And we're in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico for the beginning of the finale. They've all had a month and a half since the last episode filmed. We've got San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Portland represented with Melissa, Mei, and Gregory. But there's one more chef – either George or Doug – who will be joining them in the finale.
As the three are each being driven to their hotel, Gregory said that whoever wins LCK is acclimated to the kitchen and they'll be ready to fight. Mei says that Michael Voltaggio sent her to Volt to work for Bryan Voltaggio, and she staged at a Mexican restaurant to help prepare her.
They arrive at their hotel, and no sooner do they settle in, Tom Colicchio shows up. He brings them upstairs, and they see Doug and George for the LCK final spot. Tom does his tasting of both dishes, and pronounces that the last spot in the finale goes to Doug! Wonderful! (And he's also from Portland, OR, so it's a full-on West Coast finale.)
Tom tells them to grab their knives and to head over to a church he points out to meet up with Padma and the first Quickfire Challenge. They meet with Padma and Enrique Olvera, Chef/Owner of Pujol in Mexico City. Padma tells them one of the most popular foods in San Miguel de Allende is the prickly pear. They are to create a dish using the xoconostle prickly pear. They have 30 minutes for the Quickfire Challenge, and the winner will have an advantage in the next challenge.
Melissa took the whole salmon; Mei is going with steak; Gregory is using shrimp, and Doug is going vegetarian.
MEI – Ribeye Tataki with Xoconostle Salsa & Nopales Salsa Verde – Padma likes the flavor of the salsa, but her 4 pieces of meat all have different donenesses, which was not Mei's intent. Enrique Olvera liked the acidity of the dish and said it was refreshing.
DOUG – Xoconostle & Tomatillo Stew with Roasted Peppers & Pepitas – Enrique Olvera likes that he went with a vegetable-driven dish, saying that most people don't realize that a lot of Mexican cooking is mostly vegetables.
MELISSA – Salmon Ceviche with Xoconostle, Leche de Tigre & Prickly Pear Salad – Enrique Olvera said they take ceviche in Peru like a shot and said it is thought to be an aphrodisiac. Padma said “I'll let you know how it goes later tonight!”
GREGORY – Garlic Shrimp with Olive Oil, Prickly Pear Sauce & Xoconostle Relish – Padma said she can really taste the olive oil.
Enrique said his two least favorite dishes was Gregory's and Mei's. Melissa's and Doug's were the favorites. The winner of the challenge is Doug, as he took risks with his dish! He now gets a great advantage in the Elimination Challenge.
For the Elimination Challenge, they want the chefs to be inspired by an artist's work. They'll meet with their artist (4 different ones whose names are in 4 envelopes). Tomorrow, the chefs and their artists will have 4 hours to prep and cook their dish at the Instituto Allende. While they cook, their artists will finish a piece of art that will be on display during dinner. Their dish must represent the artist's work visually, and they'll be serving 150 guests. Padma calls in a little help for the chefs – and of course, they're the ousted chefs. They'll each get the help of two sous chefs. Since Doug won the Quickfire, he'll get to pick his two sous chefs first.
Doug – Adam and Katsuji
Melissa – George and James
Mei – Rebecca and Keriann
Gregory – Katie and Stacey
Today, they'll meet with the artists, and tomorrow, the sous chefs will help them prep and cook. Off they go to find their artists.
Gregory meets with Artemio Sepulveda
Melissa meets with Leonardo Diaz
Mei meets with Bea Aaronson
Doug meets with Merry Calderoni
Doug and Merry were both from Texas, and Doug's mother is an art teacher in Tyler, Texas. Doug decides to go with Texas-themed dishes. He mention chili and brisket.
Gregory's artist is an expressionist artist, with a bit of darkness in his art. Artemio looks to using a peasant as the subject, using earth colors.
Mei's artist, Bea, and her style is very colorful, and Mei said her colors are palatable.
Melissa's artist, Leonardo, is rather more like a graffiti artist. Leonardo likes irony and to have fun with his art. But she's concerned about the colors he uses – blue and hot pink which don't naturally exist in foods. Leonardo says he's going to improvise, and that worries Melissa, as she's a planner.
They have 45 minutes to shop at Mega, with a budget of approximately $500. Doug notes “This is not Whole Foods in Boston!” (It's a huge high-end warehouse type of market.) Mei has problems getting her ideas across as she doesn't speak Spanish very well – she wants all skin. Gregory is able to order what he needs, and Melissa is unable to get the ingredients she wants, so now she has to start improvising.
The next morning, they meet their artists and start cooking. Their sous chefs show up, and they all put them to work. Doug gets Katsuji working on some masa. Doug is concerned about his brisket not being tender enough in 4 hours. Gregory's dish has a lot of components, and he needs to make it cohesive that represents the artist's piece of art. Mei is going with a crudo, and she knows she needs come out of her shell a bit in her plating to represent Bea's colorful personality. Melissa is going with ravioli to represent the house in Leonardo's piece of art, and she'll be using both shrimp and chorizo to represent Leonardo's land, see and earth in his painting.
They all begin plating their dishes, and the guests arrive. Doug's very nervous, and Katsuji is being silly, hollering out “tacos, tacos!” The chefs describe their dishes to the guests, and then the judges arrive.
GREGORY – Grilled Strip Loin with Ancho Chile and Tamarind Sauce, Beets, Cilantro Puree and Valencia Orange Sauce – Gail loves the color of the orange sauce, and Tom and Gail both love the dish. Gail says “I feel like I'm eating that painting! The tamarind feels earthy, and then the orange sauce is like bright sunshine.”
Doug realizes he's about to serve chili to Tom Colicchio, and he says “What the hell were you thinking?” In the in-between, Katsuji is humming the Mexican Hat Dance, and he and Adam are drinking tequila shots. Doug is shaking his head, saying “When I picked these guys, I knew what I was getting into. But I don't know how Katsuji's wife does it! It's not too late to get out of that one!” He thanks Adam and Katsuji for their help, and Katsuji lays a hand on Doug's shoulder and then plants a big kiss on Doug's lips – TOO funny!
DOUG – Brisket Texas Red with Tomatillo and Masa Cake – Doug explains that he doesn't do frou-frou plates, and wanted the cracker to look like the walls in San Miguel his artist's painting. His Texas Red is chili without beans, so he used brisket, braising it very slow. Tom said he's seen it done before and it can be tricky. Doug looks worried as Tom takes a bite. Tom notices the earthiness, but there's also an acidity to it as well. Tom comes out and finally says “I'm just loving it!” and Doug is very happy.
MELISSA – Smoked Egglant Ravioli with Shrimp, Chorizo & Cotija – She said the beet juice on the plate represents the graffiti art of his style, and the ravioli represents the gray house in his work. Padma loves the eggplant ravioli.
MEI – Snapper & Bass Crudo witih Chicken Skin Crumble, Soy Gastrique & Radish Pickles – inspired by the color in her artist's work, Mei put a lot of color on her plate. Gail said there's a lot of brightness in the dish with the soy and acidity.
The judges discuss the dishes, and Enrique Olvera said it was amazing to see how they related to their artists, and managed to create great tasting food inspired by them. Padma loved Gregory's sauce work. Gail said it was so complex and subtle. Tom said he represented the art very well on the plate, but in addition to that, Tom said that Gregory made an amazing dish.
Padma wanted to see something wilder on Mei's plate, and Tom agreed that visually, it was more subdued than the piece of art, but flavor-wise, Tom thought it was pretty wild. Gail thought there was a lot to discover on Mei's plate as you dug around; every bite was a little different, which she liked. It was like exploring every corner of the painting.
Doug's dish had very warm flavors, per Enrique, and reminds you of your grandmother. Tom said this dish reminded him of why when you look for inspiration outside of a kitchen, you find something that completely jars you. He said Doug has not cooked like this at all throughout the entire season.
Melissa's dish was a beautiful ravioli, and Padma thought she interpreted her artist's dish beautifully with the colors. Tom said the dish was well done, but he thought some of the elements on the plate were there for shock and color, and not for flavor. Gail said there were a lot of ingredients on Melissa's plate that you wouldn't think would naturally go together, but they worked.
The judges head to Judges Table, and Gail asks if they can drink more tequila, and Padma says “Of course you can drink more tequila!”
Padma asks the four chefs to come in to Judges Table. Tom tells them that each of them completely embraced the challenge, found inspiration in the artist, and they made their job very difficult this evening.
Doug said being in Mexico and meeting his artist, he said you'd have to be crazy not to have fun. Visually, Gail said his dish mimicked his artist's painting to a tee. Tom tells Doug that Merry's painting reminded him of who he was and what he's about to the core, and his dish was authentic.
Padma asked if Mei felt she had to push herself beyond her own limits because of Bea's artwork, and Mei said she did the best she could to mimic her colorful art. Gail said she did a good job of bringing elements of her art into her food, but the dish was still Mei's dish, although she wishes Mei had let it go a bit more in the presentation. Gail said she feels Mei has the skill to take it even further. Enrique liked the clean flavors on the dish – subtle and playful.
Tom asked Melissa why she chose to do something with eggplant. Melissa said Leonardo was talking about something bursting out of the house and she thought the ravioli would be something to represent the explosion. Padma said the ravioli was delicious, but isn't sure what the shrimp was doing on the dish. Tom said technically it was done very well, but he thought the chorizo was over-rendered, and the bits they got was dried out. He would have stopped with the oil.
Gregory is asked about his experience with Artemio's underlying darkness of his art. Enrique said that Gregory's dish represented Artemio's painting very nicely, and he loved the powerful ingredients he used. Gail thought the look of the plate and the taste of the dish mimicked the beautiful brightness in the painting.
Gregory and Doug had the favorite dishes. The winner will get to take home their artist's work which inspired their dish. Enrique announces the winner, saying the winner is the person who took inspiration from their artist, made it their own, and then translated it into flavor. And the winner is Doug! He's thrilled that his Texas Red Chili impressed Tom Colicchio. He tells the judges that the painting will be going to his Mom in Texas.
So there is Mei and Melissa who are in the bottom. Padma said this is a really tough challenge to go out on, because they both did a very good job. Tom said they both cooked from their heart, but it's just a time when someone is going home for making a very good dish – and Padma asks Melissa to PYKAG. Tom said she did nothing wrong – she just came up against three much stronger dishes.
So it's Doug, Gregory and Mei who are in the finale. Three VERY strong chefs, and probably those who many of us were expecting would be in the finale.
The previews for the next episode shows a lot of running for crates of ingredients outside, and some pretty harsh comments from the judges about the dishes they end up making for that challenge. It'll be interesting viewing next week!