And then there were four. Melissa's already heading to Mexico; Mei, Gregory and George are all looking to get those last two tickets.
Th next morning, they head out to the TC Kitchen. Padma greets them with Wylie Dufresne alongside her. This will be the final Quickfire in Boston. Padma explains why Boston is often called Beantown, as in Colonial times, a favorite food was molasses baked beans. They don't have to make baked beans, but they ust use a bean dish using any of the beans available on the table. The winner will win a trip to Napa Valley. They have one hour to make their dish.
George brings up the “Beans, beans, the magical fruit...” rhyme and hopes no one is going to be cropdusting in the kitchen. Gregory says an hour is a very short time to cook with beans. He doesn't use beans in his Asian cooking, but he's still going to try making an Asian dish using beans. Melissa said now's not the time to win Top Chef making curries. Meanwhile, Mei remembers that Wylie loves eggs, so she's going to try and make eggs and is going to try making bean foam. Mei realizes it's not going to look appealing (and it doesn't!), but she's hoping the taste is good.
GEORGE – Tomato Base with Chickpeas, Cumin, Paprika & Pork Tenderloin – Wylie likes the spices, and Padma likes the texture.
MEI – Black Beans & Corn with Chipotle Peppers, Bacon, Poached Eggs and Pinto Bean Foam – Wylie asked how she made the foam, and Padma said “nicely done!” Wylie enjoyed the egg.
MELISSA – Seared Pork Tenderloin with Bacon Butterbean Puree, Roasted Carrots & Fried Chickpeas – Wylie notes that the beans aren't the focus of the dish.
GREGORY – Navy Beans with Sake, Ham, Avocado and Carrot Chips – Padma's favorite bean is navy beans, but she notes some bitterness at the end. Wylie asks “Sake?” and Gregory nods yes.
Wylie thought George's beans were done well, and the spicing was good. Melissa's dish didn't allow the beans be the star. Gregory's beans were slightly overdone, and thought the avocado wasn't necessary and added to the soft texture. With Mei's dish, he thought at first was the least appealing of the four, but she had some good texture in her dish, and he appreciated that she used the beans in two different ways.
Wylie said the chef who highlighted the ingredient in the best way was Mei – she's heading to Napa, and plans to get wasted there!
For the final Boston Elimination Challenge, Padma said Boston is known as a center of new ideas. In that spirit, they want the chefs to make a dish that is innovative, pushing their own boundaries. Wylie said there's a lot of opportunity with innovation – doesn't have to be technique, but it could be flavor combinations they're not familiar with. They will have 3-1/2 hours to prep and cook on location at Catalyst Restaurant. There will be Nobel Prize winning scientists, James Beard award-winning chefs, and restauranteurs. The winner will receive $10,000 and will join Melissa in the finale.
Off they go to Whole Foods to do their crazy shopping. Mei has been working at Ink, Voltaggio's restaurant, and innovation is what they do there, so she's comfortable in this challenge. George said you can't just come up with some whack-ass flavor profile that doesn't taste very good. He had an idea of what he wanted to make, but today they didn't have pork belly, and he has to change the concept of his entire dish. Gregory is going to make something very straightforward and clean flavors.
Back at the house, Gregory says ever since he's been sober, he's come around and found the path he wants to follow. Mei said she can only hang out with her brother for so long before she gets annoyed. George asks what her brother does, and she says he's going to pharmacy school, so her parents love her brother more than her. She had started nursing school, but food is her passion, and when she dropped out of nursing school, her parents were pissed.
The next morning, they wake up to lots of rain outside. Mei says “Of course it's rainy and gloomy out!” No one seems to have slept well overnight. They head to Catalyst Restaurant to being prep and cooking. Melissa said that she can have a bit more fun and be more adventurous with this dish, since she's got immunity.
Gregory said he started off the season very strong, but he's been struggling the past few challenges, so he's trying to get his act together and make it to the finale. George is grinding octopus heads for fritters. Meanwhile, he smells coconut, and realizes that Gregory is playing is safe, using the same flavor profiles and ingredients that he has used in every challenge. Mei feels she's pushing boundaries with her duck curry with aerated yuzu yogurt. Melissa said she would be happy to make it to the finale with Mei; they've become good friends. Melissa tells Mei she's got extra duck if she needs it. George notes that Mei and Melissa are working close together and their dishes are very similar, using duck.
Tom and Wylie arrive in the kitchen to see how they're doing. George is using multiple textures of octopus; Tom notes it seems like a complicated plate. They head over to Melissa's station, and she offers spoons to taste her walnut-miso, which she's never done. Tom notes she's already in, so she has no pressure right now. Melissa says she's looking to help out her colleagues, and Tom says it seems like she's trying to help Mei get into the finale, and Melissa said “It would be nice – she's my buddy!”
They head over to Gregory's station, and Gregory explains his dish with salmon and Tom Kha broth. Wylie asks him how he's using innovation, and Gregory said texture is an important part of how we eat, so he's using different textures. Neither Tom nor Wylie seem impressed with his explanation, and Gregory is concerned that they don't see his dish as innovative. Finally, they go to see Mei, and Tom asks “Are these your innovative carrots?” Mei explains she's going with a duck curry and changing up the flavor profiles. Tom Colicchio says to her that Michael Voltaggio must have given her some insight as to how it is, and she said no, he gave her no insight, but she's learned a lot from him and she wouldn't be there if she hadn't.
Guests and judges arrive – Padma and Tom, Gail Simmons, Richard Blais and Wylie Dufresne. Dr. Michael Brenner joins them, and Wylie has worked with Dr. Brenner at Harvard for the last four years. His program is a way to use cooking to inspire people towards science, so they have people like Wylie join them, make some remarkable dishes, and invariably, the discussion turns to science.
In the kitchen, they are all working in the kitchen, and it's a very small kitchen with little room to plate their dishes. Gregory is scrambling to get everything on his plates before his timer goes off, and he somehow manages to do so.
GREGORY – Pan-Roasted Salmon in Tom Kha Broth with Roasted Tomatoes, Crispy Chicken Skin and Crispy Salmon Skin – Gail asks what the innovation is in the dish, and Gregory replies that incorporating texture and fat with the crispy skin. Padma says the dish is delicious, as did Dr. Brenner, and Tom liked it as well, but Tom had trouble finding the innovation in the dish.
In the in-between, Gregory says in the confessional that Mei is non-emotional when she wins a challenge. They show several examples – she barely smiles and nods if she's winning OR losing a challenge. Mei admits she knows she probably has a chronic bitch face. LOL
Melissa is up next – even though she's already got a spot, she wants to show the judges how she's pushed herself.
MELISSA – Seared Duck Breast with Farro, Walnut Miso & Pickled Cherries – She went for flavors that are out of her comfort zone. She's not into molecular cooking, so she didn't want to go that way. Gail said the walnut miso goes beautifully together and goes well with the duck. Wylie said the duck was perfectly cooked; Tom is missing a jus, but he loved the dish. Padma loved the pickled cherries.
GEORGE – Charred Octopus, Yellow Split Pea Puree, Green Apple & Harissa – he explained that he ground the octopus head and made a fritter, and then the charred octopus on top. Wylie asked if he had made the green harissa before, and George said he just came up with it. Padma asks if it was apple and yuzu and George said yes. Tom said there's a lot going on on the dish, and he's not sure if there's a lot of sweetness in the dish, but he's getting a bitter taste from the octopus being eaten last. Richard Blais said the challenge for George was balance and he needed to turn the dials down a bit. Wylie said the lentils and the rhubarb away, and he would have made life easier for himself. Jasper White, a guest dining in the restaurant, said there's a lot going on, but the octopus and sauce are excellent. Maggie Nemser, Founder/CEO of Blackboard Eats, said the flavors are good, but everything together is distracting.
MEI – Duck Curry with Vadouvan & Yuzu Yogurt – in her description, she notes a fish sauce caramel brushed on the skin, lemongrass and ginger as part of the flavor profile. She made it lighter and added citrus to the yogurt. Tom said it's a tough one – he likes it, but doesn't know how to describe it. Wylie said that's a good thing that he cannot describe it, and Tom agrees with him. Wylie likes that there's not a lot of broth, but what there is is very strong and flavorful. Tom said the dish changes as you eat it and find different things and flavor points – it's very complex. Gail said it felt like a breath of fresh air, and it was innovative.
Richard said Melissa had the tastiest dish, the most composed, and the most innovative with the walnut miso. Gail said it didn't excite her the way Mei's dish did. She thought it showed a stretch of her imagination. Wylie said he would take Melissa's duck on Mei's curry. LOL Tom asked Wylie “So you thought the two worst dishes were George's and Gregory's?” and Wylie said “I do, but I have no problem picking one over the other.” Wylie thinks George swung for the fences vs. Gregory. Tom's biggest flaw with George's dish is the over-charred octopus, and that he's made that many times, and it's not stepping out of his comfort zone. As it relates to innovative flavors, George did do that, according to Tom, but it “was a circus.” Wylie said “George wanted to win – he said 'If I'm going home, I'm going home fighting!' Whereas Gregory just sort of swung to the finish line.” Richard said Gregory knew that most people would like his dish most of the time, and he hopes it would get him to the next round.” Dr. Brenner said “And that's the dish I'd rather eat!” Padma noted that they were encouraged to take risks, but they would be faulted if their risks didn't pay off. Wylie asks “So, does well executed trump creative and disjointed?” And Tom grimaces and doesn't answer. A decision is made, and they head back to Judges Table.
Padma asks them to all come in to JT, where Tom reviews their dishes. He said “With innovation sometimes comes failure. It's a lot of working through problems to try and create something new, but we did get some tasty food.”
Padma said Melissa and Mei served the favorite dishes of the night. Tom said Melissa's dish came together perfectly. Gail said to her that innovation sometimes comes from an idea of “I can't believe I haven't tried that already”. Mei feels she's pushed herself throughout the entire competition. She normally would have never put those things together, and thought maybe she had confused the judges with her dish. Gail asks “Why?” and Mei replies “Umm...from Chef Tom's face – he looked really confused!” Tom said it took awhile to figure it out – it was complex and delicious. Wylie agreed.
Wylie announces the winner was Melissa's dish! But Mei will be going on to Mexico as well, and she's very happy.
George and Gregory are left in front of the judges. Tom said it was a struggle. He thought George's octopus was grilled and charred too much. Gail said there were elements that could have been eliminated altogether, but the green harissa tied the whole dish together. Wylie tells Gregory that he felt his dish was restaurant-worthy, but felt he played it too safe, and should think about sticking his neck out even more.
Padma announces who will be joining Melissa and Mei in the finals – and it's George who is asked to PYKAG. Gregory squeaks by – barely. Tom reminds George that he might have a chance to come back again via Last Chance Kitchen.
Gregory, Mei and Melissa walk into the Stew Room, and they start going crazy, holding hands and jumping up and down – and then toast themselves for making it to Mexico. Previews show George meeting Doug in the final Last Chance Kitchen in Mexico. It also shows Gregory, Mei and Melissa shopping for ingredients in a local supermarket, and Mei is having problems telling the clerks what she wants. She said “I should have practiced my Spanish!” Ummm – ya think?