For Charlotte fans of 5Church’s Jamie Lynch, the action has moved from “Top Chef Charleston” to the online-only “Last Chance Kitchen.” And if you haven’t moved with it, you’re missing some pretty good food-TV action.
I’ll admit this: I’m not a big fan of so-called “reality” TV, with the stilted setups, straight-to-the-camera dialogues that state the obvious and artificially constructed “dramas.” I watched “Top Chef” regularly for about three years before I admitted to myself that I just didn’t care all that much. When the network added “Last Chance Kitchen,” where chefs who get bounced get a chance to cook their way back into the competition, I never bothered to click on it.
This year, though, is different, because Charlotte has, literally, skin in the game, the elaborately tattooed flesh of Lynch. And now that Lynch has moved to “Last Chance Kitchen,” after a gutsy move in which he gave up his immunity to be judged with his team, I’ve had a reason to start clicking into the web show. And you know what? It’s a lot more fun: It’s a single challenge, facing a single judge, Tom Colicchio, who gets very serious about chef skills, and it only takes 10 minutes or so. The other eliminated chefs form a peanut gallery of shouts and jokes (Ex-Charlottean Sam Talbot manages a zinger against the annoying Katsuji Tanabe that actually did make me laugh out loud.)
This week, Lynch faced Emily Hahn, a Charleston chef who hasn’t exactly been a fan favorite. She has struggled throughout the show, and in fact, when Lynch gave up immunity, it was widely seen as saving Hahn, who would surely have lost that night. Hahn finally lost Thursday night after making a clumsy and not very ramped-up ice-box cake that didn’t go over well at an outdoor party in Charleston’s summer heat. No surprise: The real surprise was that she hadn’t been knocked out of the running several shows back.
In the “Last Chance Kitchen” challenge, Lynch and Hahn were given 45 seconds to grab only what they could carry from the pantry, then 20 minutes to make a dish from it. Apparently assuming the prep tables would at least include salt and oil, Lynch focused on grabbing really good summer produce – great tomatoes, watermelon, arugula, cilantro and radishes. He realized his error and tried to double back for at least salt, but it was too late.
Hahn, giving him credit for saving her in his immunity move, tried to give him some of her salt, but Colicchio overruled her.
So, what does a great chef do? Lynch pulled out smart, fast thinking about the real nature of ingredients. He pulled on the acidity of the watermelon rind, the bitterness of the arugula and the brightness of the cilantro to add flavor to a dish that would inevitably be underseasoned.
Did the move work? Of course it did. As usual, Hahn second-guessed herself and tried to use a warm vinaigrette against a cold tomato in a dish that just looked like a mess. And while Colicchio noted that Lynch’s dish lacked the balance salt brings in pulling flavors together, he still agreed the dish he would have gone back and eaten again was Lynch’s.
Lynch has now beaten three chefs and has three more to go to cook his way back to the finale. Can he do it? It’s starting to look like he has more than a last chance.