Interviewing 5Church Charleston’s executive chef Jamie Lynch is like willingly taking hold of a live wire. Energy arcs from Lynch even when he seems to be sitting still, and he defuses it with little actions…checking his phone, tapping his fingers, shifting position in his seat.
Filming is done for this season’s Top Chef on Bravo, which took place in Charleston, and fans still talk about the stunning moment when Lynch gave up his immunity from a previous win to save his teammates and was bounced from the show. More recent weeks have seen him cruise through the after-show, Top Chef: Last Chance Kitchen, in which the show rejects compete in a last-man-standing cook-off. So far, Jamie Lynch has beaten every chef he’s faced, and he’s the last man standing. If he beats enough chefs in the after-show, he gets invited back to the Top Chef finale to compete.
Lynch isn’t allowed to tell me the outcome of the show, but he does dish on some behind-the-scenes information.
What was it like being on Top Chef?
It was great. It was definitely unlike anything I’ve every done before. I’m not a competitive chef; I was out of my element.
What was the best thing about Top Chef?
Getting to know and work with other chefs. After the show filmed, we’d sit in the kitchen at the house, telling stories, talking about food.
And learning everyone’s food philosophy. There are so many ways to approach food and this was a really eclectic group. Their approaches to food came from different places.
And the worst?
The kitchen was crazy. In my kitchen here, you have your mise en place (ingredients laid out). But there, you’re running around from the pantry to prep. You’re running around like a lunatic.
Would you go back for another season if they asked you?
I would, now that I’ve had time to reflect. I would have a sense of how it works. It was a great experience, but it was an immense amount of stress. Now I would prepare. I was terrified at the time, but now I know how it’s played.
Do you regret giving up your immunity? (In a Top Chef first, Lynch gave up his immunity after preparing a dish the judges didn’t like. The team strategy had been to saddle Lynch with the more unappealing ingredients in the challenge because he had a safe spot. The strategy failed when the judges hated Lynch’s chicken with peanut butter sauce. Rather than have one of his teammates go home because of his dish, Lynch took one for the team. The judges were shocked.)
If the circumstances were the same, I would do it again. Now, if it were an individual challenge rather than a team challenge, well then every man for himself. But the judges were really harsh and I didn’t think it fair that (teammates) Emily (Hahn of Charleston’s Warehouse) or John (Tesar of Knife at the Highland, Dallas) would be sent home.
I felt like the dish I did was a solid dish. It wasn’t so creative, but the guests who tried the dish were saying good things about it. The judges didn’t feel that way, though. There were no critical errors, the judges just didn’t like it.
Did the editors capture the reality of the show? Did they make you look better or worse?
I think they did me a favor in some of the editing. I lost my shit a few times. I can get hot, I can be pretty fiery, especially in the Stew Room (the room where the chefs await the judges’ decision).
They did a really good job of putting it together. It blows my mind, but what you see is the real deal. There are no second takes, this is whatever you see. It’s how it goes down.
Did the chefs on the show become friends in real life?
Yeah. I didn’t know Emily before but now we’re good friends. In fact, we did a dinner together last night. I keep in touch with all the chefs, we chat up, we heckle one another in (online) groups.
You seemed to do best in the competition when you let emotions rule, like when you thought of your son when you made the vegetarian dish. Is that how you approach cooking?
Yeah, Max (Lynch’s son) was pretty stoked about the vegetarian dish I made. But he doesn’t want to become a chef. He’s a pretty down to earth kid and he sees what I do, what it takes to be a chef.
I think cooking is pretty visceral. It takes all of your senses and when you tap into that, you make great things. I definitely cook that way. If I cooked in a sterile environment, you could tell.
What’s next for you?
Well, right now I’m focusing on my new restaurant in Atlanta. We got released (from Top Chef) in June and I had three days before my restaurant opened in Atlanta. It was crazy. So right now, I spend a lot of time in Atlanta and I’m between Charlotte (where he’s executive chef and partner at another restaurant) and here in Charleston. I would say I’m here about one week a month, but the team here is really strong and I don’t want to get in their way.
There are so many options. One of the great things about Top Chef is it’s a national stage. I might open another restaurant, maybe. But I’m not going anywhere in the next 12 months.
You can watch Top Chef: Last Chance Kitchen on Bravo on Demand next Thursday (Feb 9) to see if Lynch makes it back to the show for the finale. Meanwhile, you can vote for Jamie Lynch as fan favorite.