What This Week’s “Top Chef” Episode Missed About Galveston

To the credit of the “Top Chef” producers, the season did a pretty stellar job overall of showcasing the host city of Houston. They pointed cameras into every corner of our beloved and vibrant sprawl, and even ventured beyond the usual suspects of its culinary scene.

So when the dwindling crew took a road trip south from Houston to Galveston Island, “Top Chef” had a unique opportunity to highlight what some viewers, especially those in the outside the state, may not know about the historic city, beyond its obvious seaside town. Unfortunately, the producers did not accept it.

Rather, the episode presented a one-dimensional look at Galveston. Yes, it’s a touristy coastal destination that’s full of luxury (and non-luxury, for that matter) vacation rentals, like the gorgeous home the chefs cooked in, which is listed on Vrbo, the subject of the awkwardly sponcon wearing this episode.

Yes, the camera pans several times over the green-tinted gray seawater of Galveston, adjacent to the refinery. The head testers, however, seem impressed when they arrive in town, with one noting the Spanish influence in the architecture.

“Welcome to the beautiful island of Galveston,” host Padma Lakshmi said as they prepared for the Elimination Challenge.

Welcome to Galveston, one of the wealthiest cities in Texas and of considerable national significance. Galveston became a city in 1836, the same year Texas gained independence from Mexico. This city eventually became one of the largest ports in the United States and the second largest immigration port after Ellis Island in New York. Within 50 years of its founding, Galveston was named the largest and wealthiest city in Texas.

The other test chefs plan their dishes during the Quickfire challenge on “Top Chef”.

David Moire/Bravo

Galveston’s reign as a premier commercial center didn’t last much longer, however, as a devastating hurricane in 1900 dubbed “The Great Storm” completely decimated the island. Over 6,000 people died and trade never resumed; the city eventually became the center of tourism and entertainment that it is today.

But before the 1900 hurricane, Galveston carved out a place in national history when on June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger and hundreds of black soldiers arrived in the South Texas city to announce that state slaves were in fact free – two years after the Emancipation Proclamation. The celebration that followed was coined Juneteenth, which became an official federal holiday last year.

The show actually mentioned this very important piece of Texas history and national history a few episodes ago, but not making the connection while in Galveston seemed… off.

The head testers learned a bit of Gulf Coast history when they visited La King Confectionery, which has been around for over 100 years. There are plenty of other restaurants and bars in Galveston that could have gotten some of the attention, like Gaido’s Seafood Restaurant (founded in 1911) and the Island Pier Club (founded in 1945).

Instead, “Top Chef” pocketed the money from Vrbo and had its remaining six chefs cook at a lavish beach house. A “mystery VIP family” had been teased, with viewers guessing it would be a collection of celebrities, but were actually members of the contestants’ families. It was cute, if a little underwhelming for star-hungry viewers – or those hoping to hate watching Tilman Fertitta sip his soup, as some predicted.

At least Houston favorite Evelyn Garcia won the Quickfire challenge for her Thai-Cajun boil with Thai chili butter and lime, a nod and twist on Houston’s Viet-Cajun cuisine.

By the end of the episode, “Top Chef” had figured out one thing about Galveston.

A classic Gulf Coast moment occurs when an angry storm erupts out of nowhere, its booming thunder interrupting the conversation. As the judges tried to hold their hair and clothes in place as the wind picked up, Judge Tom Colicchio’s silly beach hat ended up flying off in a comedic moment.

“Please wait for a hurricane,” Judge Gail Simmons said half-jokingly before they all headed inland.

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