The premiere of “Top Chef: Charleston” has now officially come and gone — and what a premiere it ended up being! While we still don’t love the concept of newbie chefs facing off against returning ones, this episode did at least give us a good sense from a storytelling point of view as to why now was the right time to bring some people back.
For example, we had the story of John Tesar. This was a guy who production clearly loved the first time around for his image as this hard-nosed, abrasive guy who would stir things up and get into arguments. He did that the first time around, but we’re not sure that his placement really backed up the advance billing. Tonight, there was a chance that he was going to go home the very first week, and production would lose one of their most-dynamic characters — even though he’s claimed to turn over a new leaf.
You started to feel some of that pressure mount up for him after he lost the Quickfire against the remainder of the returning chefs; meanwhile, over among the newbies you saw some of that with Gerald Sombright, a guy who the show did a great job of editing over the course of the premiere. You learned an incredible amount about who he is and what he likes to do in the kitchen from start to finish, and that does make his elimination a little sadder since you know that he could’ve used this experience to make a better life for his family. He does still have “Top Chef: Last Chance Kitchen” to impress Tom Colicchio, but he’ll have to win every showdown from now until the finale and that doesn’t feel likely.
The newbies and the returning players each had different Quickfires leading up to this. For the former group, they had to make something effective using chicken, and Jim Smith — an incredibly fascinating guy who’s apparently the head chef of the entire State of Alabama — ended up being the guy who was declared safe in the end. (Note that immunity will be for the second part of the premiering airing next week.) Over on the returning-player side of things, our personal pick to win this season in Brooke Williamson took it home over utilizing shrimp and grits to the best of her ability.
This episode overall showcased Charleston well in a variety of different ways, but we will say that there was something a little problematic about visiting a plantation this early in the season. We just don’t love the idea of throwing something this emotionally heavy at people while they are still so green in the competition; even for John, it’s been years since he’s been a part of the show. We would’ve saved this for maybe the top ten at the earliest, since you could have offered up more of a chance to look at the history of the place and how it impacted everyone as opposed to just a few.
It does look as though we’re in for a fairly-fun season, given mostly the array of different personalities and challenges that we’re going to have a chance to check out. Some of the picks for returning chefs are a little dubious, and we don’t know why we randomly have one third-time participant in the mix. We do really like Shirley and Sheldon, and Katsuji is that sort of contestant who probably won’t win but still have significant upside to be the controversial pot-stirrer all season long.
While this wasn’t a perfect premiere, it’s “Top Chef,” and it remains TV’s premier cooking competition for good reason. Grade: B+.
You can get a further preview for what’s coming next on “Top Chef” by heading over to the link here now. (Photo: Bravo.)