Paul Cheney / Bravo

Top Chef Puts The 'Arrrr' In 'Charleston'

A pirate party produces slimy scallops, and one chef's exit is written in the stars!

Two Candidates For Elimination?

Since it is my tradition to look upon this opening ninety seconds or so each week with ominous portent, despite that not being the case last week at all, I will do so again this week. Our two chefs to keep a special eye on this episode are Sylva and Jim. Since Sylva won last episode, he would normally be exempt. The past week's winner always gets a brief notice at the top of the following show. But Sylva had to go and mention that he was the first rookie to win an elimination challenge. That felt a little like talking about the no-hitter during the no-hitter to me. So, Sylva's on notice.

Jim, the adorable little sparkplug that he is, admitted he liked everybody. There's really nothing at all to dislike about Jim. He's kind and courteous and a pretty good chef and his wife definitely isn't in for an unpleasant surprise down the road. Why would anyone think that? Jim earns his target this week for mentioning that he's getting closer and closer to these people. "I like everybody," Jim says. "There's no one on my list." It's exactly like the private in a WWII movie showing a picture of his girl back home. The minute he does that, you know he's dead. Sorry, Jim, I don't make the rules. I just follow them.

Quickfire Challenge

We're immediately into the Quickfire Challenge after the opening credits, which is a sign that maybe there's an actual interesting show in store for us this week, as opposed to last week. The chefs walk in to see a table with earth, water, air, and fire labeled. Immediately Sheldon thinks there's a Captain Planet tie-in. Oh, god bless you, Sheldon, and your laid-back island ways.

Padma welcomes Michael Cimarusti, a former Top Chef Master. Then she explains the convoluted rules of this week's Quickfire. Sheldon's expectation of a Captain Planet theme isn't that much zanier than the actual challenge. "For your Quickfire Challenge," Padma says, "we want you to take inspiration from your zodiac sign and use ingredients and tools from your element to create a dish that tells us who you are." It's not until after describing the challenge that Padma drops the bomb that this is a Sudden Death Quickfire. The three chefs with the least successful dishes will face each other, and one will go home.

There's a mad rush to the ingredient table, and John wins the race, beating Sheldon to the snapper he had his eye on. So Sheldon changes his plan to use shrimp and make kinilaw, a Filipino ceviche with coconut milk. And just in case you hadn't fallen in love with Sheldon yet, let me hand him the mike. Here is Sheldon, a Cancer, talking about his birth sign: "Cancers like long walks on the beach. Cancers like romantic comedies. Cancers like to put two sheets of fabric softener in the dryer."

Some of the tools available on Emily's table, the table for air signs, are a pressure cooker and iSi canisters, those fancy whipped-cream makers chefs on this show use all the time. Emily doesn't want to have anything to do with either of those, because she's not that familiar with them. Ugh. How is she still on this show? Isn't she supposed to be an actual chef? Turns out, she and Casey are the same sign, which puzzles Casey. "I don't see the same characteristics in she and I," Casey says. "Maybe she's just hiding all of this." Way to show your cards, Casey, and confirm that you think you're definitely better than Emily. Not that I disagree. I'm just saying.

All the fire signs literally use fire or peppers or fire-roasted peppers in their dishes. John gives a long speech about being a Scorpio, about how you're like a scorpion, but then if you mature and grow you become an eagle. It doesn't make any sense, and it involves a lot of hand gestures. But hey, whatever makes John more at peace with himself and everyone else. Katsuji is burning everything…on purpose. It feels like he's burning himself a ticket to the bottom three.

Padma and Michael are impossible to read during their tasting, with the exception of Sheldon's dish, which Michael seems to really enjoy. So when Michael first praises Katsuji, it surprises Katsuji. Michael also praises Sheldon and Jamie, but it is Jamie's dish that wins him immunity. Jamie promises to use his immunity wisely. As for the bottom three, Michael calls out Jim, Sylva, and Emily.

Emily's chicken is underseasoned, which I feel like is something she's been called on before

Sudden Death Quickfire

Padma welcomes Graham Elliot back to the Top Chef kitchen to help her and Michael judge these three dishes. Since none of the chefs on the show was an Earth sign, that's the pantry Jim, Sylva, and Emily will use to make their Sudden Death Food. Hmm, maybe that's not the best name for that. Oh well. Too late now. I typed it, and how in the world would I ever change it? That's right, it can't be changed.

First, the three chefs have to agree on one dish they'll all make for their Sudden Death Food. Since they'll only have twenty minutes to prepare the dish, they all agree to do steak tartare. Emily decides to add a crunch to the dish by making potato and beet chips. Sylva adds beet juice to the meat to make it redder. Jim just adds sunshine and positivity.

Each of the chefs gets a withering remark. For Jim, Graham says, referring to the small amount of food on the long rectangular plate, "Was this totally what you wanted? Two purees and a little crunch on top?" For Sylva, Michael delivers the blow, turning to Graham and asking, "Would you know there was beet in that if he didn't tell you?" Graham says no. Padma does the honors for Emily. "Did you want your chips seasoned that…forcefully?" Padma asks, dropping the Bitch Hammer hard.

Michael calls Jim's tartare the most refined version they saw. Graham tells Sylva his tartare could have used some salt. Then he tells Emily hers was oversalted. It's like The Gift Of The Magi, only with raw meat! Somehow, Jim is sent home. Dammit! Why not Emily? How does she she keep dodging bullets? I was just starting to warm to Jim's weirdly positive energy. I guess the message is positive energy has no place in the kitchen.

Elimination Challenge: Prep/Cooking

Padma begins her description of the Elimination Challenge by telling a story about Blackbeard and a party that he once threw here in Charleston three hundred years ago. It was a gigantic crazy party. And after it, he was killed by the Royal Navy. So it only makes sense that the chefs would break into teams of three to host their own pirate party. After which, they will all be killed like Blackbeard, I'm assuming.

Since this is apparently the episode of the complicated challenge, here's how the Blackbeard Party Challenge will work. Each team of three will be given a map to help them find treasure chests filled with ingredients stashed around Charleston. Each treasure chest holds three ingredients, so you want to be the first team to find one, because then you have your pick of the three ingredients. They decide the teams by drawing tiny pirate swords, and end up with Brooke, Casey, and Katsuji (Black Team); Shirley, Sheldon, and Sylva (Yellow Team); and John, Jamie, and Emily (Red Team). Immediately, I'm certain the Red Team will lose. Counterpoint: the Red Team might be better with the maps since Jamie used to live here and Emily still does.

Before we get to the treasure-seeking, we get a bit where Jamie explains his story, where he began, the heroin addiction he kicked…you know, normal chef stuff. Then the chefs hit the streets and have to fight a constant downpour from a tropical storm. But that's not the worst part. The worst part is the brief stop to interact with the guy dressed like a pirate who gives them their maps. "Good morrow, ladies and gents," the fake pirate guy says. And I die from embarrassment right then and there. Running around town to find hidden ingredients is a better way to watch the chefs shop for ingredients than seeing them in Whole Foods, but not by a lot. Katsuji complains about the rain a bunch and drags his feet. Emily whines that lobster might be a lot of work. No, Emily, you are a lot of work. The Red Team gets lost a bit and can't find one of the chests, which is pretty terrible for the team with actual walking-around-Charleston experience.

Once in the kitchen with all their ingredients, the Yellow Team and the Black Team seem pretty confident about their respective dishes. The Red Team, on the other hand, are already lamenting and regretting their choices. Maybe not John. He's all namaste inside now, so he can go with the flow. But Jamie and Emily immediately start complaining. And Emily just keeps on complaining. She complained about John choosing the lobster from the ingredient treasure chest, and now she's completing that cycle by complaining about prepping the lobsters. Oh yes, she's also complaining that John didn't thank her for prepping the lobsters. Hoo boy.

With the chicken and peanut butter that they ended up with from their treasure hunt, Jamie plans to make chicken satay. But there's a problem with the grill and Jamie's chicken isn't cooking right. So he switches gears and decides to bake the satay. While it is a slightly better choice than deciding to boil the chicken satay, the decision to bake is a terrible one. But Jamie has immunity, so does it really even matter?

Elimination Challenge: Service

The pirate party guests begin to arrive, and the judges waste no time in getting to the tasting. They begin with the Yellow Team, and despite Sheldon's dish being a little too sweet for Tom, all of their dishes do well.

On to the Black Team. Katsuji describes his dish as a soup. But when the judges get back to their table, they all make fun of Katsuji's soup-porridge. That is, until they try it. Then they're all like, "I beg your pardon. Katsuji can call this whatever he wants, because it is delicious." On the other end of the spectrum is Casey's scallop dish, which results in Padma making a series of sour faces. The scallop also gets a negative review from one of the featured party guests, who says she "couldn't eat it." Her friend adds, "It tasted like old seafood." Another harsh critique, and coincidentally Casey's high-school nickname. Hey-oh! Brooke's dish also falls short, mostly because it was so acidic it made Tom sweat.

When the judges get to the Red Team's food, they're immediately derailed by Emily's lobster chowder. "I would rather eat Brooke's acid bomb than Emily's mud chowder," Padma says. There's a brief reprieve for them when they try John's dish, which they love. But after that it's satay time. Graham says it's "predictable and it doesn't taste good." Tom is agitated about the Red Team's food, especially how they gave the lame ingredients to Jamie because he had immunity. The way he talks about the dish makes it clear he thinks the chicken satay is by far the worst dish he ate. Back in the Stew Room, Jamie is so angry and embarrassed about his team being on the bottom, possibly because of him, that he threatens to give up his immunity.

Judges' Table

The judges give the win to the Yellow Team. No surprise there. And considering the small complaints about Sheldon and Sylva's dishes, it's also no surprise that the win goes to Shirley.

Then it's down to the Red and Black Teams, each of which had a great dish and two pretty terrible ones. After praising Katsuji's cauliflower and sausage soup (that wasn't very soup-like), the judges call out Casey for her fishy scallops. In a classic Top Chef blunder, she angrily defends the quality of her scallops. "I smelled them ten times," Casey says. And when more of the judges chime in with how terrible her scallops were, Casey doubles and triples down on her assertion that there was nothing wrong with the scallops. Which is the equivalent to saying, "I don't really know the difference between good scallops and bad scallops."

The judges then move over to the Red Team, where internal fighting breaks out over whose idea it was to give the shitty ingredients to the guy with immunity, and when was the decision made. After a minute or so of bickering, the judges dismiss the chefs back to the Stew Room. But before they go, Jamie offers to give up his immunity, just as he promised he would.

It's the first time on this show that I remember seeing the judges argue openly over what dish they thought was the worst. Tom thinks Jamie's chicken is by far the worst. And Michael piles on with: "I would expect to get better chicken out of a vending machine." But Graham and Padma really hated Emily's chowder. When the chefs come back out, the judges inform the chefs that the Red Team ended up on the bottom. Padma asks Jamie if his offer of giving up immunity still stands. He says yes. She says, "Are you sure?" Jamie sticks by his promise to give up immunity, and that's it: he's asked to pack his knives. Tom makes sure Emily knows that had Jamie not given up immunity, she would have gone home.

The Verdict

After the bummer of an episode last week, lots of entertainment this week. You really can't beat someone giving up their immunity. That said, I think we would have all been much happier had Emily finally been sent packing. Holy cow, she does NOT seem to know what she's doing. I'm sure the pressure of Restaurant Wars next week will be something she handles with grace. I can hardly wait!

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