People always point to restaurant wars as the toughest Top Chef challenge, but honestly, I don’t think there’s anything more difficult than the ones in which the contestants are asked to cook outside. Nature adds such a crazy element of chance and in theory, greatly limits the number of dishes, at least for those who aren’t Nina.
In this week’s quickfire, the chefs were asked to prepare a dish highlighting local tomatoes while cooking for legend John Besh outdoors in New Orleans. Nina, because she’s a straight up baller, decided to make chilled soup despite the fact that it was a steamy 90s something outside, and miraculously, her crazy scheme actually worked like a charm. She was able to keep it just cold enough and took home the crown, narrowly edging out Carlos and Louis who also put forth very good offerings.
For the quickfire challenge, the contestants were separated into appetizer, entrée and dessert groups. Each was given ninety minutes to prepare a dish with only local ingredients, highlighting Philadelphia cream cheese. On paper, it was a bit of a problem because the restrictions cut out using butter, but many of the chefs were able to rise to the challenge, specifically Nina, Justin and Nicholas who landed in the top thanks to crispy zucchini blossoms, roasted duck breast and funnel cake respectively. After much deliberation, Nina wound up completing the episode sweep and was awarded the victory.
As for the bottom of the pack, the chefs singled out for their failure were Travis, Bene and Sara. The judges had a real problem with Travis because his meat was undercooked and his vegetables a) didn’t taste very good and b) were cut strangely. Bene found himself getting torn a new one because he decided to put a covering over his vegetables to make sure they got done, which gave them an aggressive steamed taste that was apparently reminiscent of cafeteria food. And lastly Sara spent way too much time stuffing her lamb and didn’t leave herself with enough of a window to actually cook, leaving her meat closer to blue than pink. After far less deliberation, the judges decided to send Bene 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, seven were given for a last place vote. Five 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) Nina Compton (38): Don’t mind Nina. She’s just quietly emerging as the single best chef in the entire competition. This week, she swept both of the challenges, and from the outside looking in, it seemed like she did so by a fair margin too. Plus, it’s obvious the other chefs are very intimidated by her, which should operate as quite a feather in her cap.
#2) Shirley Chung (36): The desserts this week, sans Nicholas, were not particularly appealing, probably thanks to the fact that there was no butter available in the challenge. Shirley’s dessert was a bit overdone, but it didn’t land her in the bottom, either. Hopefully, she’ll be in better form next week and will be able to walk away from pastry and toward something she’s actually good at.
#3) Justin Devillier (34): Justin’s roasted duck breast may have been a bit light on the cream cheese, but it was executed flawlessly. Unlike many of his competitors, he seems to realize that the most important factor here is creating something that tastes good. Simplicity done right is always, always in season.
#4) Carlos Gaytan (31): Now, this is the Carlos we were all expecting at the beginning of the season thanks to his Michelin star. He really seems to have calmed down over the past few weeks and is now very comfortable with the time restrictions and other random specifics Top Chef requires.
#4) Carrie Mashaney (31): Throughout the season, Carrie has been a solid contender, but this week she didn’t present her best side, creating a dish that was described as “soupy” and had some weird vegetables thrown in. Luckily, she wasn’t in the bottom three, so she only dropped a wee bit in these rankings. Hopefully, next week she’ll be able to create something that is a lot more appealing to the eye and to the judges’ bellies.
#6) Brian Huskey (28): Brian had a disastrous episode last time around, but this week, he was able to redeem himself a bit with a summer squash and zucchini tagliatelle dish that involved poached oysters. He clearly has a very creative mind and is among the most skilled chefs in the kitchen, but at some point, he’s going to need to kick it up a half step to start landing in the top.
#7) Stephanie Cmar (26): I have no idea who Stephanie was praying to that kept her out of the bottom three, but she definitely needs to stick with that strategy. The judges hated her dessert, thanks largely to the cream cheese and whipped cream separating. Tom thought it was so bad he assumed there must be a kitchen disaster story behind it. The truth is she’s just not very confident with desserts. If all goes according to plan for her, that’s a problem she can worry about in the finals.
#8) Nicholas Elmi (24): Nicholas has talked earnestly about his dishes every week, but had trouble making something early on that would wow the judges. This week, his initial concept did not turn out well. Instead of panicking, Nicholas took his problem in stride and was able to create an epic funnel cake dish that landed him in the top three. One dish is not enough to move someone up to the top of these rankings, but we’d like to see Nicholas continue on an upward trajectory. Tune in next week to see if he’s a one hit wonder or a potential contender.
#9) Sara Johannes (22): Sara was one of the only competitors this season that started out strong but has been faltering recently. This week, she didn’t time manage well and created one of the only first course dishes the judges were absolutely repulsed by. Her lamb was poorly seasoned, and to make things worse, it wasn’t cooked nearly enough. Her poor execution landed her in the bottom three. Regardless, I’m more worried about her confidence level. She’s seemed frazzled recently, and she really needs a top dish to get that momentum going again.
The Dark Horses
#10) Patricia Vega (19): Patty spent a considerable amount of time at the very bottom of these rankings. However, she’s made it through several weeks where other chefs have faltered and she has certainly improved over the last two episodes. Last week, her dish was well-liked, and while this week it was thought of as a little too simple, it did land her in the middle of the pack. Additionally, Gail did like the “floral note” in her first course dish. Small improvements could keep her in the game for some time, but right now, it doesn’t seem like she’s a possible champ.
#10) Louis Maldonado (19): Louis had a nice little performance in the quickfire, landing in the top three. Unfortunately, his graham cracker dessert didn’t go over very well with the judges at all. Luckily for him and everyone else who made dessert, however, many of the main courses were so bad the judges decided to give everyone who went sweet a free pass.
#12) Travis Masar (16): Travis’ biggest problem is he gets extremely defensive about his own dishes. That makes sense since it’s such a high pressure environment, but in a way, it seems to blind him from learning things. For example: if the judges tell you your vegetables were cut improperly, I think they probably know what they’re talking about.
Here’s a look at how each of the two ballots shook out:
Photo Credit @ Bravo