Top Chef Charleston Recap: Episode 5

By Jason Lee

January 4, 2017

NOT potato salad.

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7 a.m. arrives, which means it’s six hours until service. With the sun having risen, the chefs can get started on the side dishes. John starts in on his mac and cheese, which requires pasta, cheese, milk, and a roux. And of course, to make a roux, you need butter and flour. Which John doesn’t have. For whatever reason, his team didn’t get any all-purpose flour. And no other team has any.

Luckily for John, Katsuji has some xanthium gum. John figures that the gum will do as a thickener and adds it to his sauce. He declares the experiment a success. We’ll see about that.

Meanwhile, John’s teammate on the yellow team, Emily, is having trouble with her beans. They’re totally undercooked. Emily says that she’ll use every minute before service cooking the beans. That does not impress Katsuji, who’s also making beans. “They’re completely raw and sour,” he tells Emily. Emily goes off to bitch with her teammates, complaining about how Katsuji likes to stir the pot (to be fair, it’s an entirely fair accusation).

Service arrives and the yellow team puts forth Emily’s beans, John’s mac and cheese, a pineapple slaw by Brooke, and Sheldon’s BBQ pork with chili and citrus vinegar sauce. It’s an absolute hit with the judges. Gail adores the pork and finds the mac and cheese really interesting, Tom absolutely cleans his plate, and Padma praises the slaw. Emily’s beans are still underdone, but Padma calls her sauce “divine.”

Next up is the red team. Jamie spearheaded the BBQ pork with citrus vinegar sauce, Jim cooked a trotter hash using some of the pork, Shirley prepared braised apple and cabbage, and we also have homemade pickles from Casey. Again, this menu is a hit. John loves Jim’s hash, Tom appreciates that the flavor of the pork comes through in the BBQ, and Padma loves the crunch in the braised cabbage.


Will the green team be able to keep pace? Nope. Sylva made BBQ pork with hoisin sauce and ketchup, which has a “bottled sauce” flavor. Silvia did an Italian spin on potato salad by using salsa verde (is that really Italian?), which has muddled flavors and mushy vegetables. Amanda’s kale and apricot slaw is fine, but Katsuji’s beans are not. They have a sour, funky flavor that’s off-putting for all the diners.

It’s clear that the green team is the loser, but which team takes home the crown? According to Padma, the yellow team is the “clear winner.” Gail compliments them on taking great inspiration from their lunches the day before and elevating BBQ in their menu. John notes, though, that one dish really stood out—it’s John’s mac and cheese. John is thrilled, having salvaged his dish with xanthium gum. It’s his first individual win ever on the show. Good for him.

There’s less good news for the green team. As diagnosed by Tom, the weird flavor in Katsuji’s beans likely came from incorporating a gland from the jowls of the pig, which more familiar chefs typically ignore. Sylva’s BBQ sauce didn’t work at all, according to Tom. Finally, Silvia’s potato salad lacked all balance, according to Gail, with a muddled flavor.

The thing about BBQ, Tom notes, is that the composition of a typical plate of food is made up of dishes that go together for a reason - from the beans, to mayonnaise-based potato salad, to the umami pork. The green team deviated from that without success, leading to a menu that was just off-balance from the get-go.

Well, when he puts it like that, it’s no surprise that Silvia, our funny Italian chef, goes home on her birthday. Like most chefs, she’s sad going home for a dish that doesn’t represent who she is and what she’s capable of, as a chef. She learned a lot and feels more confident as a chef, having grown up (quite literally) on the show. She had hoped that the Top Chef birthday curse wouldn’t hit her, but unfortunately it’s “arrivederci” for Silvia.

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