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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The veterans continue to dominate the rookies on Top Chef

Illustration for article titled The veterans continue to dominate the rookies on Top Chef

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.

  • Here’s what happened: There’s no Quickfire since the premiere was essentially one long Quickfire. Instead, the rookies and veterans function as two separate teams, with each eating at the home of a local culinary star. They’re each to create a family-style meal inspired by, well, the family-style meals they just ate. The veterans come out on top, with Casey taking top honors for her collard greens. The rookies stumble, and Annie is sent home for her tomato tart’s undercooked dough.
  • Can we all agree that, when it comes to team challenges at least, the rookies are vastly outmatched? I suppose we’re now seeing the cracks in this new format. That’s not to say the chefs new to the competition aren’t insanely talented, but they’re not just facing off against veterans of the show, but veterans who made it far in their seasons. They know the show, they know the beats, they know what to avoid. In this episode, the rookies acted like your average Top Chef contestant—they struggled on a team, they overbought groceries, they got swept up in ego. Meanwhile, the veterans vocally stressed the importance of staying communicative and in sync, resulting in a literal clean sweep of dishes. They know the score. The rookies served up a solid meal, but it lacked cohesion and, when it failed, it failed hard. Here’s hoping team challenges take a backseat in this season; the rookies need time to shine on their own.
  • The rookiest of the rookie team’s many mistakes? Not making biscuits when your host makes the best biscuits in Charleston. This is where ego comes in, though: Eager to impress, no rookie wanted to serve something so simple as biscuits, not even Jim, who has immunity. Meanwhile, veteran Brooke didn’t just cook up a batch, but served them with a dulce de leche that gave it both savory and sweet components. God, Brooke rules.
  • Speaking of rookies, it was awesome to hear Emily rage against the distinction. “I am not a rookie chef,” she says, clearly bristled. It’s a source of tension I didn’t quite expect. Some of the rookies have probably been cooking longer than some of the veterans, but the format of the show automatically undercuts them to a certain degree. I’ll be right over here.
  • Top Chef is really doubling down on the local culture this season, which makes sense considering they’re in a small city with a fairly established culinary identity. They’re doing it a lot better than they did in Boston, too. There, they built challenges around bygone military battles and had the contestants firing cannons and shit. Here, they’re focusing on the food and community. Except when they had them cook at a former slave plantation last week. Whoops.
  • BJ screwing up meat when he’s a self-proclaimed “meat guy” unfavorably recalls Seattle’s Josh, the twirly-stached grump who couldn’t cook pork despite working at a restaurant called Divine Swine. That guy was the worst.
  • Jamie, ostensibly the most pedigreed of the rookies, has literally spent the first two episodes overcooking vegetables. Dude, maybe that’s why “corporate restaurants” won’t touch you.
  • Sylvia and Sylva (I know) remain the rookies to watch out for. Sylvia killed it in the premiere and served up a solid dish this week, which is especially impressive considering, her being Italian and all, her experience with Southern food is minimal. As for Sylva, his story about going to the market with his mother (now departed) as a child was genuinely affecting. That cornish game hen “chow-chow” looked tasty as hell, too.
  • Casey won, but Shirley and Sheldon also stood out for their ability to simply and articulately weave a story into the fabric of their dish. Shirley, especially, is so good at making her food feel like an event rather than just a dish.
  • Did anyone else catch that awkward sorta-kiss/hug between John and Katsuji during the judging? What the hell was that? Can anyone GIF that? You’ll be ever in my good graces.
  • “Isn’t food cool?” says Casey, tears in her eyes. Yes, Casey. Yes, it is.
  • Next week on Top Chef: Padma says, “This is the best meal I’ve ever had on Top Chef.” I feel like they’ve been routinely saying some variation of that every season since Texas and I’m really starting not to trust it. You never said that to Richard Blais.
  • PS: What did y’all think of Richard Blais as a judge last season? As for me, I am very, very glad Graham Elliot took over (though where was he this week?).
  • Last Chance Kitchen: It’s begun! Do you guys actually watch it? Should I write about it? Do you care?