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Tesar Is Nice on This Season of Top Chef, and It's Kind of Unsettling

If you began this season of Top Chef, eager (some may say hungry) for Villain John Tesar, damn, I bet you’re disappointed.

Because Dallas chef Tesar is totally nice and totally cool and totally a team player. Tesar’s first shot in this episode is him complimenting someone’s collared greens. And it seems genuine. It’s unexpected. It’s confusing. It’s stressful.

This episode’s quickfire challenge is judged by chef Chris Cosentino, and in case you didn’t know, Cosentino sent Tesar home last time Tesar was on the show. Tesar looks down when he spies Cosentino in the kitchen. He’s pretending to look scared, but it’s a performance. We all know Tesar doesn’t give a shit.

The quickfire challenge is rapidly explained and the chefs are divided into two teams. Suddenly all the chefs are cooking and slicing and sweating into the food. Cosentino is blowing a whistle every few minutes like it’s a damn wrestling match. Team Green, which Tesar is on, wins the first part, which means they get to pause Team Blue’s progress. How do they do that? Tesar literally ran over to a pause button and slams it like he’s laying someone down. Like he’s laying his enemies down.

Even with the pause on Team Blue, the judges announce Team Blue won. Tesar looks down in disappointment. Tesar is sad. We are sad.

For the elimination round, the teams formed from the quickfire challenge must cook a seven-course meal for Top Chef superfans (you know, not just regular fans). Each team will go head-to-head with each other on each dish. But get this. Each dish must include Cosentino’s favorite ingredient — radish. Even dessert! Brooke Williamson shows us her radish tattoo. Someone else chimes in and says, “Go radish or go home.” I vomit.

Soon everyone scrambles to Whole Foods to buy ingredients, and it’s mayhem. People are throwing things. Katsuji Tanabe tells Tesar that he wants to cut in front of Tesar because he doesn’t trust that he will keep his ingredients under budget. Tesar is stunned. Tesar can’t believe someone wouldn’t trust him. Tesar lets him cut because Tesar is changed. He has changed. He orders Tanabe to kiss him on the cheek. Tanabe obliges. It’s a moment — one Tesar has fantasized to his therapist, I’m sure.

“He wants to bring the old John Tesar out so badly,” Tesar tells the camera. “He’s poking the bear to see the dark side.”

Tesar is different, you guys. There are no tantrums, no foul language, no back stabbing with the new Tesar. It’s startling and calming at the same time. I’m not positive anyone is completely comfortable with it except maybe Tesar’s therapist.

But time for the elimination round. For Tesar’s meal, he makes radish ramen with radish custard, hon shimeji mushroom, tofu and radish oil. Tesar happily makes his dish. He high fives a superfan who walks by to their seat. He sweats into his radish bowl. I take a sip of Dr Pepper.

Tesar’s dish goes up against Team Blue's and not only do the superfans prefer Tesar’s radish ramen and made-from-scratch noodles but so do the judges. Tesar wins his round and saves the falling-behind Team Green. Everyone is happy. Everyone loves Tesar. A superfan mentions that Tesar’s spicy sauce is what won him over. All hail King Tesar.

King Tesar reigns, but Team Green as a whole did not. Team Blue won the elimination challenge. Tesar is safe, however, because he won his round. But he’s still concerned for his teammates.

“This is the most terrifying challenge there is because you can make a stellar dish and still be on the bottom,” he offers the others. Wise words.

Veteran Sam Talbot is sent home and must pack his knives and go. Everyone is shocked. Tesar puts his head down and nods, joining in on the shock. We’re all shook. Even Nice King Tesar.

What will happen next episode? Will Tesar ever explode?
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Paige Skinner has written for the Dallas Observer since 2014.
Contact: Paige Skinner

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