Top Chef Charleston Recap: Episode 1

By Jason Lee

December 6, 2016

We hardly knew ye.

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Christmas has come early this year for foodies everywhere. Rejoice, for Top Chef has returned! After last season's California road trip, all of our Quickfires and Elimination Challenges will take place in Charleston, South Carolina, which we're told is home to a culinary renaissance - though really, which Top Chef city hasn't been the home to a culinary renaissance lately?

In a move reminiscent of Top Chef Seattle, this much-hyped season sees the inclusion of eight rookie chefs - including BJ (a hipster redhead), Jamie (neck tattoos galore), and Jim (somehow reminds me of Philip Seymour Hoffman's portrayal of Truman Capote) - along with eight returning chefs from past seasons. Among the fan favorites coming back are Brooke, runner-up from Seattle, Shirley, finalist from New Orleans, and Katsuji, who narrowly missed out on the finals in Boston.

I'm salivating. This is gonna be a great season.

While the vets get to relax and watch the proceedings from the Stew Room, the eight rookies are shuffled into the Top Chef kitchen with Tom and Padma. Tom describes the rookies' first Quickfire as something that will test everything needed to become the next Top Chef - knife skills, time management, and presentation. Each chef will have one hour to create as many dishes as they desire from a single, whole chicken. The winner gets immunity, while the losing chef will be up for elimination in a Sudden Death Cook-Off against the losing chef in the veterans' Quickfire.

This is a dastardly challenge. Tom's description all but invites the chefs to make multiple dishes, a la Iron Chef America, despite the one-hour timeframe, their likely inexperience with working under such a time constraint, their unfamiliarity with the kitchen, and their own nerves. This almost seems like a trick challenge where some prescient chef needs to step back and say, “They're inviting me to commence my own demise.” Alas, no chef has the time for such reflection.


The rookies are off to the races, each pledging to make two or three dishes. Ah, such hubris. As the clock winds down, three becomes two becomes one - except for one sassy chef from Italy (Silvia), who not only has a dish ready to taste by the 40-minute mark, but a dish made of fresh freaking pasta.

Welcome to the introductory Quickfire version of the mic drop.

Tom really enjoys the balance of Silvia's taliatelle with chicken ragu, but wishes that it had a bit more seasoning. Padma is thrilled that someone was able to put a dish together before the hour was up.

And before we know it, it is.

The eight chefs serve Tom and Padma their one to two dishes - mostly one. Overall, Tom found some tasty dishes but frankly wanted to see a bit more. He enjoyed Silvia's fresh pasta and subsequent crispy chicken dish, which were both flavorful. He enjoyed a Korean chicken wing made by Emily, a local Charleston chef, which was simple but had tons of flavor. He also liked Jim's single dish of fried chicken innards (sounds delicious, right?), which had a lot of flavor and was complimented with nice acid.

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