Who are the last three bosses?

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

When Top Chef announced the finale was heading to Tucson, Arizona, a UNESCO City of Food, many foodies assumed local ingredients would be part of the culinary challenge. This episode did not disappoint.

Although some of the final four did their homework on the ingredients, flavors and native traditions, it was a bit odd that the chefs weren’t more prepared. Everyone assumed that Evelyn would be well versed in the use of peppers, cacti and other ingredients. Yet why didn’t the chefs practice decomposing nopales before heading to Tucson?

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

As seen in the Quickfire, Sarah could see the similarities in her cooking style. This carne seca may not be the same as Midwestern venison, but there is a way to borrow from those ideas. It’s not that the dish reinvented carne seca, but it was revitalized in a way that made it tastier.

At the same time, everyone expected Evelyn to shine in this challenge. Since she knows the ingredient well, that was both a plus and a minus. But his take on carne seca and oatmeal was a lovely choice. This earned him praise.

Still, Sarah got the win and an advantage. This extra time for the end cook always comes in handy as the pressure is high in the kitchen.

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

While all four chefs created stellar dishes, two dishes turned out to be a little less successful. It was another example that Top Chef Houston raised the bar on exceptional food. Instead of the worst dish that gets a chef sent home, it’s the least perfect dish that shatters a chef’s dreams.

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

Although slightly expected, Evelyn made it to the bottom three and won the challenge. Although she’s under a lot of pressure in the Top Chef Houston finale, it’s going to be an exciting last meal.

In the most creative approach to the challenge, Buddha has proven that Southwestern flavors can be transformed into other traditional dishes. Taking inspiration from a dish made by his father, the Asian-inspired dish welcomes the Chiletipin in the most seductive way. From the dumpling to the flavor, this was the most innovative dish of the four.

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

Sarah, who joined the competition through Last Chance Kitchen, continues to prove she’s worth that second chance. She managed to convince Kristen Kish that she likes lamb, which might be as hard as getting Tom Colicchio to like okra.

Even though Sarah had a few missteps with her dessert, it was her flavors that resonated with the table. There was a nice mix of comfort and elegance.

Finally, Damarr looked the most tired and unprepared of the final four. While he may have cacti on YouTube, he seemed less confident in the kitchen. As his beans broke from being overcooked, it looked like he was about to be eliminated.

Although Damarr took a risk in preparing his dessert, his dishes did not sufficiently highlight the required ingredients. Again, the dishes were good, but not good enough.

Damarr didn’t make the Top Chef Houston finale, but he could win the fan-favorite vote. Everyone will have to wait and see.

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

James C. Tibbs