“Top Chef: Boston” recap (12.13): Art imitating life

Previously on Top Chef: Boston, all three of my faves made it to the finale! It’s like a Christmas miracle, but a month later.

Flash-forward six weeks after the last challenge in Boston: Melissa, Mei, and Gregory have arrived in Mexico, and they wonder which chef will win Last Chance Kitchen and join them in the finale. The chefs arrive at their new house in Guanajuato, Mexico, and it looks amazing.

The calm before the storm

They have approximately 45 seconds to enjoy their new space (RUDE, BRAVO) before Tom strolls in to ruin things, as per usual. He invites them up to the roof, where Doug and George are in the midst of finishing and plating their Last Chance Kitchen dishes. Dougie and George both made really excellent clam dishes, according to Tom, but there can only be one winner. It’s Doug!

Two things:

  1. Super pumped George didn’t sneak back into the competition AGAIN.
  2. I’m glad Dougie won LCK. That little scamp has come along way since his self-proclaimed Napoleon days.

Tom congratulates the final four, and sends them on their way. The chefs find Padma, along with guest judge Chef Enrique Olvera, in the middle of a deserted church square. It looks like the beginning of a really dramatic shootout scene, actually.

Cue the theme music from “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly”

Instead of drawing weapons, however, they all decide to just cook some prickly pear and call it a day. Same thing, basically. For this Quickfire Challenge, the chefs have 30 minutes to create a dish that highlights xoconostle (which is a highly coveted type of prickly pear). The winner will receive an advantage in the upcoming Elimination Challenge.

The chefs begin to cook with the hella tart xoconostle. Doug tries to make some conversation with Mei about, like, the beauty of their surroundings and the impact of religion on society, but Mei’s having none of it. I literally rewound and watched their exchange five times, because I could not stop laughing at it.

BusinessTimeMei, meanwhile, really wanted seafood, but was beaten to the salmon by Melissa, so she settles for steak. Gregory is using shrimp for his protein, but Doug has decided to make a vegetarian dish so the cactus can really shine.

Padma and Chef Olvera come around to taste the dishes, stopping at Mei’s station first. Padma asks Mei if it was “intentional” that all her slices of steak were cooked to different levels of doneness. Of course it wasn’t intentional, Padma, you sassy, sassy broad.

The judges taste Doug’s dish next, which is a stew of the xoconostle and other vegetables. Chef Olvera lauds Doug for making something vegetarian, because it reflects Mexican cuisine. Melissa’s ceviche is up after that, and Chef Olvera talks about how the ceviche liquid is known as an aphrodisiac. Is he flirting with Melissa? She’s taken, buddy. But then Padma actually says the words, “I’ll let you know how it goes later tonight,” and I think I died? Yeah, I did. Bye.


Ahem, anyway. The judges taste Gregory’s dish last and they really like his sauces, but the olive oil flavor is too strong. Gregory is on the bottom along with Mei’s incorrectly cooked meat. Melissa and Doug are on top, and Doug’s vegetarian risk-taking earns him the win!

Today’s Elimination Challenge is probably my favorite one that’s ever been on Top Chef. The chefs are randomly assigned local artists to go meet and take inspiration from their artwork. Tomorrow, for the challenge, the chefs will have 4 hours to cook, while their artist finishes the inspiration work of art. The chefs will serve 150 guests a plate that visually represents their artist’s piece. This is a big challenge, so the chefs get to select two sous chefs from the eliminated contestants.

Because Dougie won the Quickfire Challenge, he gets to choose both of his sous chefs before the other chefs even get to select one. He picks Adam and Katsuji, so I expect some hijinks. Melissa picks George (eh) and James (missed you, Swayz!), Mei takes Rebecca and Keriann, and Gregory chooses Katie and Stacy (Boston represent!). I’m sad no one picked my girl Joy, but beyond ecstatic that DoucheBroAaron will not be on my screen a second longer.

The chefs scamper off to meet their artists. Melissa is paired with artist Leonardo Díaz, who incorporates graffiti into his work. Melissa thinks his style will fit in with her own. Mei goes off to meet her artist, but not before letting us know that her dishes are usually called “works of art.” She agrees with that assessment, and so do I. Mei’s artist is named Béa Aaronson, and I can tell immediately she is a little bonkers. I already love her.

Doug meets his artist, fellow Texan Merry Calderoni, and the two of them find out they’re basically related. OK, they’re not actually related, but they do have crazy amounts of things in common. Dougie calls her ma’am a lot, and his Texas is showing.

Texas forever!

Gregory is matched with Artemio Sepúlveda, an expressionist artist that primarily uses dark color palettes with a splash of color. Gregory feels very connected to and inspired by his work. Let’s check in on Mei and Béa:

Yup- still bonkers! Mei is inspired by the colors and some crazy story about a bird and a fish, IDK.

Melissa’s artist uses primarily light blue and pink in his work, which aren’t the best colors to match food to. He also tells Melissa that he is going to improvise during the challenge tomorrow, which is totally not what you want to hear if you’re Melissa. Ruh roh.

The chefs are running around a Mexican supermarket trying to ask for things in Spanish, with varying degrees of success. Mei tries to communicate that she wants all chicken skin, which, to be fair, is a weird thing to ask for, and I think she eventually gets the point across. Melissa wanted to use squid ink to bring some color into her dish, but Mexican Whole Foods, unfortunately, does not carry squid ink. She ends up improving on the spot, getting shrimp to bring some sweetness and pink color onto her plate.

It’s the day of the challenge, and the artists and chefs set up to work in the square. There’s a lot of experimentation and improvisation, both artistically and culinarily. (p.s. I checked and “culinarily” is, in fact, a real word. Boom. Really nailing this writing thing, huh?) Gregory is nervous that he’s over cooked his steaks, but there’s not really anything to be done about that at this point. The guests show up and they enjoy the art and food and beautiful day. Mei’s artist tries the food, and I really just want to get on her level. I would require some drugs to do so though, I think.

The judges arrive and begin to try the food, starting with Gregory. His steaks came out better than he thought they were going to, and they’re served with an ancho chile tamarind sauce, beets, and a bright valencia orange sauce. Real quick timeout right now, you guys. Tamarind + chiles are, like, the most delicious combination. Go out and buy this candy right now:

Okay, yes, it looks kind of weird, and it’s called Pelon Pelo Rico (which loosely translate to “Yummy-Hair Baldie”), but it’s fucking delicious and I’m obsessed with it.

Anyway, the judges love Gregory’s plate! They move on to Doug’s station next, where he’s plating his Texas red (beanless chili), with tomatillo and masa. I have to say, it matches the painting pretty perfectly (though, Doug definitely got the easiest painting to match). The judges love the flavor of all the elements in his dish.

Melissa serves the judges next, and I’m nervous because she doesn’t have any of that blue/gray color on her plate. Her smoked eggplant ravioli represents the smoky, charcoal house in the middle of the painting and Padma is feeling it.

The judges hit Mei’s station last to taste her snapper and bass crudo with chicken skin crumble and pickled radishes. She took inspiration from the fish and bird in her artist’s painting, but I’m worried that she also didn’t bring as much visual color to her plate.

The judges debrief about the dishes- they were all really solid. It’s going to come down to little details, I think. They’re headed back to Judges’ Table, but first, Gail and Padma are trying to get druuuuunk, y’all.

Someone fetch me that deleted scene, please and thank you.

At Judges’ Table, all the judges try to act like they haven’t consumed liters of tequila all day. They do a pretty good job. Doug is praised for making an inspired, authentic dish. The judges wish Mei had pushed her plate a little more, visually. Tom thinks Melissa over-rendered her chorizo, but doesn’t have much else bad to say about her plate. Gregory’s dish was bomb, because guys, I really can’t emphasize this enough, tamarind + chiles are amazing.

Doug and Gregory are on top, which means that either Melissa or Mei is going home. ::drops to knees in the pouring rain while shouting “nooooooooooooooo”:: Doug wins the challenge. Congratulations Dougie, but I’m just really stressed out right now. Gregory is, obviously, safe as well. I’m trying to be mad at the boys, but then they do a little head boop and how am I supposed to be mad them?

D’awwww you GUYS

OK, it’s the moment of truth: Mei or Melissa. I hate this. I hate this so much. I think probably Bravo made a mistake here, and they should just have four Top Chefs this season. It’s the only solution. Everyone go home, it’s over! They all won!

Unfortunately, I don’t run things at Bravo, so they have to eliminate someone. It’s Melissa. ::still shouting “nooooooooooo” in the rain, btw,  I haven’t stopped this whole time:: Tom praises Melissa, telling her that she did nothing wrong, the other dishes were just slightly better. Melissa thanks them all graciously, and then hugs Mei, and I’m FINE, I swear. YOU’RE CRYING.


I had the absolutely pleasure of interviewing Melissa yesterday and she’s just as wonderful as she seems on the show. I wish her the best of luck- I know she’ll be up to great things.

Next week on Top Chef, it’s down to Mei, Gregory, and Doug. Everyone is stressed, Tom doesn’t seem happy, and someone will win.