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Like any large city, New Orleans has more than its share of thriving ethnic communities, one of which is Vietnamese. The immigrants came en mass to help with the shrimping industry, and over the years, they actually began putting their own stamp on the local food. So, to celebrate that rich history, Top Chef producers decided to axe the quickfire and immediately challenge the contestants with making Vietnamese food this week, much to the delight of Travis who found it necessary to tell viewers a) his boyfriend is Vietnamese, b) he’s been to Vietnam a ton of times, c) he’s an expert and d) he knows way more than the judges.
The specifics of the elimination challenge split the remaining players into three teams of five. Team one consisted of Nicholas (black pepper squid), Brian (spring rolls), Carlos (fish head soup), Louis (beef broth pho) and Michael (overall helper/ prep master). Team two was made up of Nina (raw beef salad), Shirley (bbq shrimp with Creole spice butter), Justin (beef pho), Carrie (lemon custard) and Patty (prep work/ bread). Finally, team three included Travis (grilled pork sausage lettuce wraps), Sara (oxtail rice wrap), Stephanie (macaroon), Janine (fresh gulf shrimp) and Bene (ginger Vietnamese tomato sauce).
Based on those team assignments (chosen by seating arrangements), can you guess who won? Obviously team number two, and it wasn’t even close. The judges liked each of the dishes they presented, and with the exception of Brian from team one, they had problems with every single other dish the chefs put forward. All in all, it was an ass-whooping, and Shirley walked away with the victory thanks to her flavorful dish that was a great mix of authentic Vietnamese and local Creole.
As for the bottom of the pack, both teams easily could have been singled out and sent in front of the judges for a lecture, but as fate would have it, Travis and his reckless overconfidence were given that lucky assignment. He was torn a new one by Tom and company for recommending to his team weirdo dishes like ginger tomato sauce that were more outliers than the essence of Vietnamese cuisine. Luckily for him, however, that blunder didn’t cost him as much as poor Janine who was given the heave-ho for frying her shrimp a second time in order to make sure they were hot.
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, six 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) Shirley Chung (38): Shirely finds herself at the top of this week’s leaderboard because she’s not afraid to take calculated risks. Prior to this week’s challenge, she talked to some local Vietnamese shrimp workers who told her they always use butter when cooking the food. So, instead of making sure every single element of her dish was traditional, she took the spirit of the food and jazzed it up with New Orleans flavors, just like the locals do.
#2) Carrie Mashaney (36): This wasn’t Carrie’s best week. Her dessert was referred to as an afterthought by the judges, and even though it had some good flavor, it was still pretty much a cop-out, which someone of her talent should never do. That being said, her team was completely stacked with arguably the season’s four best players; so, it’s hard to fault her for taking a back seat to others who were more comfortable with the flavors.
#3) Justin Devillier (34): The judges were all over Justin for being able to make such a delicate pho in two hours. Apparently, that’s an extremely hard task, and while the producers never announce it, editing would lead us to believe he almost certainly finished in second place this week, which is another impressive result for one of the few very good men on this season’s cast.
#4) Nina Compton (32): Nina didn’t go super traditional with the way she cut her beef this week, but she still put together some nice flavors and found herself on the winning team. In other news, she also attacked Michael during her camera interview for supposedly be fake. Stay tuned for that brewing feud moving forward, as well as ideally, more great dishes from Nina.
#5) Brian Huskey (30): Brian’s spring rolls went over very well. It’s impossible to know exactly how good they were, however, because his team wound up in the middle and he didn’t get any lengthy feedback. Still, being the lone bright spot amidst a lot of failure isn’t exactly a disaster this early in the competition. Look for him to really come into his own sometime during these next few weeks.
#6) Stephanie Cmar (27): Poor Stephanie. The judges had some nice things to say about her dessert at the time, but because they were so mad at her team for collectively sucking, they read her the riot act too. Was her macaroon something to write home about? No. But it was clearly night and day better than what everyone else on her team created.
#6) Sara Johannes (27): What an awful week for Sara. She’s lucky she didn’t go home. Not only did she overcook her rice, she acted like an overbearing and bossy nightmare at the grocery store, ordering her team to get certain ingredients and put others back. Not surprisingly, this led to the entire team forgetting lemon grass and her crying in front of the judges. That’s your free pass, girl. Now get your shit together and cook like you mean it.
#8) Carlos Gaytan (24): What the hell is going on with Carlos? This guy needs to make a big sign and put it by his bed that says, “I have a Michelin Star.” He should never have any confidence issues, but yet, on way too many challenges he’s been nervous and wishy-washy. Be bold. Be aggressive. Be a hell of a lot better than you’ve been, dude.
#9) Michael Sichel (22): Michael took the line cook/ prep ninja task for this week’s challenge, and his team wound up in the middle. Since not a single person complained about his contributions or how quickly he got things sliced, diced and ready to rock, however, it’s hard to blame him for anything that happened. Still, he’s going to need to step into his own at some point.
#10) Nicholas Elmi (20): Another underwhelming week for Nicholas. It seems like on almost every single challenge he’s slightly below average. He clearly knows how to cook. No one is slandering his technique. He just needs to find a good idea for one of these challenges and execute.
The Dark Horses
#11) Benedetto Bartolotta (17): I don’t blame Benedetto for what happened this week. He doesn’t know anything about Vietnamese food; so, if one of his partners tells him certain parts of Central Vietnam use tomato sauce, it’s not surprising he would jump on his Italian heritage and head there. Still, it would have been nice if he used those not-so-traditional flavors to create something worth eating.
#12 Patricia Vega (15): Patty was on prep duty this week. Her team won, and they all had nice things to say about her. That’s more than enough reason to knock her up a few spots, but until she creates something the judges fall in love with on her own, she’s going to basically be an afterthought.
#12) Louis Maldonado (15): What the hell, bro? Louis easily could have gone home last week, and for his big comeback, he made another dish the judges were less than thrilled about. His confidence is clearly rattled. He needs something to go right, but no one can do that for him. He needs to man up and make shit happen.
#14) Travis Masar (13): What a disaster. The only thing worse than creating a bad dish is going on and on about what an expert you are and then creating a bad dish. I would rather see confident Travis than not confident Travis, but in the short-term, he needs to get back to the basics and focus on following the challenge rules and creating something simple and tasty.
Here’s a look at how each of the two ballots shook out:
Photo Credit @ Bravo