Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The final four culinarily reflect on Charleston as Top Chef sprints towards the finale

(Screenshot: Top Chef/Bravo)
(Screenshot: Top Chef/Bravo)
TV ReviewsAll of our TV reviews in one convenient place.

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.

  • Guys, we need to talk about Brooke.
(Screenshot: Top Chef/Bravo)
(Screenshot: Top Chef/Bravo)
  • Brooke is brilliant, but Brooke is mean to herself. For the last several episodes, she’s become the embodiment of a thousand-yard stare. Her words are prickly, her general countenance sharp and jagged. Sure, she’s been in the bottom a few times while Sheldon and John (who competed with her in Seattle) took top honors, but the shoe’s also been on the other foot. She says she found her stride near the end of Seattle, but that she’s yet to find a similar stride here. That’s despite her winning three Quickfires and two elimination challenges (one of which was Restaurant Wars), the most of any other competitor (Sheldon’s also won three Quickfires, but only one elimination, while Shirley’s won two challenges but no Quickfires). Being on the bottom clearly eats at her, but last week’s mishap in the brunch challenge seems to have broken her. Brooke seemed completely disengaged here, self-deprecating and doomsaying. I called her as a winner early on, but I wasn’t surprised when she went home. She looked exhausted. Anybody would be after restraining those tears and maintaining what’s clearly an ironclad and tightly-wound sense of emotional control. It’s something we’ve seen with other female chefs on the show, too (Jen Carroll comes to mind), and it’s a behavior that makes sense. Cooking is a male-dominated field, after all, and past contestants like Casey have spoken about how much harder it is for a woman to assimilate into professional kitchens. Gail’s noticed this, too, it seems, and there was something beautiful and sorta cathartic about her plea for Brooke to not “confuse emotion for weakness.” Easier said than done, obviously, but it’s some advice I hope Brooke takes to heart.
  • Bless Gail.
  • Quickfire: The chefs are paired with a mystery partner, separated by a partition, and tasked with teaching that partner how to make a particular dish. The two who create dishes that are most similar in taste and presentation win. To be honest, I was dreading this challenge. I didn’t really enjoy it when they did it on Masters; it felt too chaotic and a touch manufactured—I still don’t understand how these people don’t recognize the voices of their spouses and sisters. What elevated this was twofold: One, Sheldon actually recognized his wife’s voice, and the look on his face when he did was pure magic; two, everybody killed it, and that the dishes so closely matched each other triggered something sappy in me that spoke to the idea of cooking as a communal activity. Sheldon won not just the Quickfire but also my heart (I can’t think of anything more endearing than him lobbing mushrooms at his wife over the partition).
  • Elimination Challenge: Ah, yes, the “What I Learned” cooking challenge. Here, the chefs must make one dish that epitomizes their journey through this season. What’s fascinating is how each chef interprets the challenge differently: John draws inspiration from Charleston’s geography; Shirley highlights techniques she mastered this season; Sheldon combines local ingredients with a recipe from his native Hawaii; and Brooke, most clumsily, creates a dish that’s essentially a greatest hits collection. It’s not the most harmonious approach, what with you having to cram together a series of ingredients that served you well in previous challenges. That’s perhaps why the judges criticized her incorporation of both the tenderloin and the egg yolk, which the judges don’t hate but nevertheless feel weren’t necessary. The combination of the conceptual error and an overly sweet, Cola-filled sauce are enough to send her home over John, whose greatest sin is in leaving the skin on his peppers (a decision he defends for what seem like sound culinary reasons). Like last episode, Shirley and Sheldon come out on top, with Sheldon taking top honors for his clever incorporation of Carolina golden rice into his time-tested chow fun recipe (a dish he saves from the brink of disaster with some culinary Macgyver shit).
  • “I don’t wanna go to Last Chance Kitchen, dude,” Brooke mutters as they wait for the final decision. I’d almost forgotten that Brooke lost her season to someone who came back into the competition via Last Chance Kitchen. She’d have won were it not for the contest, so it makes sense she’d have some “mixed feelings” about it. Until the Seattle finale, Brooke never lost. She barely came close to it. And I wouldn’t be surprised if she feels that, in competition, losers shouldn’t get a second chance. As someone who’s dealt with the pangs of perfectionism in the past, I can relate to the idea that there’s an innate humiliation to such a competition; to engage is to expose your vulnerability, to acknowledge the reality of loss. That’s why getting up, dusting yourself off, and trying again is one of the bravest things somebody can do.
  • It’s rare to see prizes that aren’t cash, books, or trips given out to Quickfire winners anymore, so it was neat to see them giving away a sous vide machine. Do any of you own one? Is it worth the price tag?
  • GUYS. Padma cooked! We all know she’s a seasoned chef with a sharp palate, but this is literally the first time we’ve ever seen her cook on Top Chef, which felt like some kind of milestone. Also, she looked amazing; no sweat, no broth splatters, no bandages—I’m doing this cooking thing wrong.
  • Also, how hysterical was it when Padma conspiratorially whispered that she’d brought her own organic rice blend, then revealed a carefully arranged melange of Padma-branded boxes. What is this, a Calgon ad?
  • Yes, Brooke angrily, repeatedly shushing Shirley during the Quickfire was a further sign of her continued irritability, but also maybe the funniest thing to happen all season. Shirley is the perfect example of how you can be both the nicest, sweetest person in the world, but also completely uncompromising when it comes to your craft. She will be as loud as she goddamn needs to be.
  • In showing us tears, a commitment to his new family, and a genuine penitence for shitty past behavior, John has achieved his final form: Spread your wings, Eagle-John. Spread your wings and fly. (Seriously, you guys still don’t hate him, right? I am so #TeamJohn it hurts.)
  • I loved Gail describing Shirley’s cooking as “creating connections between worlds,” here by elevating flavors central to Charleston with Chinese aromatics. The same can be said about her graceful ability to convey simple emotions and stories by channeling such specific memories, a talent she’s been utilizing all season. What’s even more wonderful is that this evolution dovetails with her New Orleans journey from “shadow chef” to self-realization.
  • Also, holy shit, she worked in Silicon Valley before becoming a chef? Anyone know what she was doing?
  • Last Chance Kitchen: It’s a doozy this week, and I won’t say much because if there’s one LCK you should watch it’s this one. First, Brooke goes up against Casey and Jamie in a challenge that tasks them with cooking proteins two different ways—in this case, it’s sautéing and braising. Jamie is shoved out by the vets, officially proving the rookies to be a failed experiment. Then, Casey and Brooke are given a “consistency” challenge. Tom has them cook two separate dishes, but he’ll only taste one. He’ll also make his choice randomly, so even though one won’t be eaten, the chefs have to put their best foot forward in both dishes. Unsurprisingly, Brooke and Casey cook their hearts out, each putting up a pair of sophisticated, deceptively simple plates. And I couldn’t spoil it for you even if I wanted to, because we won’t find out who won until we head to Mexico next week. My money’s on Brooke.
  • So, yeah, Brooke hates being in Last Chance Kitchen. Tom knows it, too.
Illustration for article titled The final four culinarily reflect on Charleston as Top Chef sprints towards the finale
  • Same.
  • Meanwhile, Sam “Poochie” Talbot has officially stopped trying.
  • Jim and Amanda switched seats and I really want to know why.
  • Remember Jim? Jim was the best.
  • There’s also a wave, of which Sylva is having no part.
Illustration for article titled The final four culinarily reflect on Charleston as Top Chef sprints towards the finale
  • Sam looks like Frankenstein.
  • Next week on Top Chef: Guadalajara! Goats! That’s all I wrote down.
  • Who you got? Shirley, Sheldon, or John? Or are you banking on Casey or Brooke? I think this one’s got Sheldon all over it, but I’ll be rooting for Shirley. She’s a perfect human.