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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Top Chef kicks off its 14th season by pitting newbies against veterans in Charleston

Photo: Bravo
Photo: Bravo

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.

  • Charleston’s been a buzzed-about food mecca for the last couple years, so kudos to Top Chef for jumping on the trend while it’s still fresh. Sure, there’s more familiar faces in L.A. and New York, but smaller cities (especially Southern ones) tend to have more character. Here’s hoping the show highlights local innovators rather than just flying out Wylie Dufresne for the 14th time.
  • Top Chef is always trying to reinvent itself (unnecessarily so, I’d say), but this latest gimmick might be its most inspired. On one side: eight chefs new to Top Chef. On the other: eight beloved/despised veterans. While it’s a bummer to watch Top Chef resort to the same gimmicks as other competition shows, the result is truly satisfying. No longer must we utter “who?” after the first several eliminations. Getting to know just eight new chefs is much more manageable, and seeing old favorites again is the perfect way to satiate our hunger for another season of Top Chef All-Stars.
  • The eight veterans are an inspired group, with season 7’s Amanda and season 12’s Katsuji being the only toss-ups (in that neither were really heavy hitters in their season). The rest are on equal footing, though season 10s Brooke and season 11’s Shirley are clear front-runners. That Shirley didn’t win her season is an utter travesty. Well, that anyone who wasn’t Nick didn’t win in New Orleans is a travesty. Don’t @ me.
  • Newbies Quickfire: The new chefs were tasked with creating as many dishes as they could out of a whole chicken. This presents a challenge familiar to Top Chef contestants: do you make one really great dish, or three okay ones? Let us not forget how many chefs have been dinged for being overly ambitious (or for playing it too safe). In the end, Italian pasta wizard Silvia, hotheaded Emily, and “Executive Chef of Alabama” Jim are lauded for their creations. Jim wins, which is insane since I can’t imagine a plate of innards being nearly as delicious as Silvia’s fresh-made tagliatelle. But, hey, he’s good TV, I guess. On the bottom is Gerald, a father of five who just couldn’t bring the goods.
  • Veterans Quickfire: Simple: shrimp and grits, but make it fancy or weird or whatever. Amanda, Shirley, and Brooke come out on top, and while Shirley’s steamed egg custard in shrimp stock is a perfect example of her bold, inimitable style, Brooke’s scotch egg wrapped in ground shrimp was both a success in conception and execution. Dallas firebrand John, who made plenty of enemies during his Seattle season, ends up on the bottom for his faux kimchi. “Faux,” I’d wager, isn’t a good word to put in front of any dish.
  • To determine who goes home, Gerald and John have a cook-off on a historic cotton plantation, which awkwardly and aggressively forces this light, carefree cooking competition to address Charleston’s racial history. After Padma solemnly speaks of how Charleston chooses to remember its complicated legacy, sweet, peppy Gail jumps in like, “But hey, they have an oyster festival.”
  • So, yeah, they have to cook with oysters. Gerald makes a valiant effort, making a Thai-style mignonette, but doesn’t stand a chance ‘cause John brought a bag of friggin’ truffles with him. Gerald could’ve made the oysters talk and still gone home.
  • The judges giving feedback to the chefs immediately after tasting their dishes remains the worst, most puzzling choice in Top Chef’s endless quest to fix something that ain’t broke.
  • When did Sam Talbot become Poochie? He talked like a Borg in season two and now he wears a backwards cap and calls everything “dope.” “Dope-ass socks,” he says to Gerald. I guess that’s what happens when you’re voted Sexiest Man Alive.
  • “I have a question. Am I getting subtitles this year or no?” God bless you, Katsuji.
  • Out of the new chefs, local Charleston chef Emily is clearly primed and ready to play the role of rabble-rouser. No matter how much trouble she causes, though, she can’t possibly be more annoying than Jamie. “Corporate restaurants won’t touch me,” he says. Yeah, dude, ’cause I’m sure you’re angling to man the wok at P.F. Chang’s. Also, shout-out to Alabama chef Jim for being Stephen Asprinio-adjace.
  • This season on Top Chef: Hugh Acheson makes fun of people. Yes.