'Top Chef' Kentucky Recap: Episode 14 — 'The Tao of Macau'
Family drops by for an elimination challenge that will determine the final three chefs headed into the finale.
Only four chefs remain in this season of Top Chef! The chefs are still in shock that they're in Macau (and no longer Kentucky) and so close to the finals. "If you don't feel the pressure, you're not alive," Eric says. Kelsey is still soaking in her elimination challenge win while Michelle is honing her focus, planning to pick each chef off "one by one." Yikes. Sara is super nervous as the cheftestants are shuttled to the location of their final Quickfire, but trying to not let her nerves get the best of her.
When they arrive at their location they're greeted by the sight of the gorgeous A Ma Temple, built in 1488 in the Ming Dynasty, and made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005. Padma Laksmi and Abe Conlon, chef and co-owner of Fat Rice, are there to welcome them.
Padma lets the chefs know that for their last Quickfire, they'll have to make a dish using the most popular fruit in China and one of the most notoriously stinky fruit on the planet, durian. "Some say the flavor is like rich almonds, or a combination between bananas, mangos and garlic chives," Abe says while encouraging them to take a bite. "I don't want to touch it, I don't want to smell it, I certainly don't want to make a dish out of it," Kelsey says. Well, there's not really much she can do and she might want to win since the winner will get an extra hour of cook time in the elimination challenge. Here's what the chefs were able to come up with and how the judges felt about it:
Dish: Espuma of chilled durian, ice and coconut cream, with shrimp ceviche and mohlo cru sauce
"One thing I've learned is that you have to celebrate the ingredient," Michelle, the resident Last Chance Kitchen expert, says. She makes an espuma with the durian and adds some citrusy confit shrimp. It's a really good balance of savory and sweet, says Padma.
Dish: Tomato and celery salad with durian vinaigrette and pickled sea bass
Eric is making a fresh salad and having trouble finding flavors that pair well with the fruit. He loses a lot of time trying to find the right ingredients but settles on a fresh tomato salad with durian vinaigrette. Abe docks him points for not considering the water content of the tomatoes and celery which diluted the durian flavor.
Dish: Crispy skin bass with vadouvan and durian curry with dinosaur plum
Sara is trying to mask the durian flavor with curry which is risky because Padma and Abe are looking for dishes that highlight the flavor of the fruit. It works out in her favor with Abe and Padma saying her dish was one of their favorites because of how it paired the durian flavor with the vadouvan.
Kelsey Barnard Clark
Dish: Breakfast parfait of yogurt and fruit
Kelsey is using her pastry chef skills and making a dessert dish but she's still not happy about having to cook with durian. "I will not win this one because it's impossible to make a dish you love out of something you hate," she says. Abe says the other fruits took away from the flavor of the durian and Padma and Abe agree that it was one of their least favorite dishes.
The winner? Michelle! She's on a roll and this is her second Quickfire win in Macau. As the winner, she gets an extra hour to cook her dish.
Padma tells the chefs that the Elimination Challenge will be inspired by the Macanese people and how they preserve their unique heritage through food. "We want you to look to your own heritage and make a dish that's reflective of that but with Chinese ingredients," she says. The chefs will be serving their dishes to a party of eight at 360 Cafe at Macau Tower. To prepare they're going to have lunch at Restaurant Litoral, a well-known Macanese restaurant that's one of chef Abe's favorites in the country. They'll have thirty minutes after that to shop and two and a half hours to cook.
At Litoral, each chef has a special surprise waiting for them: a member of their family! This is always my favorite part of any Top Chef season because the chefs always seem so happy to see a familiar face after weeks of such an intense, grueling competition. Kelsey, Sara, and Michelle are joined by their moms while Eric is joined by his sister. As everyone settles in, Maneula Ferreira, chef and owner of Restaurant Litoral, introduces the courses that she prepared for the group. The spread looks incredible: stewed tamarind pork, fried crab, housemade shrimp paste, Macanese samosas and minchee, a ground beef or pork dish been cooked with molasses and soy sauce. It all sounds so good and the chefs seem to be enjoying everything. "This cuisine is really about family and heritage," Abe says before encouraging the chefs to share a little about their own heritage. As everyone goes around the table, it becomes clear that this group of chefs carries a clear understanding of where they come from. Eric's influence from Ghana, Michelle's California cuisine by way of Mexico and Italy, Kelsey's Cajun-influenced southern and Sara's Kentucky dishes influenced by her Jewish heritage have all been present in the food of this season. At the end of the meal, the chefs find out that they get to shop with their loved ones too, which is either really great or will be a really big distraction.
At the grocery store some chefs seem to be having an easier time than others. Sara and her mom quickly find water crackers for matzoh ball soup, while Eric and his sister are brainstorming substitutions for some of the ingredients he needs for egusi, a west African spinach stew. Kelsey's mom loses track of her grocery cart and half of the ingredients that Kelsey needs for her dish. "I do not need to kill my Mom on national television," she says. Luckily, her mom finds her cart right in the nick of time.
Everything seems to be going well for the chefs during cooking, and as they present their dishes to the judges they get one more surprise: they each get to sit down with judges Padma, Tom, Abe, Nilou, Manuela, and Florita Alves of La Famiglia, as qwell as their family member to taste their food. Here's how things went:
Dish: "Cioppino" seafood, beans and chorizo
Michelle is mixing her Italian and Mexican heritage into one dish: a cioppino stew that has eleven different components including beans. As time winds down, she seems to be struggling to plate everything. "It's kind of unbelievable to be sitting next to Padma having dinner," she says as she takes a seat. "I think her dish had some really strong elements," Nilou says. Tom says he didn't get any Macanese inspiration.
Dish: Chicken thighs with matzo balls and savory mushroom consomme
Sara's matzo ball soup looks great as she plates it for the judges. She's absolutely floored when she gets invited to take a seat and eat her dish. Tom loves the way Sara balanced salty and spicy in her broth and Nilou says the matzo balls are perfectly cooked. "I think she nailed this," Tom says.
Dish: Egusi stew with panko fried fufu dumpling and shrimp
"I'm serving a dish that I've never made in this way before," Eric says as his (gorgeous) plate of egusi with poached shrimp goes out to the judges. Eric's sister is practically tearful when she tells him that she "knows he has the weight of Africa on his back" but not to feel the pressure. The judges seem confused by the texture of the dish, which includes ground whole pumpkin seeds, something that Eric was worried about. "It's not pleasant," Tom says.
Kelsey Barnard Clark
Dish: Low country boil with shrimp
After the near fiasco in the grocery store, Kelsey's prep and cook time seem to go off without a hitch. She's really surprised when Padma offers her a seat to eat with the judges. "It's extremely stressful to sit with the judges eating," she says. The judges love the way that she incorporated Asian ingredients into her dish. "I love the way she used dried scallops, the smoked oysters, the dried mushroom," Abe says. "I actually think it is a little too strong to have a whole bowl of it," Padma adds.
"It is hard when you're shopping in another country," Tom says. "I thought you all did a great job jumping in." Rather than pick two people to be on top, the judges have one clear winner. It's Sara and her soulful matzo ball soup. "I've had plenty of versions of matzo ball soup over the years but I gotta say that was fantastic," Tom says. Sara's earned a ticket into the finale!
That means Kelsey, Eric, and Michelle are on the bottom. Padma says that she liked the flavor of Kelsey's low country boil but the salt level was way too high and admits that she has "no frame of reference" for Eric's egusi. Nilou says she didn't like the texture while Tom says the shrimp balls were salty. The judges agree that each element on Michelle's dish was perfectly cooked but they missed the broth that usually accompanies a cioppino.
"I don't want to see any of these chefs go," Padma says sadly as the judges deliberate. Tom addresses the chefs and says that the four of them have proved that they can cook on a world stage. "There are no losers right now." And with that, they ask Michelle to pack her knives and go. Everyone is teary because Michelle fought her way back into the competition and was the one to beat. "Michelle the challenge was to get Chinese flavors into your dish and we feel you just didn't go far enough," Tom says.
So we have our three finale contenders: Kelsey, Sara, and Eric! The chefs look relieved until Tom says he has one more thing to tell them: "Only two of you will be cooking in the finale." Uh-oh.