Top Chef Episode 14 Recap: How Urkel Got His Groove Back

With apologies to my editor, this every other week thing is totally working out for me–and for a season which barely has enough notable things happening in any single episode to fill a couple tweets, let alone an entire recap. With that said, here’s what happened last week:

– Everyone’s in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, including the also-rans and the two Last Chance Kitchen finalists, Little Doug and Kapnos, the former of which cooks past the latter to earn the final spot in the finale. Doug is the Scrappy Doo of cheftestants.

– The second-to-last Quickfire challenge has the cheftestants using the rare and exotic prickly pear known as xoconostle (cho-co-no-slay), which is made only more exotic because of its hard-to-pronounce name. Doug wins with a xoconostle and tomatillo stew with roasted peppers and pepitas. The guest judge appreciates the fact that he went full-vegetable.

– The cheftestants are then paired up with local artists and must cook a dish inspired by a piece of artwork that will be made while the chefs cater a party. Doug wins again with a Texas chili, of all things. His momentum is fully back. For how long? Well, keep reading.

– Skrillex goes home because even though Mei failed to capture the bat-shit-craziness of her Ruth Reichl-lookalike artist, the producers would be goddamned if they sent her home lest they face the wrath of an insolent Voltaggio.

And we’re finally down to win-place-show.

The last Quickfire is bittersweet for Padma, so I suppose that’s why the focus is chocolate (Bravo is so zany!). Each cheftestant must make two dishes in 45 minutes, one sweet and one savory, and both must incorporate chocolate. Doug’s in a panic because he doesn’t do desserts, and his momentum from last week stops so suddenly that the only skidmarks to be found are in his tighty whities. He winds up on the bottom, partly because his savory dish didn’t highlight the chocolate, and partly because his sweet dish was simply A BOWL OF MELTED CHOCOLATE. Hipster Urkel, on the other hand, presents a gorgeous seared lamb and an even more beautiful dessert of carrots, dark chocolate, and ginger. The latter was so great that the guest judge asked to put it on his menu. His reward is first pick in the sous chef draft, and he chooses Kapnos. Next, Mei picks Melissa, and Doug opts for Katsuji, who probably should have been number one considering the Elimination Challenge is to cook a six-course progressive meal using Mexican ingredients. The rest of the cheftestants stand around awkwardly until they’re dismissed.

Next, the teams are given the ingredients. Most are approachable (avocado, queso fresco, poblano peppers), but some are things that I’d only trust Lucio Palazzo to cook properly (huitlacoche, escamoles). It’s a melee to determine who gets what. Doug is slow on the uptake and winds up with ant eggs (escamoles) and queso fresco. Mei gets the avocados and huitlacoche, and Greg gets the poblanos and guava. The menu planning comes together well (these cheftestants are all way too nice), and everyone gets right down to shopping and cooking.

Starting with a successful guava soup, Hipster Urkel continues his second-to-last episode domination. Then Mei presents an elegant guacamole that the judges deem boring but beautiful. Although it shouldn’t have been a hard act to follow, Doug’s escamole execution also did little to impress the judges, most of whom said that his Spanish tortilla was really lacking in delicious ant flavor. Mei finds redemption in her second effort, a huitlacoche agnolotti with roasted corn broth, but Urkel’s in the zone, and his concerns about developing enough flavor in his pork and poblano stew were allayed when one of the guest judges almost burst into tears at how much it tasted like his childhood. It’s clear that he’s moving onto the final before the inevitable stare down at Judges’ Table. Finally, Doug also reverses his misfortune with a complex dish of smoked queso fresco, spiced honey, squash chips, and charred pickles.

But what’s worse, a pile of ants that doesn’t taste like ants, or an uninspired guacamole destined for the mouths of esteemed Mexicans? Well, since we know that Mei’s the better cook (sorry, Doug), does it really matter? I think we all know the answer to that question…

Mei stays. Doug goes home. And ladies and gentlemen, we have our finalists.

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