Well, no, they didn’t exactly chant it. But still, Charlotte’s Jamie Lynch finally rose a little higher to the challenge on last night’s “Top Chef: Charleston,” making it into the top three by using the Middle Eastern spice ras el hanout (a favorite of mine) to counter the fishiness of a particularly fishy trash fish called tunny, AKA Atlantic Bluefin Tuna.
Still, he’s playing it quiet but intense. Something strange about the Quick Fire challenge that started the show: The “cheftestants” (their word, not mine, and if anyone has a better one, could you send it to me?) started with a Christmas challenge. They each got a box with random equipment and ingredients (pressure cooker, melon baller, tequila, pomegranate, white chocolate, pretzels, cloves, wasabi and squab) and had to use all of it to come up with a dish.
What did Lynch cook? Well, we’ll never know unless he’ll spill off camera. In the interest of time and drama, the only chefs whose dishes were shown in detail were – way to foreshadow, Bravo – the chefs who ended up in the bottom three and top three. Pity, because Lynch was kicking out flames and fire over at his station. Apparently, his dish was what restaurant critics call “meh” – neither terrible nor great, just in the middle.
Nevertheless, on to the main event, a trash-fish version of the Feast of the 7 Fishes, traditional in Italian families on Christmas Eve. Like the radish challenge last week, it was a good lesson for viewers: Even chefs want to stick to the known crowd-pleasers from the sea, although a few of the “trash” fish seemed a little high end, like amberjack. Lynch was paired with calm/serious Sylva Senant, and props to them for grabbing tunny, something that actually is less-known and hard to make taste good.
How hard? When they presented their dish, Ras El Hanout-Dusted Tunny with Melted Leeks, Parsnip Puree, Wild Mushroom Ragout and XO Jus, chef-judge Hugh Acheson admitted, “We all guessed you’d fail miserably.” They didn’t. While the trash-talking, tequila-swilling Katsuji Tanabe won (and I am the only one getting a little sick of the John Tesar/Katsuji boys’ club?), Lynch and Senat made the top three with their dish, described by one judge as “A good gateway drug to trash fish.”
With all those vegetable components, Lynch is starting to show he knows his way around a paring knife. Watch him expertly peeling those wild mushroom stems. Pretty.
Meanwhile, over on the online-only Last Chance Kitchen, Sam Talbot, our other chef with Charlotte ties, is (sing it with me), ooh, ooh, ooh, stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive. He knocked off last night’s loser, B.J. Smith, by turning a refrigerator full of holiday leftovers into a deconstructed green bean casserole.
Three things about “Last Chance Kitchen”:
1. Talbot’s 10-minute episode showed more energy and fun than the whole hour that came before it, proving again that bumping that guy in only the third episode was a loss to all viewers.
2. When you’re facing a refrigerator full of holiday leftovers next week, you ought to watch this to see some good ideas on how to approach them like a chef. Just don’t tell me, repeatedly, that you stand in front of your refrigerator in your underwear. TMI, B.J.
3. Really, Bravo, you’re in the South. Couldn’t you show a little respect and call it dressing, not stuffing?