Top Chef episode 2 recap

Top Chef recap: More Houston and Chris Shepherd as chefs face off

Top Chef recap: More Houston and Chris Shepherd as chefs face off

Top Chef Houston episode 2 Chris Shepherd Dawn Burrell
Houston chefs Dawn Burrell and Chris Shepherd appear in episode two. Photo by David Moir/Bravo
Top Chef Houston episode 2 Irma Galvan Padma Lakshmi
Local legend Irma Galvan with Padma Lakshmi. Photo by David Moir/Bravo
Top Chef Houston episode 2
The chefs consider their cheese options. Photo by David Moir/Bravo
Top Chef Houston episode 2 Chris Shepherd
Chris Shepherd serves as guest judge in the Elimination Challenge. Photo by David Moir/Bravo
Top Chef Houston episode 2 Evelyn Garcia
Evelyn Garcia struggled in the Elimination Challenge. Photo by David Moir/Bravo
Top Chef Houston episode 2 Chris Shepherd Dawn Burrell
Top Chef Houston episode 2 Irma Galvan Padma Lakshmi
Top Chef Houston episode 2
Top Chef Houston episode 2 Chris Shepherd
Top Chef Houston episode 2 Evelyn Garcia

After a season debut that didn’t feel very Houston, Top Chef displayed more of a connection to its host city this week. Episode two featured a Quickfire with one of the city’s favorite dishes and an Elimination Challenge set in the sort of massive high school football stadium that only exists in Texas.

Let’s take a look at Episode 2 from a Houston perspective by highlighting the local people and places featured on the show. Of course, we’ll check in with local cheftestant Evelyn Garcia and look at the current state of the competition for the title.

Featured Houstonians
Irma Galvan, chef-owner of downtown institution Irma’s Original, serves as judge for the Quickfire, which is all about queso. Host Padma Lakshmi cites Galvan as the recipient of a prestigious America’s Classic award from the James Beard Foundation. Chef Evelyn adds that she’s a local celebrity. Galvan provides a succinct assessment of each contestant’s offerings before departing.

The Elimination Challenge sees the return of Houston chef and Top Chef finalist Dawn Burrell. Instead of a judge, she’s a “coach” for a challenge that pits two teams of seven chefs in head to head matchups of carbohydrate-based dishes. Burrell is named captain of the blue “Wildcats” team rather than the red “Cougars” team, which seems a little strange considering she was an Olympic-worthy track athlete who attended the University of Houston. 

Primarily, she serves as a mentor to the competing chefs, but a strategic error of sending up chef Monique Feybesse’s dessert of biko with caramelized coconut milk against chef Nick Wallace’s savory dish of purple sweet potato with potlikker may have cost the blue team an overall victory. 

Chris Shepherd serves as this week’s guest judge for the elimination challenge. After being a mostly quiet participant in Episode 1’s dinner at The Annie Cafe, Shepherd shows more personality this week, and his Southern Smoke Foundation non-profit gets a major shoutout.

The carbohydrate-inspired challenge may not feel very Houston, but its setting in Tomball ISD’s 10,000 seat football stadium gave the competition major Friday Night Lights vibes. Top Chef still hasn’t shown much of the city’s unique environments, but that looks poised to improve in coming episodes.

How did Evelyn Garcia do
For the queso Quickfire, chef Evelyn shows both her Mexican heritage and her experience with Southeast Asian flavors by pairing a dip of adobo-spiced queso with fried taro chips. Praised by Galvan for its presentation, she finishes in the top three but doesn’t secure immunity.

Unfortunately, she struggles in the Elimination Challenge. Forced to pivot away from using rice noodles — she calls them “slimy” — to a four grain mix, chef Evelyn loses her head-to-head matchup with chef Sam Kang in a four-to-one vote. Thankfully, her dish of mixed grains with tamarind nuoc cham and turmeric sea bass displays sufficient skill to avoid being named a candidate for elimination.

Who wins
Episode two belongs to chef Damarr Brown. After earning immunity in the Quickfire for his cheddar dip with bread crumbs and a pickled serrano pepper for dipping, he takes the title of MVP at the football stadium for his dirty farro with nduja, chicken thighs, and chicken liver.

“There was a lot I loved about your dishes,” Gail Simmons tells Damarr. “It was the seasoning that got me.”

Who loses
Typically, chefs go home in early episodes for technical cooking errors. Such is the case with chef Stephanie Miller, who overcooks the rice in her Brazilian-inspired feijoada.

Chef Sarah Welsh also loses her head-to-head matchup in a 5-0 vote by using canned chickpeas to make hummus. They’re joined in the bottom three by Luke Kolpin, whose pumpkin gets criticized for being oily and bland.

Who exceeded expectations
Most of the chefs shined in episode two, but Austin’s Jo Chan gets the nod here. She contributed a couple quips about gaining queso weight when she moved to Texas, hails the good work Shepherd has done through the Southern Smoke Foundation, and wins her head-to-head matchup with a dish of black garlic congee.