Wait a second. What just happened on “Top Chef”??
Early on in Thursday night’s episode, after Jamie Lynch “nailed it” (his words) with a spicy lamb chop in a sudden-death quickfire challenge that earned him immunity, it looked to be smooth sailing for the Charlotte-based executive chef through the remainder of Season 14’s seventh episode.
Then all hell broke loose, and by the end – against pretty much all odds – Lynch was packing his knives and going. Yes, despite the fact that he had won immunity, and should have been safe from elimination. It’s a “Top Chef” first.
I still need time for it to all sink in. But let’s recap:
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The quickfire challenge had the 10 remaining chefs taking inspiration from their zodiac signs and using ingredients and tools from their element “to create a dish that tells us who you are,” host Padma Lakshmi announced.
Lynch is an Aries, and Aries is a fire sign, so he went with a lamb chop with a spicy crust over a fire-roasted pepper salad, topped with toasted cashew jus and a bit of lemon yogurt to cool it off. The judges loved it, and hated Chef Jim Smith’s charred bison, and out the “Top Chef” door Smith went.
And then on top of immunity, the judges lobbed a meatball pitch down the middle to Lynch by making the elimination challenge basically a map-guided scavenger hunt through Charleston – and Charleston, you must know by now, is like a second home to Lynch.
All that presented a little extra screen time for the guy who co-owns Charlotte’s 5Church Group, which started with a restaurant in Charlotte and has since expanded to Charleston and Atlanta.
Then an interview clip that seemed at first like a free ad for 5Church veered sharply into public service announcement territory.
“5Church is my restaurant in Charleston. I’ve put everything I have into it. I started cooking in New York City first at Le Cirque 2000 at The Palace Hotel, and this kitchen was like the mecca of four-star French cuisine,” he said. Then: “While I was cooking in New York, I developed a strong addiction to heroin. Struggling with addiction and trying to work in a kitchen, it’s not pretty. If addiction doesn’t ruin you or kill you and you can pull yourself through it, it can make you one of the strongest people out there.”
To me, it seemed awfully odd to wedge something like that between a quickfire challenge and an elimination challenge. But props to Lynch for kicking the habit.
Sadly then, though Lynch knows Charleston like the back of his tattooed hand, and teammate Emily Hahn lives in Charleston herself, the pair – along with Chef John Tesar – took the most time to hunt down ingredients for the next task at sites from Charleston City Market to White Point Garden.
They were left with lobster tails, truffles, oranges, exotic herbs, chicken breast, canned peas and peanut butter. Lynch volunteered to deal with the chicken and peanut butter.
But the grill was sticky and his chicken satay was icky – or, as guest judge Michael Cimarusti later put it: “I would expect to get better chicken out of a vending machine.” And Lynch was clearly as disgusted by his performance as the judges were by his satay.
“It was s---,” he said, then suggested he would relinquish his immunity if his team ended up on the bottom.
When they ultimately did, there wasn’t much anybody could do to change Lynch’s mind.
“I deserve it,” he told his fellow chefs. “You know, ’cause I’m not gonna feel comfortable sitting back being like, ‘I got to this point,’ or ‘I won ‘Top Chef’ because I (expletive) – I had immunity, you know?”
To be honest, I don’t know. I feel as if he played by the rules of the game and had safety fair and square, then bent the rules in a way that cost him that safety (plus, possibly, the pile of cash and other accolades that come with the top prize). Judge Tom Colicchio made it clear that Hahn would have been the one sent packing if Lynch hadn’t fallen on the reality-TV sword.
But his conscience appears to be clean.
“There are people here that would not give up immunity, but for me, it’s a matter of pride,” Lynch said at the end. “I have a much greater pride today than I had cooking ability. If you can’t execute, you don’t deserve to move along. You gotta live with yourself at the end of the day.”
And as you probably saw, he topped Jim Smith on Last Chance Kitchen, where ousted chefs compete for a final shot at the title. So Lynch is still moving along on “Top Chef” – whether he believes he deserves to or not...