And that, in an eggplant, is the overarching problem with Top Chef, at least in my opinion. With such an emphasis placed on individual challenges rather than overall performance, now and again, one of the best chefs can inexplicably go home well before his or her time. Angelo, a frequent number one rated chef on these very power rankings, was forced to pack his knives after oversalting his dish to the point of being inedible. I blame not only the format but the challenge itself.
Top Chef has always been a hodgepodge of basic cooking tests and crazy, outside the box tasks. This week, the contestants were given full access to a Target store in the middle of the night. Without knives and other essentials, they were forced to shop for everything within the megastore, all in a frenzied effort to cook for one hundred bulls eye employees. Most chose to make soup. Dale used an iron to make grilled cheeses. Antonia made eggs, much to the delight of the sunny side up obsessed Anthony Bourdian. Richard threw together tenderloin two ways. All three were praised by the judges with Dale taking home the highest non-finale prize in the history of Top Chef: twenty-five grand.
As for those that made just soup, the admiration wasn’t quite as forthcoming. Carla spent way too much time making her table look pretty, and her ingredients never developed. Fatigued, Angelo completely oversalted his potato soup. Tiffany made a mess out of her jambalaya, opting for prepackaged spicing. Mike’s was at least edible, and he was spared the judge’s wrath with a middle of the pack finish. You have no idea how vociferously I yelled at my television in an illogical attempt to save Angelo, but with the rules as they are, you can’t put forward an inedible dish and expect to stick around. Good concept is thwarted by bad execution every time.
The Top Chef Power Rankings are an averaging of three ordered lists put together by Cinema Blend writers Mack Rawden and Jessica Grabert, as well as professional poker player Brain Carraher. Eighteen points are awarded for a first place vote, and this week thirteen were given for a last place vote. Twelve contestants have already been eliminated, and therefore, they occupy the bottom slots automatically. Here’s a look at how the remaining hopefuls broke down this week…
#1) Richard Blais (54): I always suspected Richard would find his way back on the top. That’s probably why he’s consistently been my personal number one choice throughout the season, but little did I suspect his reassuming of the mantle would come after his biggest competition was unceremoniously booted. Can’t fault Richard for that though. He was nearly flawless in his Target execution, and it’s not like he played it safe either. The spiky-haired virtuoso was the only contestant to make a protein two different ways, but best of all, each preparation tasted great.
#2) Dale Talde (51): Remember back in the day when Dale and Richard were besties? Well, when Dale and Richard were besties, it was pretty clear that Dale was always playing second fiddle to Richard’s finesse. That’s not the case, anymore, if it ever really was. Dale has come to Top Chef: All-Stars as a changed man, as the man. His personality, part asshole, part great self-deprecating wit, and part swagger, has grown as big as his cooking skills (This week Dale won both the quickfire and the elimination challenge, badass). This has not only made for great television, but it also means its made for a much tighter and more interesting competition. Someone needs to get team Dale and team Richard t-shirts made.
#3) Antonia Lofaso (48): Notice anything strange about this week’s three highest rated contestants? All of them took part in Season Four. It’s no abnormality though. Angelo’s shocking elimination may have made it possible, but most of the credit has to go to the strongest grouping of chefs Top Chef has ever produced. You know who must be dancing for joy? Stephanie Izard. The current head chef at The Girl And The Goat in Chicago has been considered by some to be one of the weaker champions, but those critics need to reconsider after the All-Star results. As for Antonia, she came within an iron of winning the Target challenge. Overall, she has been nothing short of a revelation the last month or so. When the competition started, I didn’t think there was anyway she would make the top half; now, I’d be surprised if she didn’t grab the last spot in the finals.
#4) Carla Hall (43): Oh Carla. Just when you think she’s on cruise control, the idiot almost eliminates herself spending hours trying to make her table perfect. How do you not conceive your dish first? Wandering around for linens and then suddenly realizing your soup is only going to have an hour to develop isn’t the thought process of a future champion. Over the last few months, I’ve gone from unabashed Carla hater to begrudging admirer, but when idiocies like this happen, my former opinion tries to fight its way out. Still, as frustrated as I was by Angelo’s elimination, if Carla had gone home that too would have been a shame. With three elimination wins, she’s more than earned her place in the final six. I’m not ready to hootie-who, but then again, I probably won’t ever be. Let’s call my no longer thinking she sucks a big win and move on.
#4) Mike Isabella (43): Honestly, I like Mike, but I don’t see how he outlived Angelo or Marcel. Actually, that’s a lie. Mike has an outstanding ability to squeak by in the middle. He’s hardly ever the best, but neither is he generally the worst. This week he was one of the many contestants who created a mediocre soup dish. If Angelo and Carla hadn’t had epically horrific dishes in a similar vein, I think he would have stood at the bottom. When Mike is in his wheelhouse, he can create good dishes, but, it would take a lot of will and good luck to gain him the Top Chef: All-Stars title. I like Mike, I’m glad he won a Toyota Prius, but if he squeaks by to the finals, I think it will be through middling luck.
#6) Tiffany Derry (40): Tiffany has never been the most calculating player. Her ability to thrive in Top Chef competitions has been because she cooks delicious, comforting food. Here’s the problem: cooking delicious food is easy as pie when you have time and a plentitude of ingredients. It’s much harder to do when you are faced with difficult challenges and distressing situations, and Top Chef: All-Stars has been more of a storm than the usual competition. Some people thrive under the pressure and some people wander off in Target to grab hats. Time and time again, Tiffany has made choices that seem nonsensical, like taking the front of house position during restaurant wars or using a pre-made spice mix to create her dish this week. Great cooks don’t always make for great competitors. Plus, as Angelo stated, he made forty dishes in a row without stopping. Tiffany’s in the same egg, and it's possible she’s cracking, too.
Here’s a look at how each of the three ballots shook out: