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Top Chef Power Rankings, Episode 4: Roasted By Tweens

This week’s Top Chef began with yet another “blah blah blah my kids” montage. Only this time, the twist was that the kid in question was Bruce’s (aka Arthouse Guy Fieri). Also, it hadn’t been born yet and it isn’t his biological child (important details). Bruce is adopting! …I admit, this was one of the most tolerable “blah blah blah my kids” montages, as far as those go.

That led into the quickfire challenge: Kids’ food! For this one, Padma led in Blandly Inoffensive Australian Man™ Curtis Stone, known the world over for his ability to say words and wear a shirt. Stand there! Read the prompter! Padma no doubt exhorted. And Stone complied, saying, and I quote, “Hurrrr, blah blah blah moy name’s Cuhtis, maite.”

Actually, Stone brought in some wiener kids — some clean-looking, well-dressed wiener kids, to be exact — who we were told were the children of famous Denver restaurateurs. Luckily, the show didn’t try to boringly explain who those restaurateurs were (“Oh, Corbin Weaselburg? He’s like the Godfather of mid-Atlantic butter house.”) and instead cut straight to business.

The challenge was to “reinterpret a classic kids menu item” — like mac and cheese or chicken fingers. This turned out to be a hard one, because it wasn’t clear whether the chefs were being asked to make a kids menu item more sophisticated (they mentioned kids menus being too “dumbed down”), healthier (they mentioned all the fried stuff), or just yummy (they were being judged by actual kids).

But that’s not all! They had to try to cook it on “kid-sized” tiny cookery! WHOA, STUNT-COOKING ALERT!

I’ll be honest, I hate stunt cooking. That’s for people who like reality TV and not food. I remember promos for that show Extreme Chef on Food Network, where the chefs had to cook in rain storms and butcher a hog while riding a dirtbike or whatever. That idea was rightfully shitcanned (sadly, we still have Ginormous Food). Luckily, before you could sing “fat guyyy on a little stove,” the kid food challenged totally redeemed itself by introducing us to this season’s best guest judge.

This is Nael. I’m not sure how you pronounce that (Nail? Nah-EL, like Gael Garcia Bernál?), but I’m going to pretend it’s “Nail,” because if this baby dragon didn’t like your dish she’d rip your wig off and nail it to the wall (metaphorically). God damn, there is truly nothing scarier than getting clowned on by tweens.

This was the moment Carrie realized she was actually getting owned face to face face by someone young enough to have a favorite Paul brother:

BRUTAL. And yet this was wonderful TV. Truly compelling ownage. Can we have Nails roast people every show? Take some notes, Graham.

It actually makes sense that kids would make the harshest food critics. Kids are all like eccentric little manor lords and Howard Hugheslets, who will only eat brown M&Ms or mac and cheese that comes from a certain-colored box if you let them. 85% of your job as a parent is basically to starve them out until they deign to try new things, and to force feed them until they stop being pains in the ass (true story: my grandmother would make you eat anything you didn’t finish for breakfast). It’s tough but it’s the only way. Have you ever met someone who’s an adult and still a picky eater? It’s the worst. A friend of mine dated a girl who ordered “only bread and meat” at In N Out and then would meticulously pick off the crispy ring off the edge of the patty. No one wants that. Picky eaters are unmarriageable.

Anyway, after the quickfire it was onto the roots challenge, in which the chefs were tasked with making a meal “based on your own heritage and backgrounds.”

Ohhh, now I get why they did the montage about the adoption to open the show. It’s all about parents and kids, heritage and so forth. I see what you guys did there. It’s true, celebrating traditions and ancestors is one of the coolest things about food. That being said, this challenge allowed for a maximum of melodramatic backstory.

Thank God Top Chef isn’t Chopped, and most of these contestants aren’t as lame as you usually find in reality TV, or else this could’ve turned a series of Olympics style human interest stories. Sure, there were sob stories, promises to dying relatives, and the dead watching over the living like Obi-Wan (Luuuuke, use the pressure cooker!), but most of the tears actually felt earned. You don’t get that with most basic cable reality programming.

POWER RANKINGS

11. (-6) ((Eliminated)) Tyler Anderson — AKA Henry Roll-ins, aka Matt Pinfield, aka T Bone, aka T n A, aka Woolly Willy, aka G.G. Au Jus

Tyler opened the elimination challenge bemoaning how hard this “heritage” challenge would be for him: “I don’t have a heritage, I’m just a white boy from Southern California.”

Oh, Tyler, Tyler, Tyler… as one white to another… is this your first time being white? Come on, man. When faced with a lack of cultural heritage, there’s an obvious solution. You can just steal someone else’s. In stealing someone else’s shit, you’d merely be honoring our forebears. Nothing is more true to general whiteness than seeing something you like and just taking it.

Instead, Tyler attempted to both honor the Southern California tradition by making a tri tip barbecue, and his Swedish last name by pairing that tri tip with a pickled beet pico de gallo (nope), meatball, and potato Swedish pancake. Once again I’d suggest: Try saying your dish out loud first. If it sounds dumb and you’re kind of embarrassed, you’re probably on the wrong track.

Tyler was also in the bottom of the quickfire, in which he updated spaghetti and meatballs by trying to turn it into squash noodles and shrimp meatball pho (?). Maybe he got kind of screwed having to “interpret” a dish that didn’t need to be re-interpreted. Either way he overthought it. As I’ve said, creativity is your enemy on Top Chef. Lots of people go home for a weird idea. No one goes home for “not creative enough” if the food’s good.

That said, the judges didn’t seem to hate either dish, which made it kind of weird that Tyler got eliminated. As one judge noted (in my second favorite diss of the episode, we’ll get to my favorite in a sec): “We could really taste your struggle.”

Mmm, struggle. Poor Tyler. Maybe you could write a book about it. You could call it “My Struggle.”

10. (-3) Bruce Kalman — AKA Arthouse Guy Fieri, aka Gnocchis, aka The Dungeon Master, aka Bruce Bruce

Bruce Bruce (I can’t believe I just thought of that nickname) strutted into this competition with a boatload of accolades to go with his sweet chain wallet looking like an early favorite. But not only has he not won a challenge, in this episode it was a miracle he didn’t go home. He was in the bottom three in both challenges, and neither were the result of flawed decision making or misinterpreting a judge’s palate (a la Tyler). His quickfire dish (a striped bass croqueta to reinterpret fish sticks) sounded like a good idea and looked pretty good. In the elimination challenge he made goulash with spetzle. Again, it looked and sounded pretty good. That the judges didn’t like either seems like a failure on a basic cooking level.

When the judges told him his goulash meat was tough and dry, he pulled a strange kissass move where he was like, “Ohhh, I get it now, you’re totally right! I didn’t plate this rustically enough, but I won’t do that anymore!”

It was like he didn’t hear anything they said and was responding to a totally different comment. Somehow the judges just went along with it and quickly moved on. What the hell?! I’ve seen tougher follow-ups when Breitbart interviews Trump. I like Bruce and his chain wallet and righteous two-hand tapping guitar solos, but he should’ve gone home this week.

9. (-5) Tu David Phu — AKA Johnny Football, aka Jake Ryan, aka Tu David Phu Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar, aka Tippecanoe And Tu David Phu

Tu David Phu started off this season seeming like the charming, popular kid and… I hate to say it, but his stock has been falling ever since. He didn’t land in the bottom on either challenge, but he yet again managed to completely misread the room. It might not have been entirely his fault. After some legitimately affecting parent/immigrant stories from Tanya and Brother Luck, Tu David Phu got all choked up talking about… his fish meatballs. It felt… a little forced? He made it even worse, trying to “apologize,” saying “I’m usually a tough guy!”

Come on, man, if you have to say it…

This led to my favorite diss of the episode, “I think Tu cooked with too much emotion.”

8. (-5) Carrie Baird — AKA Tots, aka Chee-eese

Chee-eese opened this episode perving on Curtis Stone, the world-renowned shirt-wearing word-sayer. “He’s tall, and I totally dig that,” Carrie said.

Yeah, wow, shocking that the Mormon girl would have a crush on the big blond guy, imagine that. All that animal lust apparently didn’t help her in the challenge either, in which she turned a corn dog into… uh… smaller corn dog nuggets, I guess? Which she put on top of a “chiffonade of raw kale,” because if there’s one thing kids love, it’s raw kale. She got roasted by Nails, though probably not enough, then cast down to the bottom three.

In the elimination challenge she played to her strengths (chee-eeeeese) making a cheesy pierogi, that she inexplicably paired with chorizo and peas. They got chorizos in Idaho? Don’t overthink it, Carrie. Remember when Chris Farley had that “chicken wings” epiphany in Tommy Boy? Do that, but with your Denver Omelette from last week. No chiffonades or foreign sausage. Just mutter “Denver omelette…” to yourself and cook up a nice casserole.

7. (+3) Brother Luck — AKA Barbershop

Brother Luck had easily the best story this week, about how he showed up with his Creole dad’s dirty rice recipe for a fifth grade assignment, embarrassed about it because it was full of weird offal, and then his dad ended up dying a week later. It was the only recipe he passed down. Whoa, downer alert. That was an asskicker of a story. Nothing beats the guilt of losing your dad right after being embarrassed by his probably awesome recipe. Childhood is so dumb. It’s like you can watch yourself act like an asshole in slow-motion while powerless to stop it.

Anyway, even after stabbing the judges in the heart with that story and serving a dish that received a mostly positive response, Brother Luck didn’t end up in the top three. That can’t bode well. A man can only have so many crushing dead relative stories.

6. (-2) Joseph Flamm — AKA Joey Cheeks, aka C-Pap, aka Chicago Beef, aka Bob’s Big Boy, aka Flamm Bae, aka InFlammable

Joey Cheeks took one of the first disses from Nails in the quickfire, who told him his chicken would’ve been better without the pineapple. Ha, the subtle burns sting the most. Then in the elimination challenge, he seemingly had a pretty straightforward task. Cook em uppa some a you a-grandmama pasta, belissima, beliiissima

Somehow this sent him spiraling into a near meltdown and landed him in the bottom three. Later he complained that maybe trying to plate pasta for 20 people was too much of a challenge. Right, because pasta, that’s a dish we definitely don’t associate with meals for large families. Definitely haven’t seen pasta served to a giant table in many movies. Are you sure it was the pasta that was the problem, Joe? Maybe it was trying put a cute little twirl on every plate. Pasta plating is like the milk art in your latte — no one really cares but the person making it.

Joe also gets docked 10 points for uttering the phrase “I’ll feel super f*ckin’ Soigné West if I get this done in time.”

No, man.

5. (+5) Adrienne Cheatham — AKA Fish, aka Halle Bearnaise, aka Le Bernadin

Well well well, look who finally decided to show up. Adrienne, who not only managed to go an entire show without mentioning that she works at Le Bernadin (pronounced with italics), actually won a quickfire this episode. Not only that, she did it cooking a cauliflower-dough pizza with a quail egg on top. I would not have thought that leaving a runny yolk on top of a veggie-crusted pizza was a way to impress tweens. In fact it sounded the most ill-advised out of the group. But these were not regular tweens.

She faded a bit in the elimination (though her boudin-stuffed pig trotter sounded amazing), but the important thing is that she’s in contention. Also, not for nothing, she has really great hair.

4 (+5) Tanya Holland — AKA The Professor, aka Ghost, aka Waffles

Tanya was the other chef I kept expecting to show up who finally did this episode. She landed in the top three in both challenges, first with her “re-interpretation” of mac and cheese, which basically involved making orecchiette as the pasta and putting a pretzel bacon crumble on top. Like I said, creativity is your enemy on Top Chef. Just make a tasty-ass mac and cheese, Tanya knows what’s up.

After that she landed in the top three again cooking her mother’s gumbo. YES, gumbo, exactly. If “my mother’s gumbo” is on a menu, I’m probably ordering it. Definitely that over “tri tip with beet pico de gallo meatballs for some reason and a Swedish potato pancake which is apparently a thing.”

Thank God at least one person seems to know how to play this game.

3. (+5) Chris Scott — AKA Silky, aka Good Damone, aka Amish Soul Food

Chris seems so goddamned cool and smooth at all times, it’s almost infuriating. Like when Chris was super busy and the kid came up while he was chopping and asked him what he was cooking. And Chris was all “makin’ tacos, my man!” sounding more happy and cheerful than a mall Santa. I feel like if a cool ass dude like Chris had called me “my man!” when I was 12 my life could’ve turned out differently. I feel like I need Chris in an earpiece at all times telling me how to be more well adjusted. Some kind of Hitch situation. Maybe we can pitch this to Bravo.

Anyway, Cool Chris landed in the top three in the quickfire with his deconstructed taco, which warmed even Nails’ black heart, who described it as “the best deconstructed taco I’ve ever had.”

Yes, Nails has had lots of deconstructed tacos. She went to deconstructed taco camp last summer. I bet she ranks every deconstructed taco she’s ever had in a special moleskin. I bet she travels first class and has already been more places than you.

After that, Chris cooked lemonade fried chicken and brown sugar biscuits, which rightfully won him the challenge because holy hell I’d shove an old lady into traffic to eat that. And not like some fried thigh thingy with a fancy sauce smoosh underneath either, straight up drumsticks with hot sauce drizzled on top. God bless Chris, it’s like he’s been reading this column. Never chef it up. It’s also a basic truism of life that no one doesn’t like fried chicken.

2. (even) Fatima Ali — AKA Chokers

Fatima, who was rocking some especially tiny chokers this week, kind of style-bit Tyler’s grilled cheese croutons from last week when she reinvented a grilled cheese as a caesar salad with grilled cheese croutons in the kid challenge. But as I’ve said, taste > creativity. Amazingly, the kids were super excited for salad and she landed in the top three. Back in my day, using the word “anchovies” in front of pre-teens was a recipe for disaster, but then again, in my day we threw bullfrogs at each other and jacked off to mattress catalogs. These kids probably speak French to their nannies and call their parents by their first names.

Anyway, Fatima didn’t land in the top three in the elimination challenge, but she has yet to have a bad day and so she keeps her spot.

1. (even) Joe Sasto — AKA Mustache Joey, aka Rollie Fingerlings, aka Freddy Mercurioli, aka Joey Sauce

Joey Sauce was praised for his sauce this week, with the judges calling his tortelloni and chicken with farro effort “so technical,” with another adding that he “cooked with a lot of confidence this week.”

DAT’S RIGHT, JOEY SAUCE, YOU SHOW DAT FRIGGIN MUSHROOM WHO’S BOSS!

After last week’s win and this week’s high finish, Joey Sauce solidifies himself (congeals?) as a favorite. In a week where overly cheffy food and trying to combine your various heritages into a single dish generally sent you to the bottom, Mustache Joe somehow managed to almost win cooking a precious trio of Italian tortelloni and French farro. Whatever he’s doing, he must be doing it right.

Sure, he stumbled a bit in the quickfire with his almond-crusted chicken finger thingies, but no one really wants a guy with that kind of mustache around kids anyway. Sidenote: It’s amazing that they got three pre-teens in the same room and none had a nut allergy. That must be some kind of statistical anomaly.

Will Mustache Joe do something young and dumb to lose his spot? They say the veterans rise to the top in the playoffs. I think. I dunno, someone probably says that. Anyway, there’s still a lot more food to cook, so it’s still anyone’s mouth game.

Vince Mancini is on Twitter. More reviews here.

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