He’s the comeback kid. The semi-comeback kid. He’s something. John Tesar, Dallas chef and Top Chef’s own “stepdad” (as chef Brooke Williamson so gently put it) barely made it out alive during the first episode of Top Chef’s 14th season. Turns out, the judges didn’t particularly care for his take on a chicken dish. After he went head-to-head with Gerald Sombright, Tesar was saved and Sombright had to pack his knives and go. Sad.
But nice for Tesar.
In case you didn’t know, this season of Top Chef features newcomers and show veterans like Tesar. The newcomers are still highly regarded chefs from around the country, but the veterans are highly regarded chefs from around the country and lovers of pain, because they signed up for this show once again and all they get if they win is $125,000. Pretty sure Bachelor contestants make more than that, and all that requires is getting Champagne-drunk.
But, whatever. This episode’s elimination round is the rookies versus the veterans cooking a family-style Southern meal. This season takes place in Charleston, South Carolina, and even though few of the chefs are from the South, they all attempt to tie their childhood memories to this part of the country.
For inspiration, both teams head over to two Charleston chefs’ homes to eat a traditional Southern meal. There are biscuits and greens and pork chops and something called tomato pie, and it’s clear this isn’t Babe’s Chicken Dinner. It’s Babe’s aunt’s fancy dinner party, where things are classier and more sophisticated and other words to describe things that aren't chicken strips.
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Once both teams have eaten and have reminded the camera about their decidedly Southern-sounding childhood meals, each team sits down to form a menu for the elimination round. The rookies are a mess. Some want biscuits on the menu and some don’t. It’s a disaster. Then the teams head to Whole Foods for ingredients. The rookies are a mess again and buy about six dozen too many eggs. The veterans are cool and buy basically the right amount of eggs.
Tesar’s menu item for the family-style Southern meal is okra with a bunch of other words thrown in there, like rice and green and onion and crab and gravy. If it was on Babe’s menu, it would read “okra,” but Tesar’s okra is more complicated. But really, it’s okra. And judge Tom Colicchio doesn’t like okra. When he spies Tesar preparing this godforsaken item, he gently reminds the Dallas chef that okra isn’t his favorite. Tesar refuses to back down because he’s Tesar and he welcomes that sort of disapproval. You know how when your boss says he doesn’t lik e your work and you cry in the break room for 20 minutes? Tesar does the opposite. He almost becomes stronger. He tells the camera, “If Tom doesn’t like this, send me home.” That's so Tesar.
And good news: Colicchio did like the okra, and so did the other judges. Tesar totally redeemed himself after last week’s chicken meltdown, and not only did Tesar’s team win, but the judges decided Tesar had one of the best dishes of the night. Take that, The Mansion!
Watch Tesar's next Top Chef episode at 9 p.m. Thursday on Bravo.