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It may be Thanksgiving, but if Top Chef doesn’t rest, we don’t rest! Last night’s episode was a topsy-turvy affair, complete with some surprise wins and some even more surprising bottom 3 losers. It’s tough to cook a Thanksgiving dinner as a crew, and even tougher when contestants are trying to cook meals dictated by Tom Colicchio and Emeril Lagasse.
Let’s jump right into the quickfire, which featured a roomful of chefs, each tasked with creating a different type of dumpling. Astoundingly, Josie pulls through with this win, and earns immunity (don’t worry, she un-redeemed herself, later). Stefan and Micah were also in the top three for their yummy dumplings, but didn’t manage to quite pull through. Top three is still better than Kuniko, who may have won last week, but couldn’t manage to get her dish on the plate this time around.
Padma splits the disgruntled contestants into teams and then half of the men and women plan a menu for an Italian-based Thanksgiving with Tom and half plan a menu for a Cajun Thanksgiving with Emeril. The teams have plenty of time to prep and five hours to cook, and when the dishes come out, there are some good and bad moments on both sides. It really comes down to the battle of the turkeys, a task that was taken on by CJ on Tom’s team and Josie on Emeril’s. The two Top Chef veterans duke it out, but while CJ’s turkey is perfect, a few of the judges note Josie’s borders on ‘raw.’
Josie would be going home, but she happens to have immunity, leaving Tyler’s flavorless gumbo, Kuniko’s undercooked potato dish, and Sheldon’s undercooked greens to go up for potential elimination. Back in the waiting room, John says a chef “can do potatoes in your sleep.” It’s a valid prediction, and after spending last week at the top in the quickfire and last week’s main challenge (and hitting pretty high in our power rankings), Kuniko was sent home. Kuniko has talent, but this week proves how easy it is to falter and make mistakes in the early rounds of a reality show. In another twist of fate, Carla won the week!
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. Eighteen 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 (not counting those chopped in the early rounds); 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) John Tesar (36): John made a dessert this week that was good, but not the favorite. However, going by his performance the first two weeks, John has consistently shown an ability to stand out from the pack and try brave and bold flavors. His loud mouth may get him into trouble some time in the future, but until then, we’re counting on him to stay near the top of the pack.
#2) Stefan Richter (33): It was an up and down episode for Stefan. His dumpling was singled out as one of the best by Food & Wine editor Dana Cowin, but his panna cotta with orange cardamom crisp and candied pecans was deemed too cardamom-ish by the judging panel. In a related story, why the hell was he making dessert? He’s clearly one of the best chefs here. He proved it during his first tenure on the show. At some point, he’s going to get it completely together, and when he does, he could easily run off a multi-episode winning streak.
#3) CJ Jacobsen (32): Last week, CJ said he has learned a lot since his last tenure on Bravo’s hit cooking competition show. This week, he proved his words, cooking a turkey to perfection. We’re actually a little shocked the feat didn’t earn him a win, but as it stands, he’ll have to come back with ingénue and skill next week if he wants to earn that top slot.
#4) Lizzie Binder (27): Top Chef contestants get too bogged down with being complicated and making things the judges haven’t seen before. Sometimes the best route is to make something simple and execute it flawlessly. That’s what Lizzie did with her potatoes last night, and she came dangerously close to winning. No one ever goes home in the early rounds for making something the judges enjoyed eating.
#4) Sheldon Simeon (27): Dana Cowin was stoked to meet Sheldon this week, but he failed to fully impress. During the Thanksgiving dinner, the guy’s greens landed him in the bottom 3. Greens were a dish the young man was unfamiliar with, and, to his credit, the judges said they liked the flavor, but did wish he had cooked them longer. It seemed like more of a slap on the wrist than a true possibility that the guy was going home. He’ll have to step it up next week, however.
#6) Micah Fields (26): Micah made one of the better dumplings in the quickfire, and his roasted Brussels sprouts, cranberries, bacon and shallots were well received too. Dana Cowin thought the dish was a tad too greasy, but other than her, the feedback was very positive. Compared to the other chefs, he might be a little light on experience, but if what we’ve seen thus far is any indication, he’s full of good ideas.
#6) Brooke Williamson (26): It’s been ups and downs for Brooke over the last several few power rankings. The woman was in the bottom three last week and this week her team lost as a whole. However, had Josie not fucked up the turkey and earned Emeril’s team the win, I have little doubt Brooke would have carried through with the win this week. Her biscuits were just that good.
#8) Danyele McPherson (22): Danyele is young and it’s easy to tell some of the other chefs think she’s a little unseasoned. However, despite her lack of high end training, the young redhead really seems to have some pluck as well as some fervor for cooking. It’s helped to land her in the middle so far, and with a little luck (and some fairy dust) she could continue working her way up in the future.
#9) Carla Pellegrino (21): Carla can clearly cook. She proved that with her winning carrot soup this week, but there is so much more to Top Chef than mere execution. A healthy percentage of challenges are of the team variety, and Carla is positively awful at playing nice and getting along. She’s also apparently incapable of using the Internet, which definitely knocked her down a few slots due to the bias against incompetence I have.
#10) Eliza Gavin (19): Eliza hasn’t really separated herself from the pack thus far this season. Her team was declared the winner this week, but her chocolate, white chocolate and mint syrup tart didn’t exactly move the needle in her team’s favor. The judge’s described it as too hard. She needs to do something, either positive or negative, if for no other reason than to give viewers a way to remember her.
The Dark Horses
#11) Chrissy Camba (16): Apart from Brooke who crushed with her biscuits, Chrissy probably received the best response from the judges out of everyone on the losing team. Her bread pudding with pecan and white chocolate was enjoyed by everyone who consumed it, and while a dessert won’t propel her to the Top Chef title, it does prove she could be a key asset moving forward, especially during Restaurant Wars.
#11) Kristen Kish (15): I had high hopes for Kristen, who showed a bit of drive when she beat out her bestie for a Top Chef coat. However, she really hasn’t been great in either the quickfires or the final challenges. This week she made vegetables (boring) and added some crème fraiche that the judges commented she really didn’t need. I’m starting to question her ability to be an idea machine and think on her feet.
#12) Tyler Wiard (11): Tyler made some mistakes this week that he didn’t understand until the judges helped him to spell out the problems. He also got a little emotional talking about his problems with alcohol and his current sobriety. Tyler is talented, but dealing with personal problems takes your head a bit out of the game, and the guy is one silly mistake away from heading home.
#14) Josie Smith-Malave (10): After her quickfire win, I began to wonder whether Josie had really improved since she was last eliminated on Top Chef. I began to think she maybe belongs in the middle of the pack or higher, and then, of course, the turkey fiasco happened. It’s one thing to screw up and undercook something. It’s quite another to undercook something and think the mistake was overcooking it.
#14) Bart Vandaele (9): Bart has not made one good dish since he ended up on Top Chef, including his “meh” dish on the early round of the hit competition show. The judges often find themselves questioning why he added certain items to a dish, and he just seems less skilled than some of the other contestants. Maybe that’s how Belgian food is, though: heavy and burdened with unnecessary items.
#16) Joshua Valentine (6): Joshua was on the winning team this week, but had his partners not pulled out the win, he would have been in front of the judges facing elimination. Tom took him to task for his basic technique in cooking the ravioli, and since he hasn’t set himself apart with any dishes he’s made this season, he’s occupying the bottom slot. And rightfully so.
Here’s a look at how each of the two ballots shook out: