“We have two contestants from Charleston!” Padma Lakshmi beamed when she learned I worked for the local paper; I was watching the "Top Chef" judge get her makeup done before filming a segment for the 14th season, about which I am contractually obligated to say nothing.
Lakshmi didn’t have much time to spare on that June afternoon, but she was brimming with praise for Jamie Lynch, who she characterized as “very gallant” and an excellent ambassador for the city.
The first episode of Top Chef Charleston doesn’t air until Dec. 1, so viewers will have to wait two months to find out what provoked Lakshmi to say the 5Church chef’s competitive behavior “speaks to how he was raised.” But no matter what he does, it’s unlikely to reflect directly on Charleston, since the city’s contestant tally has been officially whittled to one. According to Bravo’s announcement of the season’s premiere, Lynch will be billed as hailing from Charlotte, where 5Church is based.
“We want his hometown to reflect the place he spends the most time,” Bravo spokeswoman Rebecca Boswell says. “It’s definitely talked about in the show that he has a restaurant in Charleston.”
Emily Hahn of Warehouse is now Charleston’s sole representative; she’s one of five Southerners in the lineup of new cast members. The eight chefs will compete against eight chefs drawn from previous seasons: Their identities have not yet been formally revealed, although Bravo allows there are no past winners amongst them. They’re “back for redemption,” according to Bravo’s press release.
Other open secrets confirmed by the release include the names of guest judges (BJ Dennis, Mike Lata, Frank Lee, Sean Brock, Rodney Scott and Carey Morey constitute the local contingent); select challenge themes (shrimp-and-grits, biscuits) and ways in which the show tried to make good on judge Tom Colicchio’s promise to “address head-on our city’s history, and (try) to look at Southern food from both a black and white perspective (an Edna Lewis tribute dinner.)
“I loved the tribute dinner,” Lakshmi said before leaving the makeup chair. “Edna Lewis’ impact was very long lasting. You can tell a lot about food culture through reading Edna Lewis.”