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The chefs aren’t forced to cook their way into the competition in Season 11. In fact, there’s not a lot of lead-in for the competition, as the chefs aren’t even given a quickfire challenge this week. Instead, they are tossed mardi gras beads with a protein on them and asked to head straight to the elimination challenge where they will cook dishes with either turtle, alligator, or frog legs in the swamp.
Some of the people competing this week have never handled or even eaten the proteins they have been given to work with, and are very nervous about handling the dish, while others embrace the challenge quickly and come up with some good ideas. The chefs are given time to prep the day before the challenge in the kitchen, but the next day they are sent into the swamp, where they will serve the dishes. To make matters worse, when they reach the worksite, the tables and chairs and even the cooking stoves have not been assembled, cutting into the chefs' time.
This week’s challenge was unusual in that those attending the swamp part were able to vote on their favorite dishes with Mardi Gras beads. Those with the most beads landed in the top and those with the least beads landed in the bottom. It’s a simple but inelegant method, and as judge Curtis Stone noted to the bottom three, being in the bottom doesn't necessarily mean the food was bad, only worse than the others. Nothing was truly horrifying for the judges to eat this week, but there were mistakes.
The girls rocked out in the top with Nina, Sara, and Carrie all making dishes that the diners absolutely loved. Carrie and Sara both thought outside-the-box, with Sara taking a chance on a super spicy dish and Carrie making cold frog legs. However, it was Nina that came through with the win for a yummy and tender turtle meatball. In the bottom, Patricia (Patty), Ramon, and Aaron made the worst three dishes this week. Aaron seemed to have a pretty good dish, but made a mistake by letting his pasta get soggy, Patty cried a lot when critiqued, and Ramon made a critical error with his dashi by putting ice in it. That mistake ended up sending him home. It’s not usually a good sign when someone cries during the first week; so, expect Season 11 to be an emotional one.
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, two were given for a last place vote. One competitor has already been eliminated; therefore, that person automatically occupies the bottom slot. Here is how this week’s voting panned out, complete with analysis on how the contestants might fare moving forward. Hopefully, the competition will fare better for the boys in the coming weeks as they begin to stand out a little bit.
#1) Nina Compton (36): Nina had a great idea with her dish this week that landed her in the top. Knowing that turtle was tough, she chose to make a meatball to tenderize the protein and add some curry flavors. She had more beads than anyone else at the end of the night and if the win is any indication, she should be one to watch in future weeks.
#2) Shirley Chung (34): Shirley may not have made this week’s top three, but the judges still loved her turtle soup. More importantly, she emanates a calm resolve when she’s cooking in the kitchen. She seems entirely within her element, and she seems ready for an elongated run.
#2) Sara Johannes (34): Sara took a big chance this week, creating a dish that was spicy. During the episode, Padma clearly loved the way the spices totally wreaked a little havoc on her taste buds. Though it’s always a chance to make spicy food when attempting to please a wide audience, people loved the dish and Sara landed in the top. She has a background with Wolfgang Puck and it wouldn’t shock us at all to see her go pretty deep in the competition.
#4) Carlos Gaytan (32): Carlos was not good this week. His bread was soggy, and he was lucky to stay out of the bottom three. That being said, he has a Michelin Star, which is a huge deal. He clearly has a ton of natural talent and can put a dish together. Now, he needs to show it.
#5) Carrie Mashaney (29): Throughout the first episode Carried exuded a lack of confidence. She stated she felt like a small town Iowa chef compared to some of the other names in the competition. She wasn’t totally sure of her direction with her food, but then something beautiful happened: she made a yummy frog dish. Hopefully, if she keeps churning out top 3 dishes, her confidence will grow.
#5) Janine Booth (29): Janine will probably go down as the hottest woman in the history of Top Chef, but if she has it her way, that’s not the main thing she’ll be remembered for. This week, she put out a dish with duck fat the judges raved about, and there’s no reason to think that good mojo won’t continue.
#7) Stephanie Cmar (26): Stephanie has a history with Top Chef. Last season, she cooked in the early rounds but didn’t earn a coat. Early in the first episode this season, Stephanie said she retrained for the past year to attain a level of perfection. This week, she made buttered frog legs with a watercress puree that the judges were all over. Hopefully, she’ll keep up her streak and won’t head home.
#8) Louis Maldonado (24): Is Louis good? Is he bad? Like many chefs, it’s really hard to tell at this juncture. The judges liked his food well enough, but without a larger sample size, it’s pretty much just guesswork. Here’s to hoping he stands out next week.
#9) Justin Devillier (22): As one of the two chefs who made it out of the New Orleans competition, Justin has a unique advantage over most of his competitors. It’s almost as if he’s already in mid-season form. Plus, given his local roots, it’s not a stretch to think he could make a pretty sweet run.
#9) Michael Sichel (22): Michael is one of the two chefs representing New Orleans in the competition. He has a cocky swagger about him, but he’s quick to assert that he’s “confident” rather than “cocky.” This week he made deep fried alligator that landed him somewhere in the middle. He’ll have to cook better to land in the top of these power rankings, but he definitely could have done worse.
#11) Jason Cichonski (20): Let’s just be honest. Jason has a douche face. He looks like a big old Philly douche bag, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he can’t cook. He slid through in the middle of the pack this week. Next episode, I’m really hoping he does something brilliant so viewers can get past his fratty appearance.
The Dark Horses
#12) Bret Pelaggi (15): Bret? Bret? Ohh yeah. Bret. He’s a competitor on Top Chef this year, and like many of his fellow cooks, has done absolutely nothing to set himself apart from the pack. Hopefully, his food will be a little less non-descript moving forward than his random white guy appearance.
#13) Nicholas Elmi (13): Nicholas Elmi is one of the Philly guys in the competition. He has a background in French cooking and he got no feedback from the judges this week. He’s one of the dudes that cooked a fine dish and landed in the middle, but he’ll have to do better than that if he wants to move up in these power rankings and win each week.
#14)Brian Huskey (12): You probably remember Brian as the guy with the questionable facial hair. He seems pleasant enough to be around, and no one had any complaints about his food, which sets him apart from most of the people below him who had flat-out bad weeks.
#15) Benedetto Bartolotta (11): Benedetto is probably best remembered for his work as a sous chef during Top Chef Masters. He didn’t make it very far during that run, and unless he turns things around, he won’t make it very far this time. The judges were not impressed with his cooking techniques with mushrooms, and he narrowly avoided the bottom three.
#16) Travis Masar (9): Travis is another mystery box who landed in the middle this week. Travis’ dish, like his personality, was fairly unmemorable, but hopefully he’ll stand out and move up in the rankings in the weeks to come.
#17) Aaron Cuschieri (6): Aaron is a better chef than some of these people above him. The judges went out of their way to compliment his technique and the way he conceptualized his dish, but as Curtis pointed out, you’re only as good as the last plate you served. Since he doesn’t have a Michelin star like his fellow Chicago chef, he doesn’t really deserve the benefit of the doubt either.
#18) Patricia Vega (4): Patty had a true breakdown this week. Her initial idea for her dish wasn’t enough to feed everyone. It’s actually a good thing that she scrapped together a Plan B, but that Plan B was terrible. Then, when she was critiqued, she lost it a little bit. It’s tough to be in the bottom 3, but she really needs to boost up her game if she wants to stay in the competition in the coming weeks.
Here’s a look at how each of the two ballots shook out:
Photo Credit @ Bravo