Top Chef Charleston Recap: Episode 7

By Jason Lee

January 17, 2017

Unfortunate eliminations both.

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With ten chefs left, this episode sees two chefs go home. Yep, in addition to this week’s Elimination Challenge, we have a Sudden Death Quickfire based on the twelve zodiac signs. Each zodiac sign is associated with an element - earth, fire, air, and water. The chefs are tasked with cooking a dish that takes inspiration from their own zodiac element. The winner gets immunity. The bottom three will cook to stay in the competition.

The chefs whose signs align with fire all start going with almost literal interpretations of their sign, with Jamie and Katsuji both using fire-roasting techniques to get great char on their vegetables. There’s also a lot of heat from Sylva and Brooke. The air and water chefs go a bit more abstract, with Casey trying to be a playful Aquarius with a chicken wing stuffed with ‘nduja sausage (cause nothing says fun like meat products stuffed with meat!). In the end, Jamie, Katsuji, and Sheldon end up on top. Jamie’s lamb chop with pepper salad and cashew jus takes the cake (so to speak) based on his balance of heat in both components of his dish, while Katsuji (with a brilliant charred onion and cauliflower puree) and Sheldon (with a smart Pilipino ceviche) console themselves as runners up.

There’s more drama on the lower end of things, as the chefs pray to the culinary gods not to hear their names associated with the bottom three. Finding out that the gods aren’t huge fans of this year’s rookie class, it’ll be Jim, Sylva, and Emily cooking to stay on the show. Jim had a charred bison with watermelon dashi that was more water than fire. Sylva’s fire-roasted poblanos with couscous was underseasoned. And Emily… sigh, living-on-the-edge-of-elimination Emily… her last minute decision to incorporate spaetzle in her dish diverted her attention away from her pan-roasted chicken, which lacked texture and flavor (priorities, Emily, priorities!!).


In a very Beat Bobby Flay, we won’t be judges for this next round of cooking, type of move, Graham Elliot will decide which rookie goes home, with a little help from Padma and Guest Judge Michael Cimarusti. As none of the chefs had zodiac signs associated with earth, that will be the theme for the Sudden Death Quickfire. The three chefs will have three minutes to decide based on a tableful of earth-ish ingredients what one dish they’ll all do. Then they’ll have 20 minutes to cook. After surveying the table, Jim suggests a variety of steak dishes (steak frites, etc.) before getting overruled by Sylva and Emily in favor of steak tartare due to the time constraints.

This is a very interesting challenge from a casting point of view. Jim has been uniformly solid throughout this season and has been my pick as the rookie most likely to make it to the finale. Sylva is coming off a win in last week’s elimination challenge - the first rookie to win one. And Emily . . . well, she’s managed to escape elimination so many times thus far, one wonders if she’s destined to squeak her way into the finale.

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