan that does mixed-media with pigment that’s inspired by Mexican pyramids. They connect over growing up in Texas, and Doug is reminded by her color scheme of chili and other Tex-Mex food.
We’re not at Whole Foods anymore – the chefs appear to be doing the shopping this week at a Mexican Megamart in Spanish, to varied levels of success – Mei has to repeat herself many, many times to get across that she just wants chicken skin for her dish. Melissa decides to use shrimp to capture the unusual pinks present in Leonardo’s works.
In the kitchen, Doug is particularly concerned with making sure his brisket is tender – he’s got Katsuji to work his masa magic on some corn cakes to serve with it. Gregory is concerned he’s overcooking his beef and the flavor won’t shine through everything else he has going on with his plate. Mei is matching her artist’s kooky works with some interesting flavor combos in her crudo. Melissa has a story behind everything that’s going into her smoked eggplant ravioli and how it correlates to her artist’s painting.
Guests start pouring in, and all the chefs seem nervous as to how the judge will receive their work. Gregory is up first, with grilled strip loin served with ancho chile, beets, and a Valencia orange sauce. The judges feel like they’re eating his artist’s painting – the dish is earthy, but given brightness by the orange sauce. Doug’s worry that he’s not “fine dining” enough with his dish is all for naught – the judges love his brisket and masa cake served with tomatillo and “Texas red”, and see immediate connection between the dish and the field of color his artist has created. Melissa’s ravioli is well-received, but the judges don’t seem to love her dish as much as the ones that have come before it. Finally, Mei’s snapper and bass crudo with chicken skin crumble, soy gastrique, and radish pickles manages to capture the multi-faceted nature of Bea’s work with its many flavors.
The judges seem impressed with all the chefs – they really connected with their randomly-chosen artists and created dishes that reflect their different styles of work while remaining true to their own styles of cooking. Gregory is praised for the complexity of his dish. Mei could have gone wilder with her presentation (given how visual her artist’s style is), but her flavors are also complimented. Doug’s dish had great warm flavors that matched his painter’s warm fields of color – his translation seemed the most literal, but the dish he created clearly came from his own past as well as his artist’s work. Melissa did a great interpretation of her artist’s painting, but some of the elements seemed to be there to shock or add the right color, rather than seeming like a perfect combination.
The winner tonight doesn’t get money or immunity2, but they do get to keep the painting their respective artist has made as a prize. Gregory was close with his dish, but Doug manages to sweep this week’s competition and take home that painting. Since his dish reminded him of growing up in Texas, he promises to give his painting to his mom. I thought Gregory had nailed it by being slightly fancier, but it’s nice to see Doug’s homier food get a moment to shine.
This means Mei and Melissa are up for elimination. It’s always hard to see chefs go home when everyone’s done such a great job, but Mei’s slightly superior dish secures her the final spot. Melissa is disappointed, but feels like a stronger chef coming out of the Top Chef experience and stands by her dish.
Next week: the finals? Another elimination challenge? Who knows, but running for ingredients and ant eggs appear to be involved.