The contestants said goodbye to Kentucky on last week‘s “Top Chef” and hello to the Chinese territory of Macau this week. There they meet up with Graham Elliot in a local market for a Quickfire Challenge highlighting local Macanese proteins and then later honor the Year of the Pig with pork dishes at Elliot’s Chinese New Years party with guest judge Hong Kong’s super chef Jowett Yu.
The Final 5 is led by Eric Adjepong from Washington DC, the only male chef left, whose African-inspired cuisine has garnered him three individual main challenge wins and the distinction of being the only chef left that has never scored among the bottom three. Kentucky native Sara Bradley earned her first individual win last week, giving her a slight edge over Adrienne Wright who like Sara has placed on the high end and low end four times each this season (Adrienne, however, does not have a solo win). Rounding it out are Southern cook specialist Kelsey Barnard Clark with one solo win and two top placements and Michelle Minori who was eliminated in episode 10, but won her way back into the competition through Last Chance Kitchen duels.
Below, check out our minute-by-minute “Top Chef” recap of Season 16, Episode 13, titled “Holy Macau,” to find out what happened Thursday, February 28 at 8 p.m. ET/PT. Then be sure to sound off in the comments section about who you think will be named this year’s champion.
8:03 p.m. – On their first morning in Macau the chefs were greeted by Graham, owner of his own restaurant in Macau, who took them to a Macanese market to explore local cuisine. Graham showed them rose apples, durian fruit and century eggs, among other ingredients the chefs had never tasted or even seen before. Smartly, Kelsey knew to take in everything Graham was pointing out because shortly after they met up with Padma Lakshmi for a Quickfire Challenge using the the following proteins they bought in the market: giant scallops for Sara, gum fish for Kelsey, cuttlefish for Michelle, sea snails for Eric and razor clams for Adrienne. They also had a small amount of funds to return to the market and purchase supplemental ingredients within the quick timeframe of 45 minutes, including cook and plating time.
8:14 p.m. – Michelle made cuttlefish noodles with Chinese beans and lotus root, Eric served snails in black pepper & oyster sauce with citrus oil, Adrienne made razor clam and watermelon ceviche served with lotus root chips, Sara made fresh scallops with celtuce, rose apples and water chestnut and Kelsey fried gum fish with sweet and sour sauce.
8:20 p.m. – Based on critiques, Eric’s overcooked snails and Sara’s thinly flavored dish were the bottom picks while the other three dishes expertly used the market ingredients to the chef’s own personal advantages, but it was Graham’s determination that Michelle embraced the challenge the best and was the winner!
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8:21 p.m. – Guest judge Jowett joined Graham and Padma to present the details of the Elimination Challenge: catering 200-person Chinese New Year event at the MGM Macau. To help each chef in that task Padma welcomed back five former contestants as options for sous chefs, each arriving with a unique set of ingredients inspired by traditional Chinese New Year tidings: longevity, happiness, health, wealth and togetherness. A catch on the ingredients accompanying the sous chefs is that the dish must feature all of those ingredients and only that chef’s dish may include them and would have pig as the main protein in honor of the Year of the Pig.
8:23 p.m. – As the winner of the Quickfire Michelle got to choose her sous chef first and determine in what order the others chose. She went with David Viana and his plate of longevity with peaches, noodles and peanuts. Adrienne chose Brian Young and his health plate with eggs, broccoli and ginger. Sara chose happiness with Eddie Konrad and his plate of shrimp, cauliflower and walnuts. Kelsey took the wealth plate of cabbage, cashews and oranges held by Brandon Rosen, leaving Eric with Justin Sutherland‘s togetherness plate of water chestnuts, coconuts and lychee.
8:26 p.m. – In their time shopping for additional ingredients at the market, Kelsey was at an advantage for two reasons: she’s returned to the station of a woman she met while shopping for her Quickfire ingredients who is helpful and has a ton of local spices for her to choose from and she also was the only chef that knew Brandon has experience with Asian cuisine and ingredients. Together they were able to move smartly through the market with confidence.
8:35 p.m. – When Kelsey found out that Adrienne was cooking pork belly with “meat geek” Brian as her sous chef she made a last minute decision to not cook pork belly herself, knowing that when two chefs cook the same or similar dishes that one of them usually goes home. So instead of braising the belly and having it on top of her dish she decided to chop it up and include it among the other components of the plate.
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8:44 p.m. – Padma and Jowett were the first to try Michelle’s pork lettuce wrap with cold noodle salad, peanuts two ways and pickled peach while Graham and Tom Colicchio visited Adrienne’s station for fried sticky rice cake, hoisin braised pork belly and roasted chili aioli. In those dishes, Jowett loved the use of ingredients in Michelle’s dish, but Tom was disappointed in the small portions of Adrienne’s and Graham thought the flavors weren’t deep enough.
8:45 p.m. – After trying Erics coconut curry, braised pork shoulder and crispy pork ears with lychee glaze and Thai chili Padma thought he could have used a heavier hand on the spiciness and Jowett wondered if she should have included rice to help soak up the other flavors present.
8:46 p.m. – Sara’s plate of shrimp, cauliflower grits with poached walnuts and pork shank impressed Tom and Graham for bringing together the flavors of Macau and style of Southern cooking. Kelsey’s mushroom broth with peas, greens, orange rinds, Portuguese sausage, cashews, cilantro and chives was “beautiful” according to Padma and Jowett liked the brightness with all the vegetables.
8:48 p.m. – At Judges’ Table the two chefs that impressed the panel the most were Kelsey and Michelle. They loved Michelle’s proportions and Tom thought it felt like it could have been a dish made by a contemporary Chinese chef that both honors tradition but looked forward. With Kelsey’s plate they liked that it focused on the challenge, specifically her way of finding ingredients at the market, and her successful layering of all of them. Ultimately it was decided that based on concept, execution, presentation and flavor Kelsey had to be the winner!
8:55 p.m. – On the bottom, Eric’s dish was too sweet and needed acidity for Tom and according to Padma the curry lacked clarity because she couldn’t pick out the ingredients. Eric pushed back on Padma’s interpretation of good curry, who clarified for him that it wasn’t that she needs to be able to name all the ingredients when tasting but that there should be complexity and layers to it. The judges liked the idea of Sara’s dish, but questioned whether the choice of cauliflower for the grits was the right one and the pork sauce was too powerful and salty. With Adrienne’s one-bite dish she was off the mark in terms of creating food for Chinese New Year and ultimately the components weren’t married enough together to create a satisfying dish overall.
8:59 p.m. – Based on the dishes from the bottom three, Tom reminded the chefs that the spirit of Chinese New Year, like all celebrations, is about being generous and welcoming and as such Adrienne’s dish left them wanting more and so she had to be eliminated.
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NEXT WEEK: Padma introduces the chefs to durian fruit, the ingredient they’ll use in their final Quickfire Challenge of the season. Later the contestants are given an emotional surprise before cooking to become one of only three chefs to make it to the finale.