Monk: This season of Top Chef is taking place in Houston, so we all knew a barbecue episode would be coming. That came last Thursday, so in a one-off here’s a recap of the episode much like we did with last summer’s “BBQ Brawl.”
Immediately after last week’s judging, Padma lets the cheftestants know that they will be meeting Brooke Williamson the next morning. Their collective antennae are raised and they immediately start to dread the next challenge. Otherwise, why would Padma talk to them immediately after judging?
The next day, the cheftestants meet Brooke at J-Bar-M Barbecue, one of the newer joints in Houston thats made an impression in Houston’s very crowded and competitive barbecue scene. Brooke takes them back to the pit room where the huge Moberg smokers are housed.
You may recall that Brooke was a judge on BBQ Brawl, so she is the natural choice to lead them through this week’s episode. The Elimination Challenge is to create a dish highlighting brisket, and Brooke calls out such barbecue fusion dishes such as brisket fried rice, brisket hand rolls, and brisket pho. The next day they will serve their dishes to this week’s guest judge, famed pitmaster Greg Gatlin, as well as 20 of Texas’ best pitmasters. Today, the chefs will have until midnight to finish their dish and are relieved that they can focus on this challenge without the stress of a quickfire.
The cheftestants start off by prepping their briskets and loading them into the smokers before heading off to Whole Foods Market to get their provisions for their dishes. Once they get back from Whole Foods, they are ambushed by Tom and Brooke with a Quickfire Challenge. Technically, Brooke never said there wasn’t a Quickfire and they are challenged to make their finest Texas Toast for immunity and $10,000. She mentions Texas Toast as a barbecue side, but that seems like a bit of a stretch to me.
A few miss the point of the challenge (Buddha and Monique go French, for instance) but Nick’s BLT Texas Toast with pancetta and cheese, Jo’s mushroom and arugula Texas Toast, and Jackson’s shrimp toast with balsamic chili jam are named as the top 3. Nick takes home top honors and gets the aforementioned immunity and $10,000.
From there, the focus shifts back to the brisket challenge. The briskets are starting to take shape and Pitmaster Willow Villareal is there to guide them along the way and give pointers. As the clock nears midnight, the cheftestants are treated to a barbecue spread from J-Bar-M before wrapping their briskets and finishing up for the night. Damarr is a little anxious not knowing how his brisket will turn out until they walk in tomorrow morning. Welcome to the life of a barbecue pitmaster, Damarr!
The next day they have 1.5 hours to finish their dish and each are mostly relieved that their briskets turned out well. A few do have concerns, however: Monique only tastes the salt and pepper from her rub and not the cardamom and other spices and Ashley’s brisket is a little under-salted, so her broth will have to be “full of flavor.”
As the pitmasters walk into the J-Bar-M dining room, the chefs began to put their final touches on their dish. Speaking of pitmasters, here are the ones I spotted in addition to Greg Gatlin: Richard Orozco of Piper’s BBQ, Ara Malekian of Harlem Road Texas BBQ, Scott Moore of Tejas, Robin Wong and Quy Hoang of Blood Bros BBQ, Don Nguyen of Khoi Barbecue, Sloan Rinaldi of Texas Q, and Russell Roegel of Roegel’s BBQ.
In the top 3 are Buddha’s barbecue beef bourguignon with “barbe-jus,” beef fat potato croquete, onion jam and beet petals, Evelyn’s “Texas-style brisket curry” with aromatic rice, pickled veggies, and burnt ends crumble, and Jackson’s brisket-stuffed carpinocc pasta with cornbread crumbles and a “buerre-becue sauce” made with “North Carolina gold barbecue sauce (huh?).” Evelyn takes home the crown and the Houston chef wins on two fronts: winning the brisket challenge in Texas as well as making a curry that Padma actually loves. Very impressive, and hard to tell which one she is more pleased with.
The bottom 3 are Monique’s basic brisket, potatoes, and homemade brioche roll, Ashley’s brisket soup with creamed corn and collards where she “tried to bring Carolina barbecue into the dish,” and Jo’s “whelming” brisket pappardelle with harissa cabbage and corn that didn’t showcase the brisket enough.
In the end, Ashley goes home for her muddled mess but in my opinion Monique is very fortunate. Ashley will have another shot in Last Chance Kitchen but for now, her time is up.
If there’s any other barbecue episodes of “Top Chef” I’ll be back for a recap but that does it for now. What do you think, do you want to see another barbecue-focused episode of “Top Chef” this season?