Top Chef Charleston Recap: Episode 5

By Jason Lee

January 4, 2017

NOT potato salad.

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Happy New Year from Top Chef land, where one cheftestant already has a New Year’s resolution ready. Emily resolves not to be such a drag on her Top Chef teammates, having almost sent Brooke home for a bloated, mess of a dish. Meanwhile, Silvia celebrates her birthday in a low-key manner, all too familiar with the birthday curse that tends to show up for Top Chef-ers (for example, Leah packing her knives and going home on her birthday on Top Chef New York). Feeling all of his birthdays is Sheldon, who hurt his back ten years ago and is straining to push through the pain.

He does so with the rest of the cheftestants in a perplexing Quickfire. The chefs show up in an empty kitchen with no individuals around and few lights on. Standing around in utter bewilderment, a door opens revealing a table full of ingredients and the Quickfire timer starting a countdown from 40 minutes. The cheftestants scurry over to the table before Sylva, in seeing self-rising flour, eggs, and buttermilk, deduces that it’s a biscuit challenge.

Right or wrong (and he’s right), the chefs take it and run. Brooke starts making a biscuit dish incorporating flavors from bagels and lox, while Sheldon, who’s never made biscuits before, copies whatever she does. Shirley’s also struggling with a lack of familiarity, noting that she avoids baking at all costs, even steaming her cheesecakes in her restaurant.

When the time expires, Padma strides in with a big, beaming smile. “Miss me?” she asks the flustered chefs. She congratulates them on figuring out that they needed to put their own spin on the biscuit, and she introduces John Currence, today’s guest judge, who makes the best biscuit in the county according to Food & Wine magazine.


After tasting everyone’s dishes, the bottom three end up being Shirley (with a dense, heavy biscuit), Jim (also with a dense, heavy biscuit, but also having “hammered” the accompanying scallops on his dish), and Sheldon (whose biscuit was doughy and undercooked in the middle).

Getting better news is Brooke (with great, savory flavors), Katsuji (with a perfectly cooked biscuit), and neck-tattooed Jamie (with every component on his dish contributing beautifully to the whole). Brooke takes the crown and immunity. She’s quickly turning out to be this season’s favorite to take home the title of Top Chef. Her run through these early episodes is reminding me a lot of Richard Blais’s performance in Top Chef All-Stars.

From biscuits to BBQ, for the cheftestants’ Elimination Challenge, they’ll be tasked with doing a whole hog BBQ plus three side dishes. To get a little bit of inspiration, the chefs will head off to try some vinegar-based BBQ and mustard-based BBQ from two of John’s former pitmasters. While the mustard-based version at Sweatman’s BBQ is delicious, the chefs go crazy for the vinegar-based BBQ at Scott’s Bar-B-Que.

Everyone, that is, except for Sheldon who had to go to the hospital for an MRI. He thankfully returns in better spirits, having gotten a shot of medicine directly to his spine. He’s there just in time to . . . sit around and do nothing. After butchery of the whole hogs is done, the chefs throw their meat into their respective smokers where there’s nothing to do overnight except to stay awake, make sure there’s enough wood/coals in the smoker, eat s’mores, and listen to John jabber on. Brooke isn’t sure what’s more exhausting—staying awake all night and cooking, or listening to John’s stories.

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