Top Chef Charleston Recap: Episode 9
By Jason Lee
January 31, 2017
Drama is brewing on Top Chef in the aftermath of Restaurant Wars. John is still stinging from what he views as Katsuji’s vindictive (and ultimately unsuccessful) efforts for self-preservation, while Casey (who’s known John for years) correctly diagnoses the problem as “too many egos, no one willing to take responsibility.” As the third remaining member of Southern Belle, Sheldon tries to uplift everyone’s spirits by taking them out to the beach.
When the chefs get back to work, they find Padma standing next to Michael Voltaggio in the Top Chef: Kitchen. Michael, as most TC fans likely know, won Top Chef: Las Vegas over his brother, Bryan, and tops Sam Talbott as “Hottest Top Chef-er” in this writer’s humble opinion.
But it ain’t about looks in this Quickfire Challenge - to the contrary, it’s about taste. The producers are bringing back one of the funnest Quickfires: the blindfold challenge. Each cheftestant will get five minutes to taste 20 ingredients blindfolded in a test of their palette. The chef who names the most ingredients will win not immunity (nope, that’s no longer up for grabs) but 14 cases of Terlato wine.
It’s highly amusing how many ingredients that would seem to have strong, recognizable flavors (clams, chicken, balsamic vinegar, etc.) seem to trip the chefs up when they’re not allowed to use their eyes. The one that seems most vexing is pimento cheese, which even John (who memorably tried to do a version of pimento cheese in Restaurant Wars) couldn’t identify. After all the chefs are done, Emily (five right), Sylva, and Shirley (both eight right) end up on the bottom, while Brooke (16), Casey (11), and Sheldon (ten) are adjudged to have the best palettes. While Brooke is thrilled to have won the wine, she’s even more thrilled to have beaten Michael Voltaggio, who tried out the challenge before the chefs and got 11 right.
But, of course, Padma notes in a less-than-smooth segue, senses mean nothing without memories. The Elimination Challenge will task each chef with taking a trip down memory lane and creating a dish inspired by one of their happiest childhood memories. They will serve those dishes a $500-per-ticket cocktail gala to benefit the MUSC Children’s Hospital.
The chefs are quick to find inspiration. John recalls his mother making shrimp scampi and proceeds to buy every piece of king crab in Whole Foods, leaving Sylva (who’d wanted to do a crab cake) with nothing but consternation. He decides instead to do a dish inspired by his memories of the holidays in Haiti. Sheldon is doing a rice and tea dish, which brings back memories for me - I often remember using leftover tea at restaurants to make a “tea soup” with whatever remained from the dinner. Brooke takes a slightly different track by doing a dish inspired by memories of making crêpes for her son.
When the chefs arrive at the cocktail gala to start prepping for service, they’re stunned to find out that they’ll be outside in the hot sun the entire time. Sylva’s beef “lollipops” are slumping in the heat, forcing him to re-roll almost all of them. Meanwhile, Emily is struggling with her take on an icebox cake, using a ring mold to hide the fact that they didn’t soak up enough mascarpone and coffee liquor.