Top Chef Season 16 finale: Which chefs are still standing?


In this week’s Top Chef episode, the final four must tackle stinky fruit and local ingredients for a chance to make the Top Chef Season 16 finale?

The Top Chef Season 16 finale is almost here. With just one episode left to this Top Chef season, four chefs must channel their creativity and knowledge for a spot in the finale. Which chef lost her opportunity just short of the finish line?

With Macau as the Top Chef finale backdrop, these final four chefs have been pushed to use local ingredients. Even though they must use local ingredients, the chefs cannot lose sight of their culinary background. A successful dish must be cohesive, composed and offer an exploration of flavor. While some chefs understand this delicate balance, the challenge can be daunting.

In this week’s Quickfire challenge, the chefs must cook with one of the stinkiest fruits on the planet, durian. While the fruit is visually intimidating, the aroma is equally pungent. One whiff of this fruit and you may wince.

TOP CHEF — “The Tao of Macau” Episode 1614 — Pictured: Sara Bradley — (Photo by: Carmo Correia/Bravo)

Sometimes referred to as the king of fruits, the flavor is a combination of bananas, mangoes, almond and garlic chives. Still, durian is used in many recipes. When handled well, the durian can be an intriguing ingredient in a dish. The key is to use the fruit wisely. Two chefs highlighted, instead of hiding, the durian.

The key to this Quickfire was to understand the similarities of durian to other fruits and ingredients. Sara and Michelle accomplished this idea. Sara’s choice to make a curry was smart. Curry can mask a flavor while still incorporating it. More importantly, she didn’t shy away from using the ingredient.

Michelle used her knowledge of durian to create her frozen spuma/mousse. Using the coconut to balance the flavor was smart. Additionally, she incorporated the fusion aspect of Macau cuisine, with nods to Portuguese flavors and ingredients.

Kelsey and Justin were less successful because they hid the durian. They allowed all the other flavors to completely overpower the pungent fruit. Additionally, they had a negative mindset about this challenge. It was apparent that they would be in the bottom. Kelsey even said, that she would not win because you can’t make a winning dish out of something that you hate.

Winning the Quickfire was Michelle. She found the right balance between the durian and the other ingredients. She received an extra hour of prep/cook time in the Elimination Challenge.

Truthfully, Sara’s dish appeared more thoughtful and innovative. If she was able to teach Padama something new, didn’t that deserve the win? Then again, sometimes that Quickfire win, and the extra time, can be a negative in this competition. Just look how many “winning” chefs got eliminated.

To set up the Elimination Challenge, the chefs had to challenge their heritage into a thoughtful dish. While using the local ingredients and cuisine as inspiration, they needed to find the blend of their background with the current locale as inspiration. It was definitely a daunting task.

TOP CHEF — “The Tao of Macau” Episode 1614 — Pictured: (l-r) Abe Conlon, Padma Lakshmi — (Photo by: Carmo Correia/Bravo)

With Top Chef in Macau, it was amazing that the show included Abe Conlon in this episode. The chef/owner of Chicago’s Fat Rice is an award winning chef, but more importantly he lead the charge for brining Macau’s cuisine to the forefront.

Additionally Chef Conlon is an extremely thoughtful and innovative chef. Side note, I remember one of his dishes at a Taste Talks event years ago. He hung the food in trees. The “food experience” was definitely a memorable food moment.

Looking at the Elimination Challenge, this cook was steeped in emotion. Having their family at the table was both pressure and comfort. Still, the “right” inspiration for this dish was key to it being successful. One chef nailed the concept.

It was clear that Sara was going to win. Who would have thought that a fusion version of matzo ball soup would be on Top Chef? The reason why this dish was so successful was that it embraced the fusion concept.

The dish had heat, depth of flavor and nuance. More importantly, it still had the heart of a traditional matzo ball soup. It was clear that Sara would be moving onto the finale.

For the other chefs, there were highlights and mis-steps. Truthfully, Kelsey was going to move on even though she was in the bottom three. Like last week, she found a way to fuse her Southern roots with local ingredients. At the same time, the flavors were clean yet layered.

TOP CHEF — “The Tao of Macau” Episode 1614 — Pictured: (l-r) Padma Lakshmi, Kelsey Barnard — (Photo by: Carmo Correia/Bravo)

Both of these chefs found a way to infuse their heritage with local ingredients. That concept is key to Macau’s cuisine. More importantly, it is the basis for winning Top Chef. All the winning Top Chef contestants were able to be inspired by the journey but never lose sight of their own culinary point of view.

Justin and Michelle both struggled in this challenge. Justin struggled not because his dish wasn’t good, it was texturally off. While using local ingredients was important, those ingredients created a textural issue with the dish.

At the same time, Justin stayed true to his vision. He found a way to bring West Africa to Asian ingredients. There was a sense of heart and soul.

Michelle seemed to over-conceptualize her dish. While she had an extra hour of prep, that extra time seemed to hurt her. While each individual component was expertly cooked, the dish wasn’t harmonious. It was as if each ingredient was playing its own tune.

More importantly, Michelle seemed to miss the concept of blending her heritage with the local cuisine. Just using local ingredients doesn’t make the dish Macau-inspired. She needed to embrace something more. This dish was just lacking in the “more” factor.

The chef sent home was Michelle. While she had a great comeback after winning Last Chance Kitchen, this dish didn’t earn her a spot in the Top Chef Season 16 finale.

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Going into next week’s finale episode, only two chefs will cook for the title. Which chefs will be the last two standing? Tune in next week to find out.