Food News

Darius Rucker, All the White People In South Carolina Love Tesar's Mac and Cheese on Top Chef

Tesar got to flex his biscuit muscles a bit on this week's episode.
Tesar got to flex his biscuit muscles a bit on this week's episode. NBC Universal
The birthday curse is real. No, not the curse where no matter how hard you try, you still end up crying in the bathroom on your birthday. This is a curse special to chefs who compete on Top Chef. If their birthday falls close to an elimination challenge, they will go home that week. It’s not fair per se, but it’s what the Model Host Woman deems reasonable and fair.

During last week's episode of Top Chef, the chefs stayed up all night to barbecue a hog for 150 people. To pass the time, they made s’mores with the leftover fire. That’s nice because I also stayed up past my bedtime to watch this episode and poured myself a bowl of s’mores cereal. Amazing.

The quickfire challenge is spooky. We know this because spooky music is playing in the background. The chefs enter the kitchen and no one is there. Dallas chef John Tesar says there are no producers, no judges, no cameras, and yet we are still able to watch the entire thing. The judges and crew and that Model Host Woman (I refuse to learn her name) is laughing behind the scenes while watching the poor chefs freak out. It’s the first time the Model Host Woman has smiled in years. She enjoys the misery and listening in on what they say when she’s not there.

But suddenly the doors open. The chefs run over only to see a bunch of ingredients sitting there. One chef boldly declares that the challenge is to make biscuits and for some reason, the rest follow suit. Suddenly, everyone is making biscuits.

But here’s the thing. No one has ever made biscuits before. There are at least three chefs who confess to have never made the dish and they are all just copying what Brooke Williamson is doing. Tesar has made biscuits, though. You think a chef at The Mansion has never made biscuits? Please. He scoffs at the others when he sees they are adding too much foo-foo to their biscuits. Scallops and biscuits? Try cheddar jalapeño biscuits like Tesar, please. “I’m not sure if people realize simplicity is an art form,” he said. “It’s a biscuit.” Someone convince Tesar to get that tattooed on his lower back.

The judges and Model Host Woman come out of their secret dungeon to laugh at the chefs in person and also take tiny bites of their biscuits while questioning their process. Tesar’s biscuit is fine and I wish that was an euphemism but it’s not. Fine doesn’t cut it, though, because Williamson wins the challenge because she’s won every challenge ever. Please save us all the despair and stop the show now.

On to the elimination challenge and some chef from some Carolina state comes in and tells the chefs that they must split into teams and barbecue a hog for 150 white people and also country star Darius Rucker. They can either make it with a mustard sauce or a vinegar sauce and they also make sides. Tesar is teamed with Williamson, Emily Hahn and Sheldon Simeon. Also: Simeon's back problems from once carrying a bowl of pasta is acting up this episode. The cause of back problems is not something I’m making up; however, I wish I was.

But hog barbecuing must go on with Sheldon there or with Sheldon getting a pasta-related injury scanned in an MRI. Everyone is assigned what they will make for the barbecue gathering and Tesar says he will make macaroni and cheese because white people love hog and mac and cheese.

Here’s the catch, though. The teams have to stay up all night preparing the hog and sides and then present the food the next afternoon. Top Chef prepares chefs for the real world and in the real world, hogs are prepared over night with no sleep.

This isn’t an issue for Tesar, however. A montage of clips shows Tesar name dropping all night and talking to his teammates and then talking some more.

“It’s one thing to stay up for two days straight making a hog for 150 people. It’s another thing to stay up with John,” Williamson says to the camera. “I can’t tell which one is more exhausting.”

Tesar’s macaroni and cheese is not coming together easily. He cannot find any flour. He is frantic. Finally, Katsuji Tanabe offers something that can substitute flour in exchange for some garlic from Tesar. Tesar is relieved and offers Tanabe a hug and a kiss. Tanabe doesn’t accept.

But it doesn’t matter! The macaroni and cheese was a huge success among the white people dressed in their Easter best for a random barbecue in a random field while watching Darius Rucker perform his hit song from 2008. Even Darius Rucker liked the mac and cheese. “The more I ate, it got better,” Rucker says.

Freed from the Sunday School gathering in South Carolina, the chefs head back to the judging table and Model Host Woman deems Tesar’s macaroni and cheese the best dish of the entire barbecue. Tesar’s big-ass grin gets even bigger because this is a first for him. It's his first solo elimination win.

“After all these years of being a chef, I can’t believe it comes down to mac and cheese to have some real joy and happiness on Top Chef,” he says.

That’s sweet. But the birthday curse is a real thing. Silvia Barban knows that. She had to pack her knives and go. Sad to die at the young age of 27. Rest in Last Chance Kitchen.
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Paige Skinner has written for the Dallas Observer since 2014.
Contact: Paige Skinner