Paul Cheney / Bravo

Top Chef Pigs Out

A barbecue challenge produces a herniated disc, funky beans, and Hootie?

Your Three Targets

After briefly revisiting Katsuji's victory, the producers lay out the three possible targets for elimination this week. Option number one: Emily offers her "poor misunderstood me" storyline. Not only did she poop her pants in front of Mike Lata (her secret boyfriend, I'm guessing?), but she also gets shortchanged in the coddling department. "The veteran girls in the Stew Room consoled Brooke," Emily notes. "And nobody really seems to be, like, patting me on the back and consoling me as much as they are Brooke."

Option number two: Silvia notes reluctantly that it's her birthday, since there's a weird Top Chef birthday curse. To further drive that point home, we see a montage of three previous birthday exits.

Option number three: Sheldon explains his ongoing back problems, which he hasn't had for ten years but have now returned. We'll see which of the three go home this week. Unless it's someone else? Hmmm, hardly seems possible. Gotta be one of those three.

Quickfire Challenge

Here's a fun twist they've never done on Top Chef. The chefs walk into a dimly lit, empty kitchen with the countdown clock set to 40 minutes. While the chefs stew in confusion, we cut to the control room where Padma is watching the video feed. At that point, the clock starts and the pantry door rolls up revealing a bunch of ingredients on a table. The chefs investigate and someone figures out that it's probably a biscuit challenge. "We can't just decide our own challenge," Brooke says. She's both right and wrong. You can decide what the challenge is, but the challenge has already been decided for you. It was decided long before you even knew you wanted to be a chef, before you were even born. Your path brought you inescapably here, because you have no free will. You only think you chose biscuits. But biscuits chose you. I'm pretty sure that's the lesson Padma is hoping to teach the chefs this week.

Sheldon blames the fact that he doesn't know how to make biscuits on the fact that he's Hawaiian. But since his station is right by Brooke's station, he pulls a classic eighth-grade pop-quiz move and copies what Brooke does. When she puts flour into her bowl, Sheldon puts flour into his. When Brooke adds milk, Sheldon adds milk. He hopes this method will produce biscuits that are at least as good as Brooke's. Honestly, I don't see where this could go wrong.

A shocking number of the chefs have never made biscuits before, like a third of them. For something as simple as biscuits, I find this surprising. As they finish up their challenge, Padma enters with guest judge John Currence, a biscuit expert. "Miss me?" Padma says. She doesn't wait for an answer, which is probably best. I don't think she wants to hear their honest responses. Padma then adds the dirtiest line of the season so far: "All right, let's taste your biscuits." Jim tells Padma he makes a LOT of biscuits, which means he's probably screwed these biscuits up. That turns out to be true. Jim's biscuits aren't great, and neither are Shirley's or Sheldon's. But the bigger story about Sheldon is how uncomfortable he looks. Enough so that Padma asks him about it. Sheldon, being a tough cookie, says he'll fight through it. John the Biscuit King loves Katsuji and Jamie's biscuits, but he loves Brooke's biscuits even more than that. He gives Brooke the win and the immunity.

Elimination Challenge: Prep/Cooking

For the elimination challenge, Padma introduces Rodney Scott of Scott's Bar-B-Que. Scott explains the two styles of barbecue sauce used in the Carolinas, mustard-based and vinegar-based, and that people either prefer one or the other. This probably won't end up being important, so I sure hope at least one of the chefs doesn't pay much attention to it. Padma asks the chefs to split up into three teams of four, because their challenge is to barbecue a whole hog and make three sides. Since it's real barbecue, they'll have fourteen hours to cook. The food should be enough to feed one hundred and fifty people. After the teams are decided, John says he's excited about his team, which includes Sheldon, Brooke, and Emily. "It's a Top Chef Season 10 reunion," he says. "I trust Sheldon and Brooke with my life." Maybe he didn't notice that Emily was also on the team? I'm a little sad that there wasn't then a confessional from Emily about how she's feeling left out.

The teams are set to travel to two separate barbecue joints to taste the best from both the mustard and the vinegar camps. But before the cooking even begins, Sheldon leaves to visit the doctor. His back is hurting too much and he expresses his fear that he might have to bail on the whole experience. Sylva doesn't quite know what to make of the two barbecue pits he visits. It's so far from the restaurants he normally works in, where he literally poops out Michelin stars. And I'm seriously ready to fight him. If he thinks his cooking is so much better than good barbecue, he's obviously never had good barbecue. I guess what I'm really saying to Sylva is, "Dial it down, professor."

Sheldon returns with the news that he has a herniated disc, but having received a shot of drugs injected directly into his back, he's totally ready to go. His teammate Brooke, in fact, is super-psyched to get to butchering the hog, because she'll get to use a Sawzall to cut it up. Good to know there's a little Dexter in Brooke. We completely skip the shopping portion of the festivities this week, a strong and solid choice. The teams start their cooking at 11 PM. John bores Brooke with restaurant recommendations spanning the country all through the night. Casey and Jim teach Silvia about s'mores. Casey notices that they're eating s'mores as dawn is breaking. Emily adds that it sucks they're not drunk. At 5:30 in the morning. Don't worry, she DOESN'T have a problem!

John explains how he makes mac and cheese, making a roux out of butter and flour, right before he discovers he can't find his all-purpose flour. No one else has flour to loan him, but for some reason Katsuji has xantham gum, a thickener most commonly used in chewing gum. Because why wouldn't you have that? John trades Katsuji garlic for xantham gum and begins thickening his cheese sauce with it. Three possibilities for that dish now: amazing mac, gluey mac, chewing gum mac. Over on the Green Team, Sylva overthinks his team's barbecue sauce, deciding to merge the mustard with the vinegar, and add ketchup and hoisin sauce. This is a terrible choice in the Carolinas, because that's just not the way they do it. People choose between the two. It's like if someone asked Sylva, "Would you like the steak or the fish?" And Sylva answered, "Ooooh! I'll have the steak-fish, plus chicken." Then he spends some time mansplaining Amanda's coleslaw to her. Yep, something as uncomplicated as coleslaw needs clarification.

As service time nears, there's trouble on the bean front. Emily's beans for the Yellow Team aren't coming along well. "They're not quite there," Emily says. "They seized up." Fuck. Seriously? A bean seizure? That's some unfortunate turn of events. Katsuji tries her beans and declares them "completely raw," but his beans have a problem too, a sour aroma that Tom detects. If the choice is between sour beans or seized beans, I'll have the coleslaw…provided Sylva can explain to me what it is I'm eating.

Elimination Challenge: Service

As the teams prepare to serve their food to everyone, Darius Rucker plays a tune. He's a local guy, so it's not totally random. But there are so many embarrassing white-people-dancing moments during his song. So many. And the crowd assembled appears to be all white. It makes the Top Chef contingent resemble a Benetton ad.

The judges hit the Yellow Team first, and like nearly everything…except Emily's terrible beans. But the sauce gets raves and the pork, according to Gail, is both moist and bright. Sure, bright pork. Makes perfect sense. The judges then visit the Red Team -- Shirley, Jamie, Jim, and Casey -- whom we haven't seen as much of this episode. The judges like their food pretty well too, even though Gail wanted their sauce to punch her in the face more. Green Team immediately takes the bottom position by failing on all fronts. Tom declares the pork mushy. Gail calls out the "funk" in Katsuji's beans. Padma suggests that Silvia's potato salad shouldn't have been called potato salad. And then about Amanda's slaw, there is this exchange:

Tom: "Amanda's slaw's got no flavor."
Gail: "It doesn't taste like anything."
Padma: "I don't know what I'm eating."

That last statement might be the most amazing sentence ever said on Top Chef. I mean, it's one thing if the food you're eating tastes terrible. But for it to confound your senses? That's some next-level suckery. Tom sums it up best by noting that for the previous two teams, he cleaned his plate. Then he looks around at how everyone still basically has full plates. Ouch.

Judges' Table

As was obvious during the service, the Yellow Team wins the challenge, despite Emily's shitty beans. John gets singled out as the winner for his outstanding mac and cheese. For the Green Team, everyone was terrible, but the judges really narrow it down to Silvia and Katsuji. In the end, the birthday curse comes true for Silvia. I'm not saying this happens every time, but it does feel like when it's a tossup between a male and a female chef on this show, the female chef gets the boot. I could be imagining it, or…you know…not.

The Verdict

Maybe it's my love and appreciation of good barbecue, but I found this episode fascinating.

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