Top Chef recap

Top Chef with Southern theme reveals Bravo's insidious ways

Top Chef with Southern theme reveals Bravo's insidious ways

top chef, John Tesar, Sylva Senat
One of these chefs was a winner on Top Chef. Photo courtesy of Bravo

Episode 5 of Top Chef Season 14, aka "the episode that didn't spotlight Dallas chef John Tesar," goes down as the dullest episode of the season so far. That's what you get when you don't spotlight John Tesar.

Not only are there no JT quotes, there is little conflict between the other chefs. The only thing that's left is to observe the stealthy methods Top Chef producers use to convey their own version of reality.

The theme is Southern chef Edna Lewis, who everyone admits they have never heard of. Padma Lakshmi, in another outfit with almost no shirt, calls Lewis "the Julia Child of Southern cooking," and still everyone is "Huh, I guess I should know her but somehow I don't." For the elimination challenge, the chefs have to pay homage to her legacy.

Much of the episode revolves around boyish chef Jim Smith, from his opening-scene revelation that he has a wife to the microscopic details of the dishes he makes. It's Jim Smith everywhere. Yet he doesn't win, despite the fact that his brothy dish with shrimp, smoked turkey wing, pork consommé, squash, and English pea salad wows judges Tom Colicchio and Gail Simmons, guest diner Art Smith, and many of the Southern food experts at the table.

The winner is Sylva Senat, who also had not heard of Edna Lewis but who does a pan-fried snapper that has no grease. It's a simple dish; the show devotes almost no time to it at all. So you gotta wonder: Did they think the brothy thing made by boyish chef Jim Smith should have won?

The only other point of drama is brief. Katsuji Tanabe makes a dish pairing fried chicken and watermelon. Ummm, bad stereotype, the other chefs murmur, since Edna Lewis was black. Some of the Southern food experts at the table are also black. Will they find Katsuji's dish to be an outrageous affront?

They will not. They find Katsuji's dish to be an elegant reinterpretation. Crisis averted.

The chefs with the losing dishes are defiant Brooke; Emily, who cries; and Amanda, who mentions in every episode that she's been bartending and hasn't been a professional chef in more than a year. Amanda gets booted because her duck slices are too thick and lack soul. But she marks the experience as a positive, deciding that being on the show proves she can be a chef, after all.