Top Chef Gets Down To Biscuits
The chefs get a crash course in Lowcountry and Gullah cooking.
Shrimp Boil Break
One week later, and I'm still wondering if John Tesar didn't get preferential treatment because he's potentially good, though uncommonly sweaty, TV. I mean, during last week's Quickfire Sudden Death, he didn't roast his oysters (if you know what I mean) even though the challenge was an Oyster Roast. But I will have to trust that his simple oyster soup tasted better than Gerald's roasted oysters. And I'll have to just get over the fact that he got to use black truffle that he brought with him, which is apparently something anyone on this show can do. Interesting, I've watched this show a lot and don't remember this "rule" coming into play before. But at the risk of becoming a Truffle Truther, I'll let the matter drop and move on to the episode at hand.
We pick up right where we left the remaining chefs last week: about to find out what their next challenge will be. Padma and Tom escort the chefs through a barn to meet Chef Frank Lee, who treats them to a shrimp boil. It's his way of introducing them to lowcountry cooking, a particular strain of Coastal Carolina cuisine, which will be the focus of the episode. For Sheldon, the shrimp boil reminds him of the way he likes to eat back in Hawaii. "Dig in and use your hands. All I need is a beer," Sheldon says. Then adds with some sadness, "Which we didn't get." Oh, don't worry, Sheldon. I'm sure you'll all get as much alcohol as you desire during the course of the show.
Chef Lee tells the chefs that the best way to get to know the local cuisine is to spend some time with some local chefs. And that's exactly what they'll be doing in their Elimination Challenge. Padma informs the chefs that this will be a team challenge, with the chefs broken into two teams. Each team will dine at the home of a local chef whose family has been in Charleston for generations and then use that experience as inspiration for a family-style meal, just like at Buca di Beppo! Naturally, the two teams will be rookies and veterans. Immediately, Emily voices her objection that she is "p.o.'d" to be referred to as a rookie, because she's a fucking good chef. Oh yeah, she's also a turd. A rookie turd. Double trouble, we call that. Before they head off to meet their respective families, Padma says, "Take a shrimp for the road!" That's not a thing, Padma.
Hanging With The Locals
There's a little travel time, with the chefs in cars. The best part of which is easily Katsuji in the backseat of his car with Amanda, who's a bit of a spaz. Katsuji takes her in and then says in a confessional moment, "Amanda is kind of koo-koo. She's very interesting when you pay attention to what she's saying. I'm not really paying attention." Aw shit, Amanda, turn down your oven, coz YA BURNT! We go from there to a trio of rookies in their car, where BJ admits he doesn't feel that great about the division of the teams. He says, "I feel like I gravitate, obviously, towards the veterans." Oh? Obviously? No, Captain Gingerbeard, it's not obvious. He further explains why he feels like he belongs on the other team: "You know, we have a lot in common. A lot of skill, a lot of experience." Well, that's true. But you haven't been on this show before, right? No? Hmm. That whole other team has. You see, it's not an arbitrary distinction. It's actually very, VERY specific. So, I guess we're up to two turds now, and neither are veterans. Crazy!
The rookies arrive at their location, the home of Carrie Morey, the founder of Charleston's most famous biscuit place, Callie's Hot Little Biscuit. Carrie spends some time talking about biscuits, and the place they have in her own family history, and the secret ingredient -- cream cheese! When Carrie moves on to the pork chops, BJ leaps into action. "I definitely made a name for myself cooking pork," BJ says. While other chefs here might be known for other things, BJ is known for cooking meat. And the wheels start turning in his head: he's got a great idea of doing his own spin on pork chops. It's interesting, because the wheels are turning in my head too! BJ sure is talking a lot, I think. I wonder if he's going home? But then we start getting some of Annie's hippie upbringing too.
The veterans spend their day with BJ Dennis, an expert in Gullah cuisine, a cuisine brought from West Africa via the slave trade. The dishes are sort of familiar-adjacent. His collard greens are cooked with peanut butter, for instance. The veterans really dig BJ and his Gullah cuisine. So much so that Casey is brought to tears. "Isn't food cool?" she says.
Elimination Challenge: Prep/Shopping
Back at the house, things seem to be going pretty swimmingly for the veterans as they plan their meal. They all seem to agree that the point is to honor the Gullah cuisine and to honor BJ Dennis as well. Even Katsuji notices that the veteran team currently exhibits low levels of ego and drama. But he wisely points out that this is the first challenge, and that situation will definitely change. The rookies seem a little more scattered. Jamie immediately wants to do a vegetable dish, to prove he can do vegetables without burning them. Annie complains that there's nothing left for her to make. "Are you guys going to give me something? Because you're all taking, like, all of it." Ultimately and with maximum levels of passive-aggressive energy, she takes the tomato pie, "because that's all that's left, so…" Oh boo-hoo, Annie.
The cluster-fuck for the rookies continues at Whole Foods, where no one has really coordinated the team's grocery list. As a result, the team ends up with seven pounds of butter and four dozen eggs. While they try to sort everything out at the cash register, there's more BJ-related drama (hey-oh!) because the pork loin that he's such a fucking expert at cooking is $120 -- or just under twenty-five percent of their total food budget. Like I said: turd.
Back at the house, the veteran ladies break out the rosé and John provides them with the single ice cube necessary to chill those classy drinks. It's worth noting that Casey's wine glass is easily twice as full as everyone else's. Seems like the veterans are all having a nice relaxing evening. In contrast, the rookies on the porch tensely discuss their dumb decision to not make biscuits. Emily The Original Turd gladly volunteers Jim to make biscuits, since he has immunity. Jim appropriately says, "It's a little late to be having this conversation." Especially since they've decided on their menu and already did their shopping. Emily continues to push her point that they should have biscuits on their menu. Well, a day late and a gallon of buttermilk short, Emily.
Elimination Challenge: Service
The kitchen the chefs have to cook in is incredibly small and immediately presents logistical problems for nearly everyone. For instance, one of the two ovens doesn't have any racks in it. Jamie talks about his veggie dish, and confidently says, "I won't be burning veg, that's for sure." Suddenly, Casey's talking a bunch and bragging about how she's not going to be cooking her collard greens for very long, unlike how almost everyone normally cooks collards. So, this makes me think she could be going home.
Tom takes his tour through the kitchen, which is so incredibly crowded. John tells Tom that his dish will include okra, Tom's least favorite ingredient. The face Tom makes is priceless. Annie complains more about the tomato pie she didn't want to make in the first place. BJ brags again about his meat skills…even though he's in the process of taking it out of the oven, where it's not cooking all the way through, and slicing it so he can sear it up to temperature. Sylva hilarious points out that with under two minutes until service he's the only one plating. And that's when Jamie smells his broccoli burning. Jamie, who so desperately wanted to prove he could make vegetables without burning them like he did in the previous round. You had one job, Jamie.
The rookie team brings their meal out, and Padma immediately says, "So…no biscuits." Carrie adds, "I guess I didn't inspire biscuits," while seriously looking like someone just punched her in the junk. "It's a glaring omission," Padma says. Despite the biscuit oversight, the meal seems to be going well until BJ's pork, which is inconsistently cooked. Annie's tomato tart underwhelms as well. Nobody seems to catch that Jamie burnt some of the components of his dish, probably because the judges agreed there were too components and they didn't come together very well.
Overall, the rookies' meal ranked a solid B-minus at best. And it's not far into the veterans' meal that it's obvious this is a blowout. Carrie compliments Brooke's take on a biscuit. Tom even likes John's okra. And no one complains that Katsuji needed to edit his dish.
With little suspense, the veterans are given the crown. The judges pick Casey, John, and Sheldon as their top three, but it's Casey who wins with her collard greens. She does a weird victory lap, shaking her teammates' hands and then the all of the judges' hands. That simply is not done. You don't touch the judges until you pack your knives. And Casey should know, she's been asked to pack them twice before.
The rookies come out, and Padma quickly identifies the three least favorite dishes, those by BJ, Annie, and Jamie. When Tom hears how BJ cooked the pork loin, he rolls his eyes in about eight different directions. Gail tells BJ that her piece was raw and she's pretty mad about that. But she's also mad that her pork wasn't as thick as some of the others she saw. It's a weird time to find out Gail is a size queen, but there it is. All the judges are pretty disappointed in Annie's tart crust too. Of all the judges, Gail appears the maddest. The more she talks about all three dishes, the more she dislikes them.
It's hard to believe they won't send BJ home for fucking up his protein. That's a cardinal sin on Top Chef. They'll excuse a lot of mistakes on this show, but not really that one. Then there's this part of me that thinks they'll send Annie home, because of the frequently sexist choices the show makes. But maybe that's just residual feelings from election day. Who can really say? Turns out, Annie the complainer is asked to pack her knives.
Okay, so I'm starting to understand the culinary hot spot designation that Charleston earned. So my poking fun at it last week was maybe off-base. But I'm not only on board with that, I'm also on board with this season so far. Lots of great-looking food and an interesting mix of personalities. Looking forward to the forthcoming weeks. Interesting side note: Annie, Gerald, Jamie, and Jim were the first four chefs we met at the top of the season premiere. Two of that group have already packed their knives and Jamie has been on the bottom both weeks. Could just be coincidental, but I do love a good conspiracy.