This week’s episode began right where last week’s ended. The chefs, exhausted, were sitting around after the first challenge when Padma showed up, which is almost never a good sign. The competitors were then tasked to pull an all-nighter, or at least part of one, to create a gumbo dish inspired by their lives. Some of the contestants created more traditional gumbos and others thought a little more outside of the box, bringing in asian ingredients or even Polish ingredients to make a dish that reflected their lives. Guest judge Leah Chase loved Shirley, Carrie, and Aaron’s dishes, but Carrie nabbed the immunity. Michael, Jason, and Patty were the bottom three.
This season of Top Chef is set in New Orleans, and it was only a matter of time before Hurricane Katrina was addressed. During this week’s challenge, the contestants were asked to set up food trucks to feed a crew of volunteers working for Habitat for Humanity. Two of the teams gelled nicely and ended up in the top two. Two of the teams did not work together very well and landed in the bottom two. The best of the best included Carrie, Carlos, Aaron, Brian, and Travis. Carrie made the empanadas that ultimately won the challenge, and while I’m sure the rest of the food was good, that dish deserved to win. The woman bought a bottle of wine and chilled it to use as a roller, assuring that the dough would not get hot and sticky in the confines of the food truck. That is innovation, and that is what Top Chef is about. Also, that means Carrie won both the quickfire and the final challenge this week.
Unfortunately, where there are winners there are losers, and the bottom team did several things wrong. Jason, Nicholas, Patty and Bret all landed in the bottom this week, for a variety of sins. While other groups had dishes that were enjoyed so much the food truck ran out, the losing team had plenty of leftovers. Patty had a boring dish with a weird piece of tomato in it, Bret made the mistake of placing piping hot plantains next to a cold ceviche dish, and Jason made his salmon wraps ahead of time so he could schmooze with the customers. Unfortunately, his dish was slimy and difficult to eat and he was ultimately sent home. One small misstep in a competition like this is enough to send anyone home.
The Top Chef Power Rankings are an ordered compilation of weekly lists put together by TV Blend writers Jessica Rawden and Mack Rawden. Each week after viewing the episode, they each rank the competitors in order. Nineteen points are given for a first place vote, and this week, three were given for a last place vote. Two competitors have already been eliminated; therefore, those people automatically occupy the bottom slots. Here is how this week’s voting panned out, complete with analysis on how the contestants might fare moving forward.
#1) Carrie Mashaney (38): Oftentimes, it takes at least four or five weeks for a clear favorite to emerge. After two episodes, there’s no other person that could possibly sit on top of the heap other than Carrie. She’s won this week's elimination and quickfire, and she was high last week. While she isn’t quite oozing with confidence yet, she seems to have gotten past her intimidation, which should spell trouble for the other chefs.
#2) Shirley Chung (34): We didn’t notice Shirley so much last week, but this week she came out of the woodwork to create a gumbo dish that was well-liked. While she didn’t win for her main dish, a lamb salad with asian pear, it was also enjoyed by the judges. She had a lot of fervor going into this week’s competition, and if she can maintain that drive, we expect her to be in this competition for quite a while.
#2) Carlos Gaytan (34): Carlos is still riding high thanks to having a Michelin star, and he made two dishes this week that kept him on top. The first was a gumbo made with bone marrow and the second dish involved tilapia tacos he put together with Aaron for the food truck. It all went over really well and Carlos was a part of the winning team this week. The man’s managed to stand out from the pack this week, and there’s no indication he’ s going anywhere.
#4) Nina Compton (33): Nina’s jerk chicken likely wouldn’t have been enough to compete with the best of the best this week had she been on a good time, but given the way the judges talked about it, her offering seemed to be the best dish on her underperforming team. Coupled with her winning performance during week 1, it’s enough to keep her near the top.
#5) Sara Johannes (31): Sara is outspoken and gets plenty of screen time each week. Last week she ended up high, and this week her tuna burger was described as having “ a lot of flavor.” That’s not enough for a win, but it is enough to keep her fairly high in our power rankings. If she keeps cooking this well, she’ll have a win under her belt at some point.
#6) Aaron Cuschieri (27): Aaron didn’t do particularly well last week, but he has jumped up in these power rankings numerous points for just crushing it this week. In fact, he barely lost the gumbo quickfire challenge to Carrie, and the filling he contributed to her empanada helped to make that dish great. Aaron will still need to cook his heart out over the next couple of weeks, but I’d definitely say he was the most improved contestant this week. It’s still pretty early in the game, but Aaron fought hard for higher slot this week.
#7) Brian Huskey (26): Brian’s ice cold ceviche went over very well with the judges for three reasons. First, it had great flavor. Second, it was head and shoulders better than Bret’s ceviche, and third, it fit in perfectly with the other dishes on the winning team. He may not have been declared the winner, but he clearly proved his talent this week.
#8) Janine Booth (23): Janine made a cold soup this week, and while she didn’t blow anyone away, she clearly wasn’t the reason her team didn’t win. The guests all talked about what a nice change of pace it was. I’m not ready to say she’s a possible winner yet, but after the dishes she’s cooked so far, it would be a surprise to see her go before at least the halfway point.
#9) Louis Maldonado (22): Louis is one of the contestants who hasn’t really earned a ton of screen time thus far. This week, he made an unmemorable gumbo and basically helped his team to expedite and put together dishes that were conceived by other people. Oh yeah, and he chilled some watermelon. That’s certainly one way to keep from going home, but he’ll still have quite the climb to make it to the top.
#10) Justin Devillier (21): Justin had a sad look on his face when he didn’t make the top three on the gumbo quickfire challenge, but it’s not like he was in the bottom. Thus far, he’s stayed in the middle of the pack, but given his James Beard award nominee status, there’s clearly a whole lot more he can give.
#11) Stephanie Cmar (18): Stephanie’s the contestant that didn’t earn a coat last year. This year, she’s back and she is constantly talking about how she has something to prove. Yet, she’s timid in the kitchen and timid with the cameras. While she hasn’t sucked by any means, she also hasn’t created anything that has wowed the judges. She will need to step up her game in the coming weeks if she expects to keep moving forward.
The Dark Horses
#12) Travis Masar (17): Travis was on the winning team this week, but of the five chefs, he seemed to contribute the least. He needs to step up in the next few weeks and make something that announces his arrival into the competition. There’s no reason to be playing it safe with this many chefs left.
#13) Michael Sichel (14): Michael talks a lot of talk regarding New Orleans cuisine, but he hasn’t totally shown up to make something great. Last week, he made an alright alligator dish. This week, he freaked out halfway through the quickfire challenge and threw his product away. The gumbo he ended up with landed him in the bottom of that challenge. He made an O.K. sweet dish for the final challenge, but he’ll need to do more to prove he should stick around.
#14) Nicholas Elmi (12): Nicholas was probably the best on the losing team this week, which really isn’t saying a whole lot. The judges disliked every single dish, and given the looks on each of their faces, all involved seemed convinced they were going home. Hopefully, Nicholas uses his second chance as the fire he needs to get it going.
#15) Bret Pelaggi (10): Bret’s ceviche was horrible. It wasn’t cold enough, and he bizarrely served a piping hot plantain with it that only increased the temperature. Tom apparently only took one single bite of the dish and threw the rest away.
#16) Benedetto Bartolotta (8): Despite an appearance on Top Chef Masters, Bene has not been particularly good. Last week, his dish almost landed him in the bottom and this week, he couldn’t even assert any good ideas. He lamented that his teammates weren’t giving him a voice, but when your best idea is a “sloppy joe,” there’s obviously a reason your teammates are ignoring you. You need creativity to be in the Top Chef competition, and Bene hasn’t proven he has it.
#17) Patricia Vega (6): Patty needs to get her act together immediately. She almost went home last week. So, what did she do to prove she belonged this time around? She made a bland tuna slider with a less than appetizing tomato. She easily could have gone home, and if she doesn’t improve immediately, she will.
Here’s a look at how each of the two ballots shook out:
Photo Credit @ Bravo