Dallas Top Chef fans rooting for the hometown team have plenty to squeal about, as local hero John Tesar finally gets his turn on the December 29 show. Called "Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em," episode 5 is about barbecue — specifically roasting whole pigs [thus the use of the verb "squeal"].
Roasting whole pigs is a primitive time-honored pastime in Charleston, South Carolina, where this Season 14 takes place. So there is lots of chatter about butchery, sauces, and such. Girl chef Brooke Williamson, for one, cannot wait to get in and butcher that sucker. Feminism as embodied by the willingness to slaughter animals is a big yes on Top Chef.
On sauces, the big dilemma is vinegar or mustard? And roasting temperatures should be low not high, which gives barely-clothed hostess Padma Lakshmi the opportunity to say "lowww and slowww" more than once.
While previous episodes this season have managed to eke out a few surprises, the outcome this week is easier to call — thanks to the time-tested foreshadowing techniques we've come to recognize from Top Chef.
For example, the family phone call. That is almost never a good sign. When you see a contestant — in this case, Silvia Barban, aka the Italian chef — talking on the phone with her family and missing the folks back home, it's a blinking neon sign that says This Chef's Time Is About To End.
The rest of the episode goes on to flog Barban endlessly for daring to do a potato salad without mayonnaise. She does her Italian take on potato salad, and it does not have mayonnaise. Who makes potato salad without mayonnaise? Only a big loser, that's who.
Every other episode of Top Chef that has ever aired congratulates chefs for doing inventive spins on classic dishes. But you do not mess with potato salad. How can you call it potato salad without mayonnaise, broods judge Tom Colicchio. Potato salad sans mayo is a major no-no for judge Gail Simmons, too, who twirls the end of the sidepony braid she's wearing this week because barbecue.
As for the winner, the "tell" is that, when John Tesar goes to make mac and cheese, he's missing a key ingredient: flour. He uses it to make a roux sauce and it's key. At least 3 minutes of him worrying about what to do without flour elapse before his partner from last week's episode, Katsuji Tanabe, offers xanthum gum, a thickening agent popular in gluten-free cooking.
Tesar's never used xanthum gum in a mac and cheese recipe before. This could turn out awful. But by golly if it doesn't end up being the best mac and cheese he's ever made. Chefs are so resourceful! They get these ingredients and they use them to make dishes and the dishes turn out good. Tesar can't believe he's winning after all this time for mac and cheese, but win he does.