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S19.E13: Cactus Makes Perfect


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For their last Quickfire Challenge, the chefs make the trip to El Charro in Tuscon, Ariz., the oldest family-run Mexican restaurant in the country, where chef Carlotta Flores challenges them to create a dish featuring her carne seca.

Original air date: May 26, 2022

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(edited)

What fantastic food in this episode!  So inspired and imaginative, and they all sounded delicious.

I’m sad to see Damarr go, but that would be true of any of them – someone had to go out, despite making great food.  This is going to be an incredible finale.

I’m a bit surprised Evelyn was the only one familiar with cactus.  Nopales and the red prickly pear (“tuna”) are readily available in my local grocery store here in Los Angeles on top of appearing in Mexican restaurant dishes, so I’ve worked with those.

My first instinct when Evelyn said she was going to do something outside the box was worry -- She’s the one person experienced with the challenge ingredients, and throws away that advantage on the day that determines who goes to the finale?!  But with her having been told she played it safe in the last challenge, I calmed down and realized it was the right call to make.  I’m so thrilled she got the win that way!

Sarah is every bit as impressive as the others.  I recently realized LCK can be seen on YouTube (which means I can watch it on my big TV via Fire stick); I’ve never watched it because I thought it was only through the Bravo website, and I don’t like to watch things on a 24” monitor instead of a TV screen.  I might get my TC fix after this season ends by watching all her LCK episodes.

Also - Yea, Maria!  As soon as Padma said last episode they were heading to Tucson, I hoped we’d see her.

Edited by Bastet
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Man, that was a painful ending. I’ll miss Damarr. All of the food looked delicious! Between Evelyn and Buddha, I don’t know who I want to win more. Looks like Sara could cause an upset and take the title. At least she was less annoying this episode. 

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I am actually fine with anyone winning.  That was some impressive looking food they put out and it looks like more of the same, dare I say, “impressiveness” next week for the finale.

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Sorry to all Demarr fans.  This is heartbreaking.  Losing Nick and Demarr has not been 1% enjoyable to me at all.  Okay maybe 1% because I do like Buddha.  I liked Evelyn from the beginning but Buddha really grew on me.

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2 hours ago, Bastet said:

.

I’m a bit surprised Evelyn was the only one familiar with cactus.  Nopales and the red prickly pear (“tuna”) are readily available in my local grocery store here in Los Angeles on top of appearing in Mexican restaurant dishes, so I’ve worked with those.

.....

Sarah is every bit as impressive as the others.  I recently realized LCK can be seen on YouTube (which means I can watch it on my big TV via Fire stick); I’ve never watched it because I thought it was only through the Bravo website, and I don’t like to watch things on a 24” monitor instead of a TV screen.  I might get my TC fix after this season ends by watching all her LCK episodes.

Also - Yea, Maria!  As soon as Padma said last episode they were heading to Tucson, I hoped we’d see her.

Given the other chefs come from Chicago, Brooklyn, and Michigan, it doesn't surprise me at all that they don't commonly use or even see cactus.  Especially since all cheftestants these days seem to focus on sourcing locally available ingredients.

....

Good job you don't watch at my house . . . .  My TV screen is 19" and my laptop, on which I generally watch Last Chance Kitchen, is significantly smaller!

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So cool seeing how they created the dishes with cactus. I was sad to see my fellow Chicagoan Demarr go home. Any of the final three could win, they are all that good. I’ve been so impressed by Evelyn’s food mainly because I love Mexican food. Buddha has also impressed. 

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Demarr, I voted for you as fan favorite and I’ll figure out a way to visit Virtue—I see there’s outdoor seating! 

Excited for this final three. Buddha’s been getting a winning edit, it seems, but Sarah came back from LCK and Evelyn’s food seems always so delicious. Judges seem to love her food, if not always impressed in the way they are by Buddha. I’m good with whoever cooks the best meal.

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Noooooooooooo!

Before the episode I was looking to see if there was going to be a viewing party or something at Virtue, and when I didn't see anything, I had a bad feeling about it.

I guess I have to concede that today the other three chefs just put out better food than my homie, so I can't complain too much.

I suppose it could be anyone's finale. Buddha seems the most technically skilled and creative. Evelyn is getting the benefit of getting to cook Tex-Mex and Southwestern cuisine and has tons of wins and momentum. Grudgingly I have to admit that Sarah has done really well since coming back. 

I guess it's time to figure out how to vote for Damarr for Fan Favorite. 

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I really enjoyed this episode - even if I can barely stand losing Damarr.  Buddha was his normal studious, creative self, Evelyn was thoughtful about not just cooking her family's food, and Sarah and Damarr applied their own cooking principles to new ingredients.  I was surprised Sarah didn't win after Tom called her first dish a 3-Michelin starred dish!  It could? show how Tom is more connected to her cooking after many more tastes through LCK?  It struck me he was outvoted.  Anyway, I would like to eat all of that, including Evelyn's (as I posted on the previous episode thread, I was horrified to read on Wikipedia that nopales have a "mucilaginous" texture.  i.e. goo).  I live in the close-in SW Chicago suburbs, so I intend to get all my S/SW/Hyde Park friends to Virtue. 

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(edited)

From what I understood, Evelyn got the win because she was the only person with BOTH dishes that the judges unanimously liked, plus Padma's favourite dessert.

I'm sorry, but I forgot what they said about Sarah's dessert.  Did they all like it?

Edited by Ms Blue Jay
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One take away I had was that the first chefs presenting, Sarah and Buddha, killed it with their savory dishes.  Then, Evelyn and Damarr outdid themselves with their dessert.  As Evelyn pointed out, each had a small flaw in one of their dishes, though both Evelyn's dishes received consistently good reviews.  I think Damarr was narrowly eliminated because his main ingredient was not highlighted as much as the judges would like.  I'm sad to lose him right before the finale, but he certainly did an amazing job this season.  I live nowhere near Chicago and his restaurant is now on my bucket list.  

I can't wait to see what they cook next week as the best dish of their lives!

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1 hour ago, Leeds said:

Given the other chefs come from Chicago, Brooklyn, and Michigan, it doesn't surprise me at all that they don't commonly use or even see cactus.  Especially

Chicago has a reasonably sizable Mexican immigrant community and a thriving Mexican restaurant scene (beyond Rick Bayless), but it doesn’t surprise me that Damarr wasn’t familiar with cactus varieties given the range of his experience.

2 minutes ago, Ms Blue Jay said:

I'm sorry, but I forgot what they said about Sarah's dessert.  Did they all like it?

They liked Sarah’s dessert, but faulted her a bit on her melty ice cream. I think they were more impressed with the others' (though there was some criticism of Buddha's for not having deep enough flavor). All the same, it was clear their judgment of the savory course was going to trump dessert, and Damarr's first course was really the only one that came in for any criticism at all.

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8 minutes ago, WaffleQueen said:

The editing of this season feels like it’s stacked in favor of either Buddha or Sarah for the win.

I agree, and I am hoping that it will be Buddha for the win. Sarah has been very creative, and I am certain that I would have a wonderful time if I went to her restaurant, but Buddha has been on another level this season. I know it is silly to have personality influence my view of someone's cooking, but unfortunately Sarah does get on my nerves. I feel especially bad about this because it's just a personality thing. She is not mean, and she hasn't done anything awful, as Gabe did in the previous season. While I think she is an excellent chef, aside from my personality issues, I really do think Buddha is the better chef. And while I would thoroughly enjoy everything Evelyn cooks, I don't think she can compete with Buddha and Sarah, but we will see.

I am so gutted to see Damarr go. When one of my children was doing a tour of the U. of Chicago, followed by a visit to the much beloved Museum of Science of Industry, we ended up going to Virtue for dinner. If you are in the area, definitely pay them a visit. It will be well worth your time. Going to Chicago soon, so I will definitely going to Virtue again!

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4 hours ago, laprin said:

Between Evelyn and Buddha, I don’t know who I want to win more. Looks like Sara could cause an upset and take the title.

Sarah has moved up into my second choice.  At the point she returned to the competition from LCK, I most wanted Evelyn to win, but if not her, Damarr, if not him, Buddha, and if not him, okay, fine, Sarah;  I don't watch LCK, so I didn't know her and her food.  With Damarr out and having had a chance to see several examples of Sarah's cooking, I still very much hope Evelyn wins, but now Sarah is my second choice rather than Buddha. 

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1 hour ago, Ms Blue Jay said:

I'm sorry, but I forgot what they said about Sarah's dessert.  Did they all like it?

I believe they really liked it and used words like sticky and delicious but they wish her ice cream was colder (and hadn't melted so much), especially for using liquid nitrogen.  I think her use of the cactus  and other main ingredients helped her secure getting into the finale.  I also think because Kristen loved her lamb (a protein she hates) and the quality of her first dish gave her the edge over Demar.  I thought Buddah was going to win and the judges definitely (based on their description of his food) were leaning more towards a Buddah win for this episode over Evelyn.  I will be happy to see any of them win next week.  

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(edited)

I know a lot of y'all are sad about Damarr but I felt like if anyone else had gone it would have been a travesty. As sweet as he seems, he hasn't been at the same level as the others. Personally I'm blown away by Budha's precision and beautiful plating (for example his Tom Yum soup), though it does seem a bit bloodless. But apparently it tastes REALLY good!

Edited by dleighg
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I'm not familiar with the native pepper they featured and all I know now about how it tastes comes from Demarr's description.  Given that, after Buddha and Sarah presented I wondered about the judges getting palate burn halfway in.  I know I tend to numb out after the first half of an extremely spicy dish. 

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9 hours ago, Daisychain said:

 Anyway, I would like to eat all of that, including Evelyn's (as I posted on the previous episode thread, I was horrified to read on Wikipedia that nopales have a "mucilaginous" texture.  i.e. goo).  I live in the close-in SW Chicago suburbs, so I intend to get all my S/SW/Hyde Park friends to Virtue. 

Yep.  If you've ever seen the inside of an aloe leaf, other succulents including cactus are exactly like that (their tissues store water).  Controlling that goo is the trick to working with nopales, I'm told.

I watched this around 4 this morning and I don't think my brain fully processed it -- did Evelyn get an advantage for winning the Quick Fire?

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2 hours ago, dleighg said:

I know a lot of y'all are sad about Damarr but I felt like if anyone else had gone it would have been a travesty. As sweet as he seems, he hasn't been at the same level as the others. Personally I'm blown away by Budha's precision and beautiful plating (for example his Tom Yum soup), though it does seem a bit bloodless.

Agree with all of this. Buddha is very cheffy. Very talented, but mostly technique and presentation. His food tastes good, yeah, but not that much more than the others.

I love Damarr, but he's seemed a bit out of his depth in the second half of the season. Also, he's made a lot of the same type of dishes. He's young, though. Maybe he can come back for an All Star season?

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I predict Sarah will win, if only for the fact that Tom wants to be "right". He judged her the winner all through LCK so clearly he really likes her food. And from the clip they showed of Padma saying (paraphrasing) "if this is the future of cooking in this country we're in good hands", that leads me to believe it is going to be Sarah.

I'm pulling for Buddha but I think he will be third.

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30 minutes ago, Rammchick said:

I watched this around 4 this morning and I don't think my brain fully processed it -- did Evelyn get an advantage for winning the Quick Fire?

Sarah won the QF and got an extra half hour to cook.

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1 hour ago, Rammchick said:

Yep.  If you've ever seen the inside of an aloe leaf, other succulents including cactus are exactly like that (their tissues store water).  Controlling that goo is the trick to working with nopales, I'm told.

I watched this around 4 this morning and I don't think my brain fully processed it -- did Evelyn get an advantage for winning the Quick Fire?

Sarah won the quick fire and got 30 extra minutes to cook in the elimination challenge. 

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This is being filmed at the Marriott Star Pass Resort but they must have pulled out as a sponsor since it was never mentioned.  I was lucky enough to go to a meeting there years ago just after it opened.  The building is so massive that we kept getting lost.  It was beautiful and well air conditioned.  Wonder why they ate outside?

I'm so glad I didn't have to eat anything made out of nopales.  It squicks me out, just like okra.  I would have to be really hungry to go for slime.

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Oh man.  Once again, all the food looked so good that I wanted to reach into the screen and eat it all.  Buddha's gorgeous entree was a complete work of art.  Sarah's lamb must have been amazing, and Evelyn had me at relleno.  As soon as I saw Damarr's sad face over his beans, I knew he was out.  Once again, it is a simple thing like rice or beans that is the Achille's heel.  He pivoted, to doing a bean puree, but I think it took the heart out of him. 

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11 hours ago, WaffleQueen said:

The editing of this season feels like it’s stacked in favor of either Buddha or Sarah for the win.

I would say that with so many guest judges being like, "What up, Evelyn!" and her overall performance, Evelyn has seemed to have a great shot to be TC. But based on the last couple of episodes, they are jocking Sarah hard. 

1 hour ago, rhofmovalley said:

I predict Sarah will win, if only for the fact that Tom wants to be "right". He judged her the winner all through LCK so clearly he really likes her food. And from the clip they showed of Padma saying (paraphrasing) "if this is the future of cooking in this country we're in good hands", that leads me to believe it is going to be Sarah.

I'm pulling for Buddha but I think he will be third.

Apropos of nothing, I'm disappointed that no one made the dad joke that Collichio should be referred to henceforth as "Tom Yum"/"Tom Yum Soup."

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With the editing, I can always see it in retrospect, but I’ve never been able to accurately call the winner from editing beforehand. However, I could see DeMarr on his way out the door. I like him a lot, but I do think he needs to mature as a chef. He made a lot of basic mistakes, and then as mentioned above, was unable to pivot to fix it.

Sarah dropped her dish on the floor, couldn’t make the ice cream maker work and pivoted to the nitro. During Judge’s Table, she was certain they hated it and when asked about it, responded with excuses about why it was terrible. Only it wasn’t. They loved it, but they just wanted it less melty. The win seemed to be between Sarah and Evelyn.

I like Sarah a lot. It wasn’t just Tom judging her, but other guest judges as well, including the final…five? I think. When they had to choose between Jae’s dish and Sarah’s, every single one chose Sarah’s as the better dish. It wasn’t even close. 

I’m gonna say it. I’m just gonna say it. Buddha’s comment about more tricks up his sleeve felt so Blaise-like that I shuddered. I have loved Buddha and want his food, but I don’t want a dozen food gimmicks in the final meal. I just don’t. 

Evelyn seems like a great human and I love that she is making elevated Mexican food. 

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1 hour ago, meep.meep said:

Wonder why they ate outside?

This was filmed during the height of the pandemic. Although contestants, crew and judges were all presumably tested and stayed in a "bubble" perhaps they couldn't guarantee they wouldn't come into contact with someone who was infected if they filmed inside the hotel.

I do recall the protocols in AZ and TX were much less restrictive than in other states.

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40 minutes ago, BlackberryJam said:

I’m gonna say it. I’m just gonna say it. Buddha’s comment about more tricks up his sleeve felt so Blaise-like that I shuddered.

Is this why Buddha is appealing to me less and less as time goes on?

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47 minutes ago, BlackberryJam said:

Sarah dropped her dish on the floor, couldn’t make the ice cream maker work and pivoted to the nitro. During Judge’s Table, she was certain they hated it and when asked about it, responded with excuses about why it was terrible. Only it wasn’t. They loved it, but they just wanted it less melty. The win seemed to be between Sarah and Evelyn.

[Snip]

I’m gonna say it. I’m just gonna say it. Buddha’s comment about more tricks up his sleeve felt so Blaise-like that I shuddered. I have loved Buddha and want his food, but I don’t want a dozen food gimmicks in the final meal. I just don’t. 

If you'll recall, Sarah had to ask Buddha how to use the liquid nitrogen. Knowing how to use the food gimmicks is beneficial if a chef messes up the traditional method(s). IMO, Buddha shouldn't be dinged if he knows more of them and uses some for his finale meal.

Sarah is, overall, a very smart chef as we saw consistently during LCK. I thought she used her extra 30 minutes in the EC very well by playing with the ingredients that were new to her so she could use them to her best advantage. 

Damarr was my favorite and I'm sad that we won't get to see the meal he had planned for his final cook. 😔 I wanted to eat everything he (and Nick) made this season.

I've thought that Buddha was most likely to take the title all along so I'll stick with him as my predicted winner.

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1 hour ago, rhofmovalley said:

This was filmed during the height of the pandemic. Although contestants, crew and judges were all presumably tested and stayed in a "bubble" perhaps they couldn't guarantee they wouldn't come into contact with someone who was infected if they filmed inside the hotel.

I do recall the protocols in AZ and TX were much less restrictive than in other states.

They filmed the judges table inside the hotel, and they were cooking inside the hotel.  But they put the dining table outside and it was so hot that Sarah's ice cream was a runny mess.  I've been there and it is massive.  They could have blocked off a large section to form their bubble.

Protocols in AZ were not "less restrictive" - I have employees there.  I have had to be on top of their protocols.

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36 minutes ago, meep.meep said:

But they put the dining table outside and it was so hot that Sarah's ice cream was a runny mess

But Sarah's ice cream was melting even as she dished it out indoors, and she acknowledged she didn’t use enough liquid nitrogen to adequately chill it—in contrast to Buddha, who was able to serve his in neat quenelles, though he was dinged for his whole dessert being serves too cold, even served outdoors.

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3 hours ago, BlackberryJam said:

I’m gonna say it. I’m just gonna say it. Buddha’s comment about more tricks up his sleeve felt so Blaise-like that I shuddered.

Yes!  That exactly puts the finger on something I have been struggling to define!  I didn't click with Buddha initially, there was something off-putting about him for me that kept me from climbing onto the Buddha train at the start.  Then came his flawless turn as the Front of the House during Restaurant Wars, and it was "Alllllll  Aboooooaaarrrd!!" after that for me.

Thank you. 

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(edited)
Quote

I’m gonna say it. I’m just gonna say it. Buddha’s comment about more tricks up his sleeve felt so Blaise-like that I shuddered.

That Jae said she didn't like working with him spoke volumes to me. I'm not saying that means he's a bad guy by any means, just that he may be fussy in the kitchen and has an off-putting attitude when he has to collaborate with some chefs (although he clearly worked well with Jackson).

I really want to know more details about why she felt that way.

Edited by WaffleQueen
sorry, quoted the wrong person at first!
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I know I rub some people the wrong way because I have a certain way I want things done and not everyone has the same preferences. I'm extremely picky about no shoes inside my home, for example. And I mean NO shoes. Don't even step just inside the front door with your shoes on. Take them off at the doorstep and then step on my floor with your socks or bare feet. Many people look at me like I'm nuts (I am, but that's another story) but that is how I want it.

I get the impression Buddha is extremely particular and doesn't have a lot of flexibility. But that's just based on how I perceive him from the show. He may actually be a wild and crazy, fly by the seat of his pants kind of guy IRL.

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2 minutes ago, dleighg said:

and his response was "use your intuition."

She first asked him something about how helpful he was feeling and he said something like, "Not very." I don't ding him for that at all. It's a competition and helping your competitors seems counter-intuitive to winning. I don't mind it when competitors compete as long as they aren't sabotaging other competitors (Hi there, pea puree). 

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14 minutes ago, BlackberryJam said:

She first asked him something about how helpful he was feeling and he said something like, "Not very." I don't ding him for that at all. It's a competition and helping your competitors seems counter-intuitive to winning.

Oh I don't disagree. Just pointing out that it's hard to ding her much because "she needed to ask for help" (because she didn't get any).

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