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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Charleston shines in a Top Chef centered around Carolina-style, whole-hog barbecue

Illustration for article titled Charleston shines in a Top Chef centered around Carolina-style, whole-hog barbecue

Because The A.V. Club knows that TV shows keep going even if we’re not writing at length about them, we’re experimenting with discussion posts. For certain shows, one of our TV writers will publish some brief thoughts about the latest episode, and open the comments for readers to share theirs.

  • I’d just like to start by saying this episode delivered pretty much everything a good episode of Top Chef can deliver. A tough, relatable challenge, regional flair, meaningful character development, and the kind of culinary ingenuity that makes these “cheftestants” so impressive. I will say, however, that it’s becoming more and more clear just how stacked the deck is against the rookies. The biggest flaw of this episode is also the biggest flaw of this season: the rookies are both outmatched and overshadowed by chefs who are both, for the most part, further along in their careers and versed in the Top Chef style of competition. When Silvia, another rookie, went home, I began to feel a touch of fatigue. Are we just building toward a veteran vs. veteran showdown? Will all of this just result in a bizzaro version of season 10, with John, Sheldon, and Brooke comprising the finale? Was this veterans vs. rookie format doomed from the start? Or, having seen it, do you still think you’d prefer this to another season of fresh faces?
  • The Quickfire: In a bizarre, seemingly baseless move, Padma and the Top Chef producers (one of whom looks suspiciously like WWE superstar Sami Zayn) decide to leave our heroes alone in a darkened studio kitchen to awkwardly purse their lips before revealing a bounty of ingredients that serve as their only clue to the challenge itself. It’s not a bad idea, but it feels half-baked in execution. There’s no buildup, no raison d’etre. Just Padma, Sami Zayn, and Top Chef Masters alum John Currence laughing at them for being confused and the chefs figuring out in no time that flour + buttermilk + Charleston means they’re supposed to make biscuits. The results are gorgeous, however, with Brooke taking top honors for her riff on bagels and lox: black pepper and poppyseed biscuit with a salmon spread. It’s also indicative of a larger theme in the episode: When dealing with a traditional dish, how much can you bend it to suit your own style?
  • Seriously, WWE superstar Sami Zayn is a Top Chef producer.
  • The Elimination Challenge: The chefs are broken up into three teams to make their own spin on Carolina-style whole-hog BBQ, which includes a Carolina-style sauce in addition to sides and the main pork course. Team Yellow (Seattle alums Brooke, John, and Sheldon, along with lucky rookie Emily) win despite a number of setbacks, including a herniated disc for Sheldon, a xanthan gum workaround for John’s mac and cheese, and undercooked beans from Emily, who is seriously letting her native city down. John takes top honors for his ingenuity, while the green team (Sylva, Silvia, Katsuji, and Amanda) shit the bed by taking too many liberties with the core tenets of Carolina BBQ. Sylva, for example, incorporates hoisin sauce and ketchup into the traditional vinegar-based Carolina sauce, while Katsuji (our country’s foremost expert in kosher Mexican food) lets his lack of pork knowledge show by cooking his beans with pig jowls that exude a sour, funky je ne sais quoi. Silvia commits the greatest sin, however, by serving an “Italian” potato salad that swaps out mayo for salsa verde.
  • It’s a fine line, isn’t it? That balance of upholding tradition and the integrity of ingredients with one’s desire to put their own stamp on it. In the Quickfire, Sylva got accolades for brazenly infusing scallops into his biscuit, though Katsuji also did for making his the old-fashioned way. I can see how it’s different with whole-hog BBQ, though, in that the chefs were tasked with honoring Carolinas’ time-honored preparation. This is the joyous wrinkle of shooting in a traditionalist region rather than a melting pot like L.A., New York, or Las Vegas.
  • Can you imagine someone like Marcel being tasked to make BBQ? I’d kill to see his yellow mustard foam.
  • I know Silvia went home for more than conceptual issues (Gail describes the texture as “gloopy”), but I still think Katsuji should’ve gone for serving fart beans. If the judges are to be believed, those things tasted like they came out of a toilet. Tom’s over here talking about pig glands, for Puck’s sake. Do you think the right chef went home?
  • There’s been BBQ challenges in past seasons—Texas even had a similar all-night elimination challenge centered around it—but this episode did a beautiful job of showcasing both the local BBQ culture in addition to what this region emphasizes in its preparation. I was particularly touched by the gang’s trip to Sweatman’s, a charming Charleston mainstay with a robust history that serves its plates in an old farmhouse. It was a brief scene, but learning about the restaurant and its process from a 50-something who’d been there since he was 12 felt both intimate and inspiring. As a lifelong devourer of yellow mustard, that sauce had me droolin’. Have any of you guys been there? Tell me everything.
  • All-nighter challenges are always a Top Chef highlight. Whether it’s BBQ, chili, or simply a daunting menu, it’s always a joy to see if the chefs have as much endurance as they do talent. All-nighters also allow ample room for us to see the chefs as, well, people. John’s endless prattling (and Brooke’s good-natured annoyance) was almost as endearing as the fact that Silvia had never eaten a s’more. Remember Chuy building the myth of his journeyman father during Texas’ all-nighter? Always a good time.
  • Did you see Amanda’s face when Sylva told her to watch her fingers? Y’all are sleeping on her, though it’s weird the show hasn’t shown us one of her Quickfire dishes in, like, three weeks, right? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
  • Did you guys know Darius Rucker is still a thing? I actually kinda dig a lot of his country tunes, even if they’re more sanitized than anything he did with Hootie and the Blowfish. Did anyone else catch Tom embarrassedly dancing to Rucker’s set? Seriously a top five Tom moment.
  • Emily talks about Katsuji “stirring the pot” over a shot of Katsuji stirring a pot. Genius? Hacky? I don’t even know anymore.
  • Last Chance Kitchen: Silvia goes up against Sam and Tom is so quick to embarrass her for saying Sam’s hot. Sam’s hot, Tom. Saying Sam is hot is like saying the sky is blue. Anyway, Tom sheepishly explains that they’ll be cooking with ingredients that are considered lucky (?), including branzino, garlic, and red onion. Silvia dethrones Poochie with a simple, elegant branzino dish, banishing Sam to the sidelines where he can crack jokes about cake instead of going home to work with Beyond Type 1. He’ll be fine, though. Seriously, just look at this guy.
Illustration for article titled Charleston shines in a Top Chef centered around Carolina-style, whole-hog barbecue
  • I legit think Tom’s doing shots before Last Chance Kitchen. Dude sounds daffy and on the verge of giggles when describing every challenge.
  • I have never wanted to be friends with anyone more than I want to be friends with Tom Colicchio.
  • Next week on Top Chef: Sheldon falls down and Bravo decided to make that the centerpiece image for the episode. Also, Hugh’s back!