All season on Top Chef Houston, Luke Kolpin has for the most part coasted through the middle, except for when he’s been on the bottom where he’s been dinged for bland food. This week it looks like he might’ve finally had a breakthrough with host Padma Lakshmi excitedly welcoming him “to the party” with a well-seasoned dish during the Quickfire Challenge, but it almost feels like she’s praising a puppy for rolling over.
Unfortunately for him, his time on Top Chef comes to an end as he gets sent home. The chefs had to create a dish that spoke to their soul for a 100-person block party in Houston’s historic Freedmen’s Town, where former slaves migrated to start their new liberated lives. Luke’s dish, a meatloaf in homage to his mom, had a great story but fell a bit short at a time when everyone stepped it up.
The reigning Last Chance Kitchen champ Sarah Welch is on a roll, with five wins under her belt.
“I think anybody who walks through the doors is shocked to see me because of how long ago I was eliminated,” Sarah says. “But I also think it should instill fear because he knows how many people I had to destroy to be here still.”
Head judge Tom Colicchio tells Luke and Sarah their challenge is simple: Make whatever they want in 20 minutes but make it well seasoned.
But before they can get to that, they have to do a blind tasting of 20 spices and herbs in 5 minutes. Whatever they’re able to guess correctly is what they can use in their dish.
Sarah is up first and after missing the first few ingredients she goes on a tear, guessing 10 ingredients correctly, including juniper, allspice, mint, dill, coriander, cinnamon, paprika, rosemary, cilantro, and cayenne. She smells everything before tasting.
On the other hand, Luke just jumps right in, not smelling anything. He guesses only five ingredients: basil, oregano, coriander seed, cinnamon, and tarragon.
During cooking, Luke asks Sarah for advice, and she wisely tells him he’s on his own (she’s not LCK champ for nothing). But the eliminated chefs — Jackson, Monique, and Jackson — from the peanut gallery try to tell him to open his box of salt to season his food, and it’s not until 18 minutes in (out of 20 minutes) he opens it to add salt to his food.
Luke presents his dish of roasted yellow and green cauliflower with cauliflower and kale puree. Tom comments about the broken sauce, which Luke explains is from the brown butter in the cream — i.e., he meant for it to be like that.
Sarah’s dish (a tribute to a dish she made as a young executive chef) is roasted carrots, herbed pesto with pickled carrots, and candied almonds. During cooking, Sarah included the pickling liquid into her pesto, which muted the flavors and overpowered the delicate freshness of all the herbs she was able to identify correctly. Tom says the carrots are nicely roasted but says the pesto is just OK. “It’s a little murky,” he says.
In the end, Sarah ekes out a win and she knows it.
“I beat Luke on a dish where he totally could have beat me,” she says. “If Luke had just seasoned his food properly, he could’ve won.”
Next week Sarah has a chance to get back into the main competition. It won’t be easy as the people who are left are the ones who have been crushing it all season.
“I’ve cooked through the middle and what’s left is the people that are at the top,” Sarah says. “So, I really want to impress everyone not because of my ego but because I’m ready to [win].”
Catch this season of Top Chef at 8 p.m. on Thursdays on Bravo, and stream Last Chance Kitchen on YouTube following each episode. For more information, visit bravotv.com.