Season 14 of Bravo’s Top Chef in Charleston did more than whittle down its list of contestants this week — it helped raise the profile of a legendary pioneering Southern chef Edna Lewis. The Washington Post reports, in the wake of Thursday night’s episode that featured a challenge based on Lewis’s legacy, one of her best-known 1976 cookbooks, The Taste of Country Cooking, has rocketed to the number 5 slot on the Amazon bestsellers chart and number 3 in the cookbooks category.
Lewis — whose first cookbook, The Edna Lewis Cookbook, was rereleased last year on what would have been her 100th birthday — is considered one of the foundational voices on Southern cooking and one of the first African American celebrity chefs. Born in Virginia, Lewis rose to prominence in the 1950s as a self-taught chef and co-owner of New York City’s Cafe Nicholson. The dishes served at her restaurant and her popular books helped raise the profile of the Southern regional cooking style.
During the Elimination Challenge of this week’s episode of Top Chef, contestants were asked to make a dish that paid homage to Lewis’s cooking and serve it to a group of chefs and writers who credit her as an influence. Writer Alison Leiby notes, “As a powerful figure that elevated cooking in the south above many of the stereotypes still held today, it’s shocking that many of the chefs don’t know her name.” The episode seems to have helped a few more people learn her name. As evidenced by Google Trends, searches for “Edna Lewis” saw a modest spike this week following the airing.
While this is definitely a highlight of this current season of Top Chef, the critiques of the Charleston episodes haven’t all been positive. The series took flack from some viewers following its premiere for using the Boone Hall Plantation as the setting for a Quickfire Challenge. Tom Colicchio notably acknowledged that the choice of venue may have come off as insensitive but told critics on Twitter that the show wanted to “show the complete history of Charleston.”
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