May 26, 2022

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What this week’s ‘Top Chef’ episode missed about Galveston

3 min read

To “Top Chef” producers’ credit, the season has done a pretty stellar job overall of highlighting the host city of Houston. They’ve aimed cameras at all corners of our beloved, vibrant sprawl, and even ventured beyond the usual suspects of its culinary scene.

So when the dwindling crew took a road trip south of Houston to Galveston Island, “Top Chef” had a unique opportunity to highlight what some viewers—especially those out of state—may not know about the historic city, beyond its obvious beach town rep. Unfortunately, the producers didn’t take it.

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

Yes, the camera pans a handful of times to Galveston’s green-tinged gray, refinery-adjacent ocean water. The cheftestants seem impressed as they roll into town though, with one noting the Spanish influence of the architecture.

“Welcome to beautiful Galveston Island,” said host Padma Lakshmi as they geared up for the Elimination challenge.

Welcome to Galveston indeed, one of the most storied cities in Texas, and one of significant national importance. Galveston became a city in 1836, the same year Texas gained independence from Mexico. That city eventually grew to one of the largest ports in the U.S. and the second-largest immigration port after Ellis Island in New York. Within 50 years of its establishment, Galveston earned the designation of Texas’ largest and richest city.

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The remaining cheftestants plan their dishes during the Quickfire challenge on "Top Chef."

The remaining cheftestants plan their dishes during the Quickfire challenge on “Top Chef.”

David Moir/Bravo

Galveston’s reign as a leading commercial hub didn’t last much longer, however, as a devastating hurricane in 1900 dubbed “the Great Storm” completely decimated the island. More than 6,000 people died and trade never recovered; the city eventually transitioned to the tourism and entertainment center it is now.


But before the 1900 hurricane, Galveston cemented a place for itself 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 the state’s enslaved people were actually free—two years after the Emancipation Proclamation. The celebration that ensued was coined Juneteenth, which became an official federal holiday just last year.

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

The cheftestants did spy a little bit of Gulf Coast history when they visited La King’s Confectionery, which has been around for more than 100 years. There are plenty of other restaurants and bars in Galveston that could have received a slice of the spotlight, such as Gaido’s Seafood Restaurant (est. 1911) and Island Pier Club (est. 1945).

Instead, “Top Chef” pocketed the Vrbo money and had its six remaining chefs cook in a lavish beach house. A “mystery VIP family” had been teased, with viewers guessing it would be some collection of celebrities, but it was actually members of the contestants’ families. It was cute, albeit a bit of a letdown for star-hungry viewers—or those hoping to hate-watch Tilman Fertitta slurp his soup, as some predicted.

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

By the end of the episode, “Top Chef” did get one thing right about Galveston.

A classic Gulf Coast moment happens when an angry storm brews out of nowhere, its booming thunder interrupting the conversation. As the judges tried holding their hair and garments in place as the wind picks up, judge Tom Colicchio’s silly beach hat eventually blows off in a comedic moment.

“Please hold for hurricane,” said judge Gail Simmons half-jokingly before they all headed inside.



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