Top Chef Houston Finale: Who are the final three chefs?

TOP CHEF -- "Cactus Makes Perfect" Episode 1913 -- Pictured: (l-r) -- (Photo by: David Moir/Bravo)
TOP CHEF -- "Cactus Makes Perfect" Episode 1913 -- Pictured: (l-r) -- (Photo by: David Moir/Bravo) /

With four chefs vying for the Top Chef Houston title, only three chefs would make the Top Chef Houston Finale. Did these native ingredients prick a favorite chef right before the last dinner?

When Top Chef announced that the final was heading to Tucson, Arizona, UNESCO City of Gastronomy, many foodies assumed that native ingredients would be part of the culinary challenge. This episode did not disappoint.

Although some of the final four did their homework on native ingredients, flavors and traditions, it was a little curious that the chefs weren’t more prepared. Everyone assumed that Evelyn would be well versed in using peppers, cactus and other ingredients. Still, why didn’t the chefs practice breaking down some nopales before heading to Tucson?

For the Quickfire Challenge, the chefs took on Carne Seca. The cured meat was more than just a plate of jerky. But, that ability to see beyond this version of a dried meat was key to the chefs’ success.

As seen in the Quickfire, Sarah was able to see the similarities in her style of cooking. That carne seca might not be the same as the venison in the Midwest, but there is a way to borrow from those ideas. It wasn’t that the dish reinvented the carne seca, but it was revitalized in a way that made it more flavorful.

At the same time, everyone expected Evelyn to shine in this challenge. Since she is familiar with the ingredient, it was both an advantage and a disadvantage. But, her take on carne seca and grits was a lovely choice. It earned her high praise.

Still, Sarah earned the win and an advantage. That extra time for the final cook is always helpful with the pressure is high in the kitchen.

For the dinner that would determine the Top Chef Houston Finale top three, the chefs had to use cactus and Chiletipin in both a savory and sweet dish. While the chefs could choose to incorporate either ingredient in one dish or both dishes, the idea was to ensure that the native ingredients were the star of the plate.

While all four chefs created stellar dishes, it came down to which two dishes were just slightly less successful. It was another example that the Top Chef Houston has raised the bar on exceptional food. Instead of the worst dish causing a chef to be sent home, it is the least perfect dish that causes a chef’s dreams to go up in smoke.

Looking at the dishes, it was clear that Evelyn was able to channel her emotions onto a plate. While these ingredients were dear to her and her culture, she was able to bring a sense of elegance to the humble ingredients. Even Maria Mazon (Top Chef Season 18) commented that Evelyn was able to make that cultural connection that many chefs strive to achieve.

While slightly expected, Evelyn is part of the final three and won the challenge. Although she has a lot of pressure in the Top Chef Houston Finale, it will be an exciting last meal.

In the most creative approach to the challenge, Buddha proved that Southwest flavors can be transformed into other traditional dishes. Using inspiration from a dish that his father made, the Asian inspired dish welcomes the Chiletipin in the most seductive way. From the dumpling to the flavor, it was the most innovative dish of the four.

Of course, many Top Chef fans expected Budda to have a beautifully plated dessert. As seen throughout the season, his desserts look like art on a plate. This one did not disappoint.

Sarah, who rejoined the competition via Last Chance Kitchen, continues to prove that she is worth of that second chance. She was able to convince Kristen Kish that she likes lamb, which might be as hard as getting Tom Colicchio to like okra.

Even though Sarah had some missteps with her dessert, it was her flavors that resonated with the table. There was a lovely blend of comfort and elegance.

Lastly, Damarr seemed the most frazzled and the least prepared of the final four. While he might have YouTubed cactus, he seemed less confident in the kitchen. As his beans broke from being overcooked, it seemed like he was on a path to be eliminated.

Although Damarr took a risk by baking his dessert, his dishes didn’t highlight the required ingredients enough. Again, the dishes were good, just not good enough.

Damarr did not make the Top Chef Houston finale, but he might win the fan favorite vote. Everyone will have to wait and see.

Which of the final three chefs will earn the Top Chef Houston crown? Be sure to watch the Top Chef Houston finale on Thursday, June 2.