About last night’s “Top Chef,” first things first: Orange County’s Shirley Chung cruised without scrutiny from the judges into next week. And it wasn’t like she had weak competition—to keep ahead of her team of fellow veterans, she has to cook at a very high level.
Helpfully, the cooking on the rookie side isn’t nearly so challenging, with foolish mistakes being made right and left, so in effect Chung and other returning chefs are cooking only against each other, at least for now. Of course, in Reality TV Land things change, for reasons both real and engineered. The first-timers erred in a variety of ways, including actual cooking. Neck-tatted Jamie Lynch, the cheftestant who burned his vegetables in the premiere, burned vegetables again here. And after the first-timers spent the afternoon with a Charleston biscuit businesswoman to learn about local habits, which was kind of curious because most of them are from the south if not Charleston itself, the team missed a cue the size of the Empire State Building and failed to include anything remotely biscuit-like in the meal they prepared for the panel of judges, who rightfully pointed out the omission.
No such problem on the vets’ menu, where Brooke Williamson, who had immunity from her win last week, supplied a sweet corn/benne biscuit served with dulce de leche. Fellow “Top Chef” watchers: Don’t we love it when an immunity-protected chef works as hard as her teammates for the win? Shirley’s dish—pork and oyster stew with sweet potato, potato, and crispy pork crackling inspired by Chinese New Year’s flavors—passed without much on-camera discussion, other than a nice mention of both the pork belly and oysters being perfectly cooked. We don’t need much more than that, do we? Casey Thompson took the win with a take on collard greens that included coconut milk and peanuts, a riff on the flavors that Gullah-Geechee chef Benjamin “BJ” Dennis showed the team in his introduction to Gullah island cuisine.
With several quite bad dishes from which to choose, the judges eliminated Annie Pettry for a tomato tart that looked, from my perspective, nowhere near as big a failure as the raw pork and seeping vegetable custard it was up against for this dubious honor. Pettry repaired to the “Top Chef” purgatory known as “Last Chance Kitchen,” where last week’s loser Gerald Sombright waited for his first chance at redemption. Which he got; Pettry lost, so Sombright will fight next week’s eliminatee for the chance to get back into the big kitchen.
(Read all my Taste of Orange County “Top Chef” coverage here.)