Top Chef Houston Power Rankings, Week 7: Cooking With Leftover IP

This week on Top Chef, well, it wasn’t a big surprise if you saw the teaser for it last week — it was the Jurassic Park challenge. Am I crazy for thinking that Top Chef should be above shilling for the latest Jurassic Park movie? It’s a little sad watching chefs try to feign excitement for a sixth Jurassic Park movie, where they all do interviews “confessing” that “I’m a massive fan of the Jurassic Park franchise!”

Oh shut up, you are not.

Listen, I saw the first Jurassic Park three times in the theater when I was kid. It blew my mind. I thought it was the greatest thing I’d ever seen. They tried to recapture that magic two more times in the late 90s and it was all fucked out before the towers even fell. Those of us who had our minds blown by Jurassic Park as kids are in our late 30s and early 40s now. Let it go. Can we not have one single fucking pop-culture idea that is allowed to run its course without someone trying to build us a shiny treehouse made of memories? Writing about food is supposed to be my escape! leave me alone with this horseshit!

Poor Joe Flamm.

Joe Flamm and Padma Lakshmi Top Chef
NBC Universal

Dude scores an incredible come-from-behind Top Chef victory cooking humble pastas and this is his reward? Having to read dogshit ad copy for Big Dino? FOR SHAME. Also, since I had a little fun with Padma’s wardrobe last week, I should emphasize here how much the disco look was absolutely working for her this week. Love the white boots. I refuse to believe that this woman is 51. That cannot be real.

Phew, I got so worked up about Jurassic Park that I almost forgot to mention the quickfire. It was a Nigerian-themed challenge, introduced by local chef Ope Amosu and former Top Chef contestant Kwame Onwuachi. The chefs were challenged to pair dishes with a series of traditional Nigerian “swallows” — basically a ball of doughy starch used to dunk in soups and stews, named for what your mom likes to do on dates. (I may have made that last part up).

Anyway… cool challenge! Why couldn’t this have been the Elimination Challenge and the Jurassic Park infomercial challenge been the Quickfire? Also, if we’re going bring back something from 1993, couldn’t it at least be Demolition Man?

Once the Swallow Challenge was over, Joe Flamm trudged in in his monkey suit to announce the Elimination Challenge. There was even a video from Bryce Dallas Howard and Chris Pratt. A video! They couldn’t even get these assholes to show up for an entire show dedicated to their stupid movie!

The chefs were then tasked with producing a team three-course meal, in which each course would reflect a different “dish inspired by these jaw-dropping dinosaurs.”

I hesitated before I typed “reflect” there because the verb was the ambiguous part. Were the dishes supposed to be inspired by the dinosaur? By what the dinosaur eats? By their general dino…. vibe? No one seemed to know. It was like the Top Chef producers didn’t get to vet the press blasts and just had to just roll with whatever crap the copywriters came up with.

I used to be a copywriter. It sucked. And I could’ve told you guys, movie promo copy is some of the most vaporous nonsense you will ever read, even compared to every other kind of promo copy. Joe Flamm had to tell us that velociraptors live in China (should the raptor contestants make Chinese food then??) and Padma grinned “I can’t wait to see how you bring these dinosaurs to life!”

Bring them to life? With… food? Should the dish make me think “dinosaur” or should it make me feel like a dinosaur? WHAT THE HELL DOES ANY OF THIS MEAN?!?

The dinosaurs in question, by the way, were the Mosasaurus (SEA), Quetzalcoatlus (AIR), and the Velociraptor (LAND). I think they threw the Quetzalcoatlus in there just for the added sadism. Not only are you going to make these people read your bad ad copy, they’re going to have to pronounce “Quetzalcoatlus” seven times? Amazing. The wildest part was that they didn’t use the “Giga,” a new dinosaur that, I shit you not, was meant to be like The Joker.

“I wanted something that felt like the Joker,” director Colin Trevorrow told Empire. “It just wants to watch the world burn.”

Yeah bruv, I think I do too now.


  • Quickfire Bottom: Nick, Evelyn.
  • Quickfire Top: Buddha*, Damarr, Jackson.
  • Elimination Winners: Nick, Evelyn, Jackson.
  • Elimination Bottom: Jo**, Jae.


9. (-1) ((Eliminated)) Jo Chan

Jo Chan Top Chef Houston
NBC Universal

AKA: Sarge. Smiles.

I’m a little surprised to see Jo going home this early, but not exactly disappointed either. It feels like there are five chefs left who are in contention and four who were just trying last one more week, with Jo being firmly in the latter camp.

Jo drew the flying Quetzalcoatlus this episode, and as she described her inspiration: “Quetzalcoatlus eat everything, so I decided to make a quail and stuff it with everything.”

Uh… sure? The Q-dinos (I refuse to type the full name again) fly and start with Q, quails fly and start with Q… Why not! Sadly Jo’s quail came out dry and she inexplicably served it with two sad carrots. She ended up going home. I’m trying to muster the requisite sadness about it, but Jo comes off self-serious enough that she’s not super likeable, yet remains just likeable enough that she can’t really be considered a villain either. Which is relatable enough (this is probably how I would seem on a reality show) but doesn’t really add up to great entertainment value.

Anyway, uh… good luck, Sarge.

8. (-2) Jae Jung

Jae Jung Top Chef Houston season 18
NBC Universal

AKA: Noodles. Jae West. Hilaria.

Last week we got a little taste of it, when Jae couldn’t bullshit well enough to explain why a gumbo was meant to represent Ann Richards. This week really cemented it: metaphors are Jae’s kryptonite.

Jae couldn’t explain her gumbo-Ann Richards connection, but at least she seemed to have an idea in her head. This week Jae drew the velociraptor, and openly struggled with how the hell food was supposed to be like a dinosaur. Can’t really blame her for that, I suppose? Do Koreans not have liberal arts courses to teach them to bullshit?

Jae ended up deciding on lamb two ways, which, as anyone who watches this show would know, is practically begging to get sent home. Doing anything two ways is a terrible idea! It gives the judges double the dishes to find fault with!

It’s a testament to just how bad Jo’s quail must’ve been that even an anti-strategic dish with a virtually non-existent metaphor — “It’s a very aggressive dinosaur, so I wanted to give a bold flavor to it” — still didn’t get Jae sent home. Much to Tom’s chagrin, who seemed to have an irrational hatred for everything about it. Calm down, man, it’s just a meatball.

In any case, Jae squeaked through. I really hope we get a less conceptual challenge next week so she can go back to doing what she does best: being weirdly horny for cheese.

7. (+2) Ashleigh Shanti

Ashleigh Shanti Top Chef Houston 19
NBC Universal

AKA: Moonjuice. Sugar Hillcountry.

Ashleigh seems like a naturally sunny person and I feel like this show is grinding her down to a little nub. Once again she put out what looked, sounded, and she clearly believed was good food, and once again the judges had almost universally negative things to say about it. Ashleigh drew the flying QuentinTarantinosaurus, and decided to cook a wing (makes sense!) with shito spice and a watermelon salad on top. Looked tasty!

Unfortunately, the judges thought Ashleigh’s shito wing was more like a shithouse wing — too flabby, underseasoned, not enough shito, and too mild. It just needed… something, you know? And such small portions! They are crushing this poor woman’s soul and it makes me sad.

6. (+2) Luke Kolpin

Luke Kolpin Top Chef Houston Season 18
NBC Universal

AKA: Liddell. Die Hard. Meekus. Eurotrip. The Danish Zombie. Noma… Noma… Noma gonna be in this competition much longer, anyway.

Speaking of crushed souls, there’s Luke, who has looked like he was about to go home basically from the first episode but is miraculously still here. I’m re-nicknaming this guy “The Danish Zombie,” because he just keeps coming back to life. And because MMA nicknames seem especially fitting for this guy.

Luke actually…. did kind of okay this episode? He drew the velociraptor and decided on a Mongolian theme, serving broccoli and beef (don’t tell Eddie Huang!) in the shape of claw, sort of. The judges liked it alright, and Padma thought the “dark, swampy” sauce fit the velociraptor theme. What, velociraptors live in your mom’s panties now?

Anyway, I hope Luke comes in second-to-last in every challenge from here on out and somehow makes it all the way to the finale.

5. (even) Nick Wallace

Nick Wallace Top Chef 19 Houston
NBC Universal

AKA: Domingo. Chocolate Mormon. The Count.

Nick is clearly one of the five favorites in this competition but he also seems to be cementing himself as the lowest-ranking favorite. He made an okra stew with crab in the quickfire, which looked pretty amazing, but apparently, he used too much tamarind paste and it came out too sweet and landed him in the bottom two. Sad!

But Nick seemed to bounce back from tamarind-blasting his stew, serving a croquette in the Elimination Challenge that was meant to evoke the red insides of a Mosasaurus’ throat. It ended up splitting the judges, with some thinking it was clever and just what the doctor ordered, but others (Tom) thinking it felt a little paltry without a sauce. But that’s Tom for you, such a sauce queen.

4. (-3) Evelyn Garcia

Evelyn Garcia Top Chef Houston 19
NBC Universal

AKA: Cuddles.

Evelyn and Nick seem to be running neck and neck for worst of the best. Evelyn was coming off back-to-back victories in the last two ‘sodes, but opened this one on the bottom of the quickfire with Nick. She bounced back in the elimination challenge, drawing the Questlove dinosaur (AIR) and choosing to make… pork, that famous flying animal.

It was a pork tenderloin with some nuts and leafy vegetables, served with an AERated sweet potato puree. Which, Evelyn took pains to remind the judges, was meant to represent AIR. That shit must’ve been really good because not a single judge questioned the validity of representing air with aerated potatoes (which grow underground!).

Anyway, Evelyn seems nice and her food looks good and I hope she does well. (Pretend I managed to squeeze a “your mom” joke in here somehow)

3. (+1) Buddha Lo

Buddha Lo Top Chef Houston Season 19
NBC Universal

AKA: Mr. International. Big Pun. Asian Ben Mendelsohn.

I had Buddha pegged as the chef to beat in the first few episodes, and he had me worried for a few episodes, but now it seems like he’s back. He served an African-inspired satay in the quickfire that was so good he had Ope Amosu giving him nicknames. Damn, is Buddha already invited to the cookout?

He won that challenge, earning himself immunity, which he ended up not needing since his smoked alligator in a cream sauce with beets and salmon roe felt like one of the judges’ favorites of the entire evening. This dude chose to cook alligator! And succeeded with it!

The only reason Buddha didn’t win this challenge was that he was paired with Jae and Jo, the judges’ two least favorites. And all he really missed out by not “winning” was a trip to the premiere of Jurassic World: Dominion. Oh, so instead of having to feign excitement about a sixth Jurassic Park movie (Oh my gosh, did they bring back the actors from the first one?? Has this ever been tried before???) he can just chillax on the couch watching Real Housewives or whatever?

Seems like Buddha got the best of that deal.

2. (+1) Jackson Kalb

Jackson Kalb on Top Chef
NBC Universal

AKA: Magoo. Andrew Lunk. Leghorn. Lurch. Bateman. Big Bird. Big Nerd. Napholeon Dynamite. Drew Magoober.

This challenge seemed right up Jackson’s alley on account of he’s a huge dork. Sure enough, Jackson rose to the occasion. *(Napoleon Dynamite Voice*) Do the velothiraptors have large talons?

Jackson really went for it this episode, using his own hand to create a bloody velociraptor footprint out of raspberry syrup. Velociraptor footprints don’t look like that! But hey, at least he tried. Jackson tried so hard, in fact, that he even introduced his dish by doing a bit. “First of all I’d like to apologize, the velociraptors came through and took one of our chefs, so that’s his blood there on the plate.”

Jackson looked so pleased with himself after that bit you almost have to respect it.

Jackson Kalb Smile Top Chef

You could practically hear him excitedly sucking saliva through his retainer after that one. (*puffs inhaler*)

Padma looked a little confused at first, on account of she’s a famous supermodel so she doesn’t speak nerd, but then she realized Jackson was just doing exactly what the producers wanted these chefs to do: embarrass themselves for the sponsor.

I’ve been giving Jackson a pretty hard time in these recaps, but I owe him a debt of gratitude. He’s one of the only people in this competition GIVING ME GODDAMN ANYTHING TO WORK WITH. He’s crushing this and being a giant goofball while doing it. Frankly, this show needs more Jacksons.

1. (+1) Damarr Brown

Damarr Brown Top Chef Houston
NBC Universal

AKA: Catchphrase. James Beard. Screech.

Then again… maybe you don’t need more Jacksons? At the other end of the spectrum is Damarr, quite possibly the most low-key human ever to appear on a reality show. This man seems physiologically incapable of artifice. Weirdly, this only seems to make him more watchable. You can give this guy the most dogshit ad copy imaginable and he will actually bring something genuine to it. It’s almost scary.

Anyway, Damarr made some kind of fried oyster on top of Fresno chow-chow (as a Fresnan I was pleased) over a cream sauce with caviar in it. Like Buddha, the only thing holding him back was being on a team with Luke and Ashleigh, who the judges weren’t so hot on. I’m going to end this recap here. I have a lot of thoughts about Damarr’s chances in this competition, but I don’t want to write them down for fear of jinxing him.

Read the rest of our Top Chef Power Rankings here. Vince Mancini is on Twitter.