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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Top Chef honors a trailblazing Southern chef in a soulful, satisfying episode

Photo: Bravo
Photo: 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.

  • It’s been weird watching Top Chef attempt to incorporate a city’s troubled racial history into its storytelling this season, but in this episode at least they did it with class. Instead of carting the chefs to a former slave plantation, they introduced viewers (and several of the chefs, surprisingly) to Edna Lewis, an African-American culinary celebrity who, according to Padma, did for Southern cooking what Julia Child did for French cuisine. Guests Toni Tipton-Martin and Alexander Smalls did a lovely job of celebrating Lewis, and weaving her influence into the challenge was an elegant way for the show to encourage the chefs to practice “soulful cooking” without telling them to “cook soulfully.” Had any of you heard of her? Or cooked one of her recipes?
  • The Quickfire: Here’s one you can always count on: the “Make This Unhealthy Dish Healthy” challenge. It’s an old staple that begs for a fresh perspective. Unfortunately, instead of getting creative—Maybe have the chefs make, like, a healthy candy bar or something?—Padma gives them classic comfort food dishes like lasagna and piles on a few pointless stipulations: the dish has to be vegetarian AND you can only grab one ingredient at a time. I get it: running to get each ingredient is a workout, but Sheldon’s got a herniated disc! Next thing you know they’ll be chipping ingredients out of blocks of ice. Focus on the food! Anyways, Jamie wins immunity with a “sloppy joe” filled with firm tofu and bell peppers.
  • The Elimination Challenge: It’s a running theme on Top Chef, the idea that “simple is hard.” It’s a hard concept to articulate, but Tom did it well by saying that, in “simple” cuisine, there’s just nowhere for mistakes to hide. I’d imagine interpreting a challenge that asks for “simple and soulful” is hard, and the chefs who ended up on top—Jim, Sylva, and Sheldon—seemed to succeed because they had both a reverence for their ingredients and a deep level of personal investment. For Sheldon, it was the memory of his late grandmother. For Jim, it was his love for both Lewis and his belief in the power of Southern cuisine. For Sylva, it was the inspiration he culled from Lewis, which spurred him to ponder the lack of African-Americans serving as executive chefs in America. And it was Sylva who took it home, having fried a piece of red snapper to such perfection that judge Art Smith attributed it to the angels. Sylva’s win came as a mild surprise, I’d say, as the editing heavily favored Jim. Regardless, it was nice to see an episode dominated by the rookies.
  • Amanda was sent home for serving an uninspired duck and sweet potato dish. I’ll miss her daffy presence and pitch-perfect expressions, even if we legit haven’t seen a Quickfire dish from her since season seven. I’m not crazy, right? They skipped her again this week?
  • Edna Lewis passed back in 2006, but who else thinks her cookbook sales are about to skyrocket?
  • He wasn’t on top, but I thought, at least from a technical perspective, John really stood out during the elimination challenge. His choice to adopt Lewis’ method of “pan broiling” seemed like a really clever way to approach the challenge. Jamie, on the other hand, was like, “I mean, Edna probably would’ve sous-vide, right?”
  • What did judge Graham Elliot think? Who knows? This is episode six and we’ve seen him twice.
  • Emily’s cracking, yeah? I’m reminded of New Zealander Mark in the Chicago season, who ended up on the bottom so much he legit thought Tom just didn’t like him. Is she out of her league here? Or do you think competition just isn’t her strong suit?
  • A rare Brooke fumble this week, but she seemed self-aware about her mistakes and, unlike Emily, unfazed by the criticism.
  • Surgeon General Vivek Murthy joins Padma for the Quickfire. “Did you put curry powder in there because we’re both Indian?” she asks John, who immediately poops himself. Seriously, look at his face.
  • Casey continues to quietly kill it by making her own chicken stock during the Quickfire. Of course, she also screwed up her dough, but who makes their own chicken stock during a Quickfire? I feel like we might not be taking Casey seriously enough. Am I wrong?
  • Sheldon talks about “roasted pork belly, pot roast, and macaroni salad” like I talk about Doritos. I need new snacks.
  • Jamie’s son became a vegetarian at the age of three. I ate cardboard when I was three.
  • Jim talked about being “rebellious” in high school and they showed a photo of him looking like the hugest goddamned dweeb. Jim is my favorite.
  • We’re narrowing things down, guys! Who are your picks for the top three? Right now, I’m with Brooke, Shirley, and Sylva (or Jim), but that is very, very preliminary.
  • Last Chance Kitchen: Before we talk about the challenge we need to talk about Sam’s sleeveless pink button-down.
Illustration for article titled iTop Chef /i honors a trailblazing Southern chef in a soulful, satisfying episode
  • He looks like Judd Nelson in a millennial reboot of The Breakfast Club.
  • Oh, Amanda and reigning champ Silvia are tasked with making a dish from the same ingredients Amanda bungled during the elimination challenge. Silvia wins, and I could listen to her say “sautéed dandelions” with that Italian lilt every day for the rest of my life.
  • Amanda making the face I make when people say I talk about Sam too much:
  • Next week on Top Chef: Emily tattles on John and Jamie about some unspecified indiscretion. Also, pirates?
Illustration for article titled iTop Chef /i honors a trailblazing Southern chef in a soulful, satisfying episode

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