Eight new chefs face off against eight returning chefs in Charleston, S.C.; the new chefs enter the kitchen first to cook as many dishes as possible in one hour using a whole chicken; the veterans square off to re-imagine shrimp and grits.
The chefs join the judges for a traditional shrimp boil; the newcomers face off against the returning chefs to put a spin on a low-country family meal; after dining with chefs Carrie Morey and BJ Dennis, each team creates a family-style feast.
Padma and guest judge Chris Cosentino divide the chefs into teams to compete in a mise en place race; the teams must go head to head and create a seven-course progressive meal in which each dish features the same ingredient: the radish.
Editor Nilou Motamed presents gift boxes to our chefs with unusual "items" for the elimination challenge themed from Feast of the Seven Fishes. They must use "trash fish" - the notoriously undesirable species. The chefs will serve Gail Simmons, Richard Blais, Hugh Acheson and Graham Elliot.
The cheftestants are baffled to enter the kitchen to find it completely dark and empty. Their anxiety grows as the clock begins and the pantry doors open to reveal baking ingredients. With all signs pointing to a biscuit challenge, the chefs make a mad dash to create dishes. Chef John Currence arrives to choose the best biscuit. For the elimination challenge, barbecue master Rodney Scott tasks the chefs to work through the night to prepare a whole hog and three side dishes for 150 local BBQ lovers.
US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, challenges the remaining chefs to make healthy vegetarian versions of traditional comfort foods. To make sure they get some physical activity in, they are only allowed to grab ingredients and tools from the pantry one at a time. Chef Alexander Smalls and author Toni Tipton-Martin ask the chefs to create dishes that pay homage to the matriarch of Southern cuisine. They will cook at Middleton Place, and serve a table of distinguished guests.
For their Quickfire Challenge, Padma and Chef Michael Cimarusti challenge the chefs to cook dishes using ingredients corresponding to the element of their zodiac sign. Since it's a surprise Sudden Death Quickfire, one chef will be eliminated immediately. Returning guest judge Graham Elliot splits the chefs into teams to throw a pirate-themed party. They'll have to race through the streets of Charleston to collect their ingredients. The chef with the worst dish on the losing team will be forced to walk the plank.
It's the challenge the chefs have been waiting for all season - Restaurant Wars. The remaining chefs divide into two teams to design a restaurant. Chef Daniel Humm and restaurateur Will Guidara task the teams to take over the same restaurant space on separate nights, meaning one lucky team gets an extra day to refine their concept. When egos collide, tempers flare and anything can happen.
The competitors start their day boarding a boat with Tom Colicchio, who gives them a lesson in shrimpin'. Padma is waiting with a Sudden Death Quickfire where the chefs must create a dish that showcases their freshly caught shrimp. The losing chef is sent home on the spot, while the others are surprised by an unexpected guest judge for their elimination challenge. They are asked to prepare a brunch for the famed Charleston Hat Ladies. It won't be a traditional southern brunch as they must create breakfast and lunch hybrid dishes.
The final four chefs cook impromptu dishes while simultaneously instructing mystery partners how to create the exact same dish. When the judges compare dishes, the chefs are shocked to discover their secret partners are their visiting family members. For the final Elimination Challenge, the chefs are tasked with creating a dish that represents their Top Chef journey so far. The winner will not only land a spot in the upcoming finals, but will have their dish featured at the prestigious James Beard House in New York City.
The final two chefs face-off to serve the best meal of their lives and earn the coveted title of Top Chef. The finalists will cook an epic four-course progressive meal with the help of three sous chefs, comprised of two eliminated chefs and one from their restaurants back home. The pressure is on as only one chef can win. The chefs must impress a dining room filled with their families, returning judges Graham Elliot and Gail Simmons, and distinguished chefs Joachim Splichal, Jonathan Waxman, Martha Ortiz, Jonathan Sawyer, Daniel Boulud and Food & Wine's Nilou Motamed.