Top Chef Charleston Recap: Episode 6
By Jason Lee
January 10, 2017
Alex and Toni are quite moving in discussing how much Edna did to raise the respect and standing of southern food in American food culture. Filled to the brim with inspiration from the talk and from browsing through Edna’s cookbook, the chefs head to Whole Foods and then back to the kitchen to begin prepping. Most chefs decide to keep things simple and local, in the style of Edna. One, though, veers on stereotype, to Sylva’s great irritation. Katsuji has decided to make fried chicken with pickled watermelon rind. The diners, though, love the dish. Toni notes the danger of such a dish verging into stereotype, but finds that Katsuji prepared the dish in a way that gave the ingredients respect. Serving alongside him is Jim with seared shrimp, a smoked turkey wing, and pork consommé. The always dapper Hugh Acheson declares it “clean and seasonal.” Tom notes that the dish has tons of flavor, though the peas could have been cooked a bit more.
Brooke and Emily, always a pair, are next up. Brooke goes first with chicken with Swiss chard and a blackberry vinaigrette. Every diner is baffled by Brooke’s use of savory and sweet flavors in the dish, with Art Smith (the big teddy bear of a chef) unable to decide if the dish is a dessert wanting to be savory, or the converse. Emily doesn’t fare any better with a semolina-crusted chicken liver with corn puree. Gail finds the livers underseasoned and underflavored. Hugh just found it boring.
The next round has Shirley with confit chicken wings and collared greens with rice. Guest judge Alex adores the collared greens and rice, and Gail declares the seasoning on the chicken to be perfect. John also hits a home run with a pan-broiled chicken with watercress and sunchokes. Tom loves the flavor in his chicken, and Art praises the fact that John has done well to channel Edna’s spirit.
As well as those chefs did, Sylva and Sheldon top it. Sylva has a skilled-fried snapper with garden vegetables. The skin is so crispy and perfect that Art says it’s like an angel brought it down from heaven. Sheldon has a pork belly with cabbage, inspired in equal parts by Edna and his own grandmother. The dish is simple and delicious.
From serenity to chaos, we have Casey trying to deal with Wild Woman Amanda, who’s in her usual state of running around and running her mouth. Poor Casey. Thankfully, Hurricane Amanda didn’t prevent Casey from putting together a great version of chicken and dumplings, which has great flavor according to Art. Amanda is perhaps a victim of her own freneticism, with a clunky dish of roast duck and sweet potatoes. Hugh finds the duck chewy and the sweet potatoes underdone. Tom points out that even though Amanda used southern ingredients, nothing about the dish was remotely southern.
Last up is Mr. Immunity, Jamie, who has a roasted New York strip steak with sunchokes. Well, he has that for everyone except for Padma. In his last minute rush, he miscounted his plates, which leaves Padma looking longingly at everyone else’s food. She shouldn’t feel too bad. His beans are a bit too salty and his meat is a bit too rare. Padma notes that Jamie was lucky to have gotten immunity this round.
With so many stunning dishes, Padma tells the chefs at Judges’ Table that three really stood out. Jim’s dish stayed with Gail throughout the meal due to its simplicity and depth of flavor. Sylva did a great ode to Edna with his use of vegetables and fish. And Sheldon put his heart and soul in the bowl (yum?), doing the smart thing according to Tom by not straying too far from his heritage and background. Sylva takes home the win for what he calls his favorite dish that he’s ever cooked. Yeah, I think I’d say that, too.
A trio of women ends up on the bottom. Amanda is quick to declare that she was happy with her dish and that she stands behind it, but Tom criticizes it for lacking depth and soul. Padma faults the dry duck and the fact that the dish was just “a little boring.” Like Amanda, Emily was happy with her dish, as everything (in her mind) had intent. Gail and Tom agree that the dish seemed to make sense in theory, but Gail was put off by the fact that it was a one-note (sweet) dish. Tom also thought the liver was overcooked. Emily starts crying.
Brooke, to her credit, stays composed, unlike Amanda and Emily. She says that if she’d omitted the sweet element of her dish, the blackberry vinaigrette, she wouldn’t be standing there. That might be true, but Tom also chides her for going too modern. Brooke agrees.
In the end, southern food, as epitomized by Edna, is about a feeling. It’s about heart and soul. One dish lacked that, and it was prepared by Amanda. She’ll be okay, though. Amanda, as she’s mentioned a couple of times now, hasn’t been cooking for all that long, having undergone back surgery and then deciding to go into bartending as opposed to cooking afterwards. She opines that the culinary door is now open again for her as a result of going back on Top Chef. That’s probably right, but she’ll need to learn how to bring her energy level down a bit in the kitchen to make it really work.