Set in South Carolina, a new season of Top Chef is officially underway, but it only took one episode for the show to start setting off alarm bells on social media.
Towards the end of the season premiere, a final competition is staged at Boone Hall Plantation, a farm in Charleston that—like many other landmarks in the South—was built on the backs of enslaved African-American men, women, and children.
As Uproxx notes, the fact that the "sudden death" challenge pitted a white chef against a black chef—and that the white chef won—only made the scene feel more problematic to viewers. There was also an apparent unwillingness to actually say the word "slave," with host Padma Lakshmi using the awkward phrase "those who worked and toiled here," instead.
According to the Charleston City Paper, much of the ire has been directed at host Tom Colicchio, with critics likening the episode to filming at Auschwitz, the infamous concentration camp used during World War II in Poland.
Though Colicchio seemed to defend the choice in setting fervently, arguing that places like Boone Hall Plantation are kept open to remind the world of their horrors, many viewers seemed unsatisfied by the justification. Colicchio eventually admitted that he understands "how bad this looks."
Though it's unlikely that this is precisely what Colicchio had in mind, the chef stated in an interview that he hoped Top Chef: Charleston would grapple with the area's sordid racial legacy. As Eater notes, the episode ended up relying heavily on contestant Gerald Sombright—who is African-American—to place things in the proper context.
"It feels very surreal," Sombright said. "It's so beautiful, but also this is a place where people were treated as less than human beings, and had an experience that we as a country are still trying to get out of now."