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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Bad blood boils over as Restaurant Wars comes to Top Chef

Screenshot: Bravo
Screenshot: Bravo
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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.

  • Restaurant Wars! The chefs are always so excited, then the weeds consume them, nobody’s greeting the judges, and there aren’t enough servers to scream at. Restaurant Wars is always a clusterfuck. I’d be shaking in my chef whites. But I get it, the challenge is like a checkpoint. You made it this far. You can officially not be embarrassed by how early you were sent home. It’s exciting from an audience perspective, too. It’s the challenge that encompasses everything: in addition to consistent cookery, there’s menu creation, interior design, front and back-of-house leadership, and, let’s not forget, the delight of seeing our cheftestants in their best business casual attire. We’re seeing the final eight as bosses and strategists, but also as line cooks and hosts. By virtue of this, we really start to get invested in the chefs as personalities. Charleston’s wasn’t the best or worst Restaurant Wars, but it was perhaps the most demonstrative: one team did nearly everything right, while the other succumbed to nearly every Restaurant Wars pitfall there is.
  • The Red Team: Shirley served as executive chef, Brooke took front of house, and Sylva and Emily backed them up as sous chefs. Their name? Latitude (“inspired by the sea,” Shirley told the judges with just the perfect amount of grade school wonder in her voice). There was some early tension, with Emily having to rework her dish after Shirley and Sylva told her it was too heavy for a first course. The editorial focus seemed to be on Emily (again) not sticking up for herself, but that’s really not the point (as is evidenced by the outcome). If Emily was fine with Shirley serving as executive chef, then she should also be fine with Shirley adjusting the menu to fit her vision. That’s what executive chefs do. Besides, it wasn’t a lack of chorizo that made Emily’s squid ink pasta sink, it was, well everything else. Luckily, she redeemed herself with her butterscotch miso cake, just as Shirley redeemed her too-firm panna cotta (the opposite of what usually happens to panna cotta!) with a snapper cooked in a bone broth. And though Sylva’s halibut sounded sublime, it’s Brooke’s cured king salmon with tiger milk (!) that wins, a feat that’s especially notable considering she was up front for the entire service. This is also evidence of how well Shirley handled the kitchen; sure, not every dish was executed perfectly, but Shirley was a clear, vocal leader and Sylva and Emily knew their role as sous chefs and did their best to honor the original vision of every dish. Nobody was in it for themselves.
  • The Blue Team: Katsuji, however, was absolutely in this for himself. After being crowned the leader via knife pull, he hands the executive chef role to John so he can focus on making three different dishes. His (probable) thinking? If he screws up, John will go home because executive chefs always fall on the sword. Not that John is blameless. Despite opening 27 (I think he said 27) restaurants in his lifetime, the dude can’t expedite to save his life, nor can he lead a team without Tesar’s Mr. Hyde coming out to gnash teeth and belittle servers. Casey proves to be a clumsy host, and is inevitably drawn to the back to plate her own dessert. That latter folly is just one of the many, many things they did wrong, which include (but aren’t limited to) an unformed expediting process, a half-baked serving strategy, and, perhaps most importantly, the failure to conjure a clear concept and adhere to it. Calling themselves Southern Belle (*rolls eyes*), the team steamrolled their low-country Southern cuisine by filling the menu with tamales and stews speckled with Hawaiian-style flowers (really, Sheldon?). Though John seemed primed to go home based on his poor leadership and horrid-sounding pimento cheese crab dish, Katsuji was sent packing for both failing to execute and clearly refusing to be a team player.
  • Some wonderful character development in this episode between Katsuji’s past as an undocumented immigrant working in kitchens, Casey’s “poisonous” business partnership, and the heartbreaking story of Sylva’s first restaurant getting burned down by an arsonist. I wish we’d heard that last story earlier; Sylva’s not the most charismatic presence, and that story reveals a lot about his history, passion, and desires for the future.
  • We’re all ready for Emily to go home, but though she clearly coasted on the wings of her teammates here, she did at least deliver on one of her dishes. A step up? I guess? Could she be due for a comeback? Maybe?
  • I’m glad Katsuji is gone. He was becoming exhausting. There’s something draining about his general countenance. And the way he was needling Emily at the beginning of the episode felt cruel, so much so that John had to literally tell Katsuji, a dude in his late 30s, to leave her alone. He can be funny sometimes, sure, but just look at his eyes during that creepy slow clap he did in the stew room. Dude’s got a darkness.
Illustration for article titled Bad blood boils over as Restaurant Wars comes to iTop Chef/i
  • How do you guys feel? Did the right person go home? I’m a John fan (especially “Eagle John”), but he might’ve been one of the worst executive chefs in Restaurant Wars history.
  • Top Chef has a long legacy of horrible Restaurant Wars names. I kinda liked Latitude (Shirley’s enthusiasm helped), but Southern Belle is such a dud. I’m also reminded of the Voltaggio brothers calling their restaurant Revolt and Ilan and co. calling theirs Lalalina. Just awful. What bad ones do you recall? Were there ever any good ones?
  • Shirley was by far the MVP of this episode, and not just because she was such a strong, efficient executive chef. Did you see that spastic dance she was doing at the house? Or hear her yell “amazeball!” during prep? “She’s bossy,” Brooke says, “but in a good way.” I’d kill to have her as a boss.
  • My other favorites in this episode were the Blue Team’s dishwashers. You can see them in the background laughing at John and Katsuji when they’re fighting and, in a moment that I really, really wish I’d screenshotted, one of them looks at Katsuji’s beef tongue being lifted out of the pressure cooker with the most potent look of disgust.
  • I really loved watching the chefs just shoot the shit in their jammies and morning faces, each sharing how many restaurants they’ve opened. Such a pleasant, subtle way to build character.
  • Me looking at Brooke’s salmon like:
  • Loved Padma’s passive aggressive dig about people “throwing immunity off left and right.” I hope she punishes the next season by revoking immunity entirely, sternly telling them to “ask Jamie why it’s been taken away.”
  • Guess there was a sale on benches at the decor store.
  • “You cannot cook with hate in your heart,” says Sheldon about the Blue Team’s tumultuous kitchen. Later, at judge’s table, he says his “cooking felt forced.” It was like watching whatever light lives inside him dim just the tiniest bit.
  • Katsuji was right in that (Thee) Southern Belle is the most famous strip club in Charleston, but what he didn’t mention is that it’s now called Goodfellas Cabaret (confusingly, it’s still called Thee Southern Belle on Facebook). Regardless, let’s all now imagine Katsuji stuffing dollar bills into g-strings.
  • In true Katsuji fashion, he spent his entire goodbye speech talking shit.
  • Last Chance Kitchen: What’s immediately clear is that Jamie is shocked that he’s looking at Katsuji and not Emily. On a table is the 27 different ingredients Katsuji used in his three Restaurant Wars dishes; Jamie has to choose five for them to incorporate into a dish. Jamie wisely avoids anything Katsuji could use to make a taco and wins, not just because of that strategy but also because Tom was clearly peeved with Katsuji’s lack of a plan as he cooked. I’m really rooting for Jamie at this point, though that’ll probably change if he ends up against Shirley or Sheldon.
  • Meanwhile, Sam “Poochie” Talbot’s over acting like Groucho fucking Marx with a goddamned lime.
Illustration for article titled Bad blood boils over as Restaurant Wars comes to iTop Chef/i
  • Hi, Jim! We miss you!
  • Next week on Top Chef: Michael Voltaggio will be judging! Graham is nowhere to be found.

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