July 1, 2022



Houston contestant on ‘Top Chef’ dangerously close to elimination over teammate’s dry pork belly

3 min read

One of the best parts of this “Top Chef: Houston” season has been watching hometown chef Evelyn Garcia light up the screen.

Her clear talent in the kitchen is matched by an upbeat sense of humor, camaraderie with the other cheftestants, and the fact that she embodies the spirit of our humble, easygoing city.

Based on her stellar performance in the first three episodes, we enter episode four with our guards down and spirits high, excited to see what she does on the heels of a near-win during last week’s Asian Night Market challenge.

Little did we know that this week would spell disaster for our beloved local chef, who became agonizingly close to elimination.

Before things took a turn for the worse, Garcia had another strong showing in the Quickfire challenge judged by Lucille’s chef-owner Chris Williams, who deemed her biscuit topped with a poached egg, chorizo country gravy and marinated tomatoes “wonderful.”

Though her dish was one of Williams’ favorites, the win for that round ultimately went to Jackson Kalb (also known as the queso killer) for his scallion biscuit glazed in hot maple syrup with ostrich sausage, fried egg and … crispy cheddar.

Kalb’s win is indicative of the topsy-turvy world of Top Chef, where triumphant memories can be frustratingly short in a parade of merciless challenges, or vice versa — one day, your fried cheese offends an entire state, the next, it lands you at the top.

Case in point: This week’s episode featured not just a team challenge, but a dreaded double elimination, which means both members of the losing team are asked to “pack their knives and go.” Working in pairs, the remaining 12 contestants were asked to create two dishes that look exactly alike but taste completely different.

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Garcia partners with Austin-based chef Jo Chan, who panics Houston viewers when she faces the camera mid-challenge and says: “This challenge is all about survival. I know how badly Evelyn wants this, and it’s not that I don’t want it, but you don’t want to be the one who sinks someone’s dream.”

Yikes, is Chan really about to sink our girl?

"Top Chef" contestant Jo Chan's dry pork belly was the Achilles' heel of the dish that almost got her and teammate Evelyn Garcia eliminated.

“Top Chef” contestant Jo Chan’s dry pork belly was the Achilles’ heel of the dish that almost got her and teammate Evelyn Garcia eliminated.

David Moir/Bravo

Garcia admits that the challenge does not play to their strengths, as they have to cook thinking backwards, starting with the visual rather than the flavor. She’s nothing if not resourceful though, and comes up with an idea to braise and press pork belly, which will pair with a no-bake cheesecake.

The concept seems like the kind of fun and delicious cooking we’ve come to expect from Garcia, so everything appears to be fine at first.

But as prep time finishes, it’s clear the pork belly needs to cook longer to become tender. Ominous, but we’ve seen chefs turn things around before. “Everything is fixable,” Garcia tells Chan. The optimism will carry them through … right?

On the day of judging, we watch as most of the other teams’ dishes seem to be coming together nicely, while Chan’s cauliflower puree is too wet to match the consistency of Garcia’s cheesecake. Ever the optimist, Garcia consoles her teammate. “We’ll figure it out,” she says, as the clock ticks down.

We hope so, but now we’re not so sure.

As the dishes hit the table, they look great. Chan’s crispy pork belly with cauliflower puree, crispy garlic, and daikon relish with five-spice glaze looks nearly identical to Garcia’s goat cheese cheesecake with cardamom chocolate sauce, sesame crumble, apples and matcha.

Garcia’s dessert received compliments, but the judges’ comments about Chan’s dish are worrisome, including head judge Tom Colicchio calling it “pork belly leather.”

We watch with a sense of dread as Garcia and Chan land in the bottom two teams. Could this really be the end for our heroine? Will she really be eliminated for a dry pork belly that wasn’t even her dish?

It’s not until host Padma Lakshmi calls out Robert Hernandez and Sarah Welch’s names—for their texturally suspect strawberry panna cotta and shrimp terrine domes—that we can finally breathe again. 

Garcia’s cheesecake was the saving grace for her and her teammate. Our chef is safe until next week.

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