Take it from someone who has done a lot of judging (barbecue, cookbooks, restaurants and once, in a hellish afternoon, drinking water) and been judged a lot (every article I ever write):
Judging is hard, people.
On Thursday night’s episode of “Top Chef: Charleston,” even Tom Colicchio and Padma Lakshmi were struggling. Was that a tear in Colicchio’s eye, or was he still getting over all those onions the “cheftestants” chopping during the Quick Fire prep challenge?
Let’s say they were real tears. I almost shed a few myself, when they sent Sam Talbot to pack his knives and his considerable fan following. It was a shame on so many levels: The judges insisted both teams and every chef on it cooked the best meal they’d ever had on the show. And after 14 seasons, that’s saying something.
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Also saying something: It was all radishes. Radish apps, radish mains, radish desserts. As “Top Chef” challenges go, it was one of the most interesting they’ve ever thrown out, and one of the reasons the show is so much fun to watch.
And the real reason it was so sad to see Talbot get the well-honed ax: Throughout these episodes, Talbot has been the one who has shown the leadership qualities of a great chef. In episode 3, it was heart-warming how he voiced trust in the chefs on his team who are still newbies to the competition. His belief in Italian chef Silvia Barban’s idea to make a cake that replaced apples with radishes was the kind of thing we’d all like to hear our bosses say to us.
But . . . (“Top Chef” dramatic pause): Is Sam gone forever? He immediately got sent to Bravo’s online-only “Last Chance Kitchen,” where the losers go when they pack their knives, to cook off against every other bounced chef in hopes of getting a chance to return at the end of the season. It posts every Thursday at 11 p.m., so you can already see the results. (Not that I’m suggesting you watch at your desk at work this morning: Here you go.)
Meanwhile, on Charlotte watch: Lynch seems very quiet. As he pointed out himself, though, the shows are edited to play up certain characteristics. So that could be a ruse, to give Lynch more of a chance to explode in upcoming episodes.
This time, with both the Quick Fire timed vegetable prep (way to turn some artichokes, Lynch) and those radishes, Lynch acquited himself well. He roasted kale and didn’t burn it, even when Katsuji Tanabe taunted him (“Isn’t kale, like, 2014?”). Hey, Tanabe: Isn’t putting the lid on your blender like, every year?
He turned out a picture-perfect dish of roasted kale, glazed radish and miso emulsion. Nicely done, Jamie.