Top Chef episode 9 recap

Top Chef recap: Historic Houston setting inspires some of the season's strongest dishes

Top Chef recap: Historic Houston setting inspires creative cuisine

Top Chef Houston episode 9
Padma, Dawn, and Tom with Sylvester Turner and Abbie Kamin. Photo by David Moir/Bravo
Top Chef Houston episode 9
Zion Escobar leads a tour of Freedmen's Town. Photo by David Moir/Bravo
Top Chef Houston episode 9
Evelyn explains her beet sope to Dawn, Kwame, and Tom. Photo by David Moir/Bravo
Top Chef Houston episode 9
Chef Damarr serves the judges. Photo by David Moir/Bravo
Top Chef Houston episode 9
It's the end of the road for chef Luke. Photo by David Moir/Bravo
Top Chef Houston episode 9
Top Chef Houston episode 9
Top Chef Houston episode 9
Top Chef Houston episode 9
Top Chef Houston episode 9

For the first time since the barbecue challenge in episode five, Top Chef really took advantage of its Bayou City setting. An Elimination Challenge at the historic Bethel Baptist Church in the Freedmen’s Town district provided both a picturesque setting and inspired some of the season’s strongest dishes.

As the judges tasted creations inspired by each contestant’s family, they recognize that all of the dishes are so outstanding it will be difficult to send anyone home. Ultimately, not properly executing small details led to one chef packing his knives.

Let’s break down the show from a Houston perspective by highlighting the local people and places who appeared in the episode. Then we’ll check in on the progress of local cheftestant Evelyn Garcia and keep track of the overall competition.

Featured Houstonians
Zion Escobar, executive director of the Houston Freedmen’s Town Conservancy, shines during a tour of the historic district. She gives the cheftestants and the Top Chef audience a lesson about Texas’ role in Juneteenth and how the historic neighborhood served as a refuge for formerly enslaved people to begin their lives as free people.

After the tour of historic sites, the chefs dine on a meal of traditional soul food from Third Ward institution This Is It. Food prepared by Houston restaurants has been rare on the show, so it’s exciting to see the show featuring the neighborhood staple.

Of course, the fundraiser at Bethel features plenty of locals. Houston Mayor Sylvestor Turner and council member Abbie Kamin interact with the judges, as does Insecure actor Kendrick Sampson. Eagle-eyed viewers will spot a few media types in the crowd along with notables such as Recipe for Success founder Gracie Cavnar and Lucille’s Hospitality Group founder Chris Williams.

Top Chef season 18 finalist and Houstonian Dawn Burrell returns as one of the guest judges. As she has in her previous appearances this season, she provides insightful commentary on the strengths and weaknesses of each cheftestant’s dishes.

How did Evelyn Garcia do
Our local cheftestant continues to be one of the season’s frontrunners. She gets praised by host Padma Lakshmi and Quickfire guest judge Nyesha Arrington for her eggplant-based vegetarian soup. Her Elimination Challenge dish, a beet sope with chorizo, charred pineapple and salsa verde, earns raves from judges and attendees.

Who wins
Chef Jae’s Mama Kim’s flaked cod with Korean sweet potatoes, kimchi, and shrimp bisque takes the win for the way it combines her Korean heritage with the culinary training she received in New Orleans. After being the best cook on the losing team in last week’s Restaurant Wars episode, Jae has emerged as a strong candidate to win the season.

“You made a truly soulful dish that is both enlightening and inspiring,” Burrell tells her.

Who goes home
Noma alum Luke Kolpin had his strongest performance of the season, but it isn’t enough to save him. A slightly dried out meatball is just bad enough to send him to Last Chance Kitchen.

Who exceeded expectations
Damarr Brown builds on the momentum of his impressive performance in Restaurant Wars with another stellar performance. His Quickfire dish wins immunity, while his Elimination Challenge entry of hoecakes and collard greens with smoked ham hock gets hailed as one of the day’s strongest dishes.