Top Chef Power Rankings Week 2: The Backside Of A Hoe

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Top Chef visited Maker’s Mark this week, where they soon discovered what I learned when I visited the distillery a few years back: Rob Samuels from Maker’s Mark is always on message. Seriously though, dude should run for the president of whiskey or something. Also, the contestants got a lot less drunk than I did, which is somewhat disappointing. Though they are chefs, and on a reality competition, so it’s safe to assume they were over the legal limit most of the time.

In the quickfire, the chefs had to cook a dish for Gail Simmons (they brought back Gail! Hooray!) “inspired by Gail’s pregnancy cravings.” This would be cooked on set, and then guest judge Nilou Motamed (Nilou Multi-Pass would be her nickname if she was a contestant) would transport ingredients for the top two entries to New York, where she would cook them with Gail, who would eat them and decide a winner. This format seems eerily similar to our Uproxx Food Challenges, where the judges also have to make the food themselves. I’m not complaining.

After that, they all went to Maker’s Mark, where Rob Samuels schooled them on “soft winter wheat” and such and they got to eat Kentucky classics like black barbecue sauce, burgoo, and hoecakes. It’s a shame Padma wasn’t on set when the Maker’s Mark chef explained that “Hoecakes get their name from being cooked on the backside of a hoe,” because Padma is the only person on this show who regularly acknowledges sex puns like that. I know she secretly appreciates “your mom” jokes as much as I do. Anyway, to Monday morning your-mom joke that scene: There’s nothing I like better than a hoe with a backside hot enough to cook cakes on.

It was also a week for exotic trendy spice blends! It seemed like everyone used one. (*to the tune of Kokomo*) Chermoula, harissa, oooh I wanna take ya to berber-e, zatara, gochujang me mama…

Guest judge Nilou also introduced us (me?) to the word “cuisson,” which we were told was “A french term for cookery, primarily of meat.”

Ah, so one of those French words that kind of means everything and nothing all at once? Feel free to sack tap me next time I used the phrase mise en scene in a movie review. Mise en scene is the cuisson of cinema.

Now then, to the rankings. Basically, everything we thought we knew last week has been upended, so other than the top two and bottom two this whole thing is a mess. It’s going to take a few more weeks before the true favorites and dark horses shake out. Dark hors d’ouvres? Anyway.

1 (+2). David Viana — AKA: Maybe. Frankie Valli.

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Notable quote: “I was hoping Gail would be here in person because I’ve had a crush on her for quite some time… [*notices this attempt at levity has absolutely bombed*] Not a creepy crush… heh [*the laugh of quiet desperation*].”

Look, I didn’t want to have a front-runner as blandly inoffensive as David either, but here we are. David is the only contestant to finish in the top for at least one challenge in both of the first shows. This time around, he cooked a ribeye with some chermoula-spiced corn (yeah I don’t know what that is either but apparently it’s Moroccan) in the quickfire challenge, which ended up winning. Then he did an old-fashioned spiced lamb for the elimination challenge, which was apparently good, but not as good as the challenge’s other lamb. But David was on the winning team and blah blah blah…

Anyway, Maybe is the current frontrunner, if not in especially impressive fashion. To put it in sports terms, it’s less like David made a diving touchdown grab and more like the defenders near him all simultaneously shit their pants. He did catch the ball though, you have to give him that. …Perhaps this metaphor has gone on too long.

2. (+2) Nini Nguyen — AKA: Brooklyn. AKA: Bad Cop.

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Nini cooked a braised pork drowned in arugula in the quickfire, to go along with last week’s catfish drowned in cabbage, which made me think maybe that’s her thing, drowning meat in leaves of stuff. Interesting niche. Then she subverted all expectations with a spoonbread with shrimp etouffee sauce that won her the whole challenge. Did I not tell you the Vietnamese girl who grew up in New Orleans was going to be good at food? I feel vindicated.

“Spoonbread” is a brilliantly named food. I don’t even really know what it is but just from the name I know I’d like it. Spoon, bread. Bread you can eat with a spoon. I don’t know exactly what it is but I know I want it.

Nini was also notable in this episode for providing a well-timed check on Sara (aka Party Mom), otherwise the show’s most likable character. But, in the moment, Sara both needed and heeded Nini’s advice to pipe down a little. It takes a good friend to tell you to maybe shhhhut the f*ck up just when you need it.

3. (+4) Eric Adjepong — AKA: Ghana. Sports.

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Once again Eric was safely in the middle in the quickfire, and was on the losing team in the elimination challenge. I don’t know why I’m ranking him number three, call it a hunch. The judges did rave about his dish, despite being on the losing team, with Nilou Motamed describing it as “mind-blowing.”

He made a banana rolled in nuts with a blood orange marmalade and a peanut mayonnaise sauce. That sounds super weird! But apparently good! I don’t know, something about Eric makes me think he’s the golden boy here.

4. (+7) Sara Bradley — AKA: Party Mom. AKA: G-Squared

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Last week a commenter pointed out that “Party Mom” was an inaccurate nickname because Sara doesn’t have children. To which I would say that being a Party Mom is a state of being, not of motherhood. It doesn’t require children, just the proper attitude. Every time you drink wine on a train… Party Mom is there. Every time someone “raises the roof” at the office holiday party… Party Mom is there. Every time a bar-goer whoops “whoo hoo!” a little too loudly… Party Mom is there.

Sara is Party Mom, our guardian angel of partying, and that’s why I love her. How can you not love her when every episode produces screencaps like this?

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Apparently, that was from a spread in “Garden & Gun” magazine about Sara’s whiskey collection (PARTY. MOM.). Hence her new nickname, G-Squared.

Anyway, Party Mom felt the heat this week, being the only local in a Kentucky food challenge, which turned her into a bit of a Chefzilla during menu planning. Each time someone would suggest something, Party Mom would be like “Yeah, you can do biscuits, but can you do them good? Because I can do them good.”

Luckily Nini gave her a nice nudge in the ribs, which even Party Moms need from time to time, and Sara ended up making a Soup Bean and Chow Chow dish that everyone raaaaved about. The Kentuckians especially seemed to love it. And they say if you can please a man in an ascot you can achieve anything.

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Maybe it’s a cravat? Discuss.

5. (+5) Eddie Conrad — AKA: Smiles. AKA: The Accountant. AKA: The Situation. AKA: Seppuku. AKA: Sacrificial Lamb.

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Oh, Eddie. No contestant seems like he needs a hug quite like Eddie. He’s so nervous and bashful that this week he haltingly referred to pregnancy as a woman’s… situation. Hence his new nickname, The Situation. Padma immediately picked up on it too, because being uncomfortable about sex in front of Padma is like waving a red cape in front of a sexy bull. Let the torture begin! Sexy torture!

Smiles had one of the best dishes of the week, a lamb that one judge said was the “only thing on this table properly seasoned.”

Sadly Eddie couldn’t enjoy it because he spent $540 of the team’s $1500 budget on his lamb and spent the rest of the show apologizing for it. Repeat after me, Eddie: “I’m not. Here. To make friends.” It is the reality show contestant’s prayer.

If Eddie shows up next week missing a pinkie I would not be surprised.

6. (even) Michelle Minori — AKA: Screen Time. AKA: Who?

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Michelle opened this week’s episode as the subject of a backstory package about how her grandma was “a shaman for one of the most violent tribes in Mexico.”

Come again? I have so many follow-up questions. How do they even decide the most violent tribes in Mexico, anyway? Is there a US News & World Reports ranking of the most violent tribes in Mexico? Don’t leave me hanging here!

Sadly they did, and Screen Time promptly reverted to getting zero screen time for the remainder of the episode. The only other time she was mentioned was when a guest judge called her truffled honey benedictine “a nice little amuse, but it’s far from a benedictine.”

REER! I think we have an earlier frontrunner for this season’s bitchiest nitpick.

7. (+5) Adrienne Wright — AKA: NPR. AKA: Hollow Bones.

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Adrienne needs to cool it with the chunky earrings, mainly because I’m blanking on a good nickname for someone who always wears chunky earrings.

Adrienne made catfish. Who cares.

8. (+1) Justin Sutherland — AKA: New Spike. AKA: Cheech. AKA: Slick.

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Every time Justin opens his mouth I’m reminded of the immortal line from Super Troopers: “Where’d you learn that, Cheech, drug school?”

This hepcat opened the episode planting some herbs. Asked if he’d ever planted anything before, Cheech responded: “I have, though I don’t know how legal it was…”

Oh, I think you know exactly how legal it was. If this show was middle-school I feel like Justin would’ve already sold Eddie a piece of notebook paper he said was acid.

Anyway, Justin was the victim of a broken refrigerator shelf this week, which wasted all of his corn, setting us up for some BIG DRAMA at judges’ table. Except they ended up liking Justin’s hoecakes anyway and he didn’t even have to mention his spilled corn.

That is, I think they liked Justin’s hoecakes. It was honestly a little hard to tell. One of the judges said Justin’s hoecakes were “the best possible take on his version,” which is just a magnificently impenetrable complisult.

9. (+5) Kevin Sharpf — AKA: Napoleon.

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I was very pleased that Kevin’s Napoleon Dynamite voice hadn’t disappeared this week, and that it’s apparently his all-time voice and not the product of a sore throat or something. I like to picture Kevin cooking in moon boots, with his eyes and mouth dangling half open.

Kevin cooked a banana corndog this week and it looked awesome. I bet he already made, like, infinity of those at scout camp.

10. (+3) AKA: The Hair. AKA: Hipster Joe Flamm. AKA: Deformed Beignet.

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Hipster Joe Flamm got precious little screen time this week, other than a quick cut about him making a mash, and then him singing a song about making a mash (not to the tune of “Monster Mash,” sadly). There was a cut to his dish, which ended up being steak with big chunks of root veg. What happened to the mash? WHERE IS THE MASH, BRIAN?? Our first conspiracy of the season.

Also, did it seem like everyone made steak and a small side for the pregnant lady in the quickfire? Zzzz.

That was about the last we heard of Brian in this episode. Until one judge said Brian’s dumplings looked like “deformed beignet,” and everyone laughed like they were talking about his weird dick. Is that more of a burn than I assumed it was? Aren’t dumplings always kind of lumpy looking? What specifically was his dough pas?

11. (-2) Brandon Rosen — AKA: Heydrich. AKA: Biff. AKA: Shhhh. AKA: Edgar.

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It’s impossible to do justice to it in print, but Brandon has some of the least natural facial expressions I’ve ever seen. Is this some kind of Meet Dave situation? Brandon landed in the top two in the quickfire and then smiled like he was trying to keep moths from flying out of his cheek:

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Here’s my gif impression of Brandon:

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Like I said, Brandon got second in the quickfire so it would seem like 11th place in the rankings is too low. But that was because he almost got eliminated for his chewy chicken wing and grainy dumplings in the elimination. As Brandon put it, “Simple is just not the way I cook.”

Anyway, last week I gave Brandon a Nazi nickname because of his Hitler Youth haircut and this week Nilou called his dumplings “an atrocity” so I feel validated.

12. (-7) Kelsey Barnard Clark — AKA: Wine Mom. AKA: Elle Woods. AKA: Roll Tide. AKA: Can I Speak To Your Manager?

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This week’s notably on-brand quote: “You guys look like a bunch of hobos out there.”

This week’s interestingly off-brand moment: Kelsey prefaced a statement with “I don’t want to sound racist but…”

Which, when spoken by someone from Alabama with an accent like Kelsey’s, generally precedes something extravagantly racist. Instead Kelsey followed this with the observation that a lot of Southern cuisine has its roots in African cuisine, which I’m pretty sure isn’t racist at all, and in fact is kind of an astute observation. Go figure! Thank God she compared her teammates to homeless people later or else I’d have to rewrite all these awesome nicknames.

Kelsey pointed out that she had an advantage in the quickfire as the only contestant who had been pregnant (whoa, check your fertile womb privilege, Kelsey), and made what looked like the only interesting dish of the challenge, some kind of melange of fried prosciutto and strawberries (sounds weird, but pregnant ladies like weird stuff, don’t they?). But apparently it wasn’t even worth mentioning. Later, her dry catfish with mushy veg almost got her sent home.

Feels like we dodged a bullet. You’ve got to stay in this, Kelsey! You’re my best hope for jokes.

13. (-11) Pablo Lamon — AKA: One Plug. AKA: Smooth Fabio. AKA: Brint.

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Oh, Pablo. Oh no no no. Our Smooth Fabio had the dubious distinction of being the only contestant to land on the bottom of both challenges without getting sent home. It was bad cous cous in the quickfire (“wet and mushy”) and a greasy burgoo in the elimination. No one likes a greasy burgoo, except maybe your mom.

Pablo blamed his bland dish on the lack of herbs and spices (couldn’t afford them, thanks to Eddie’s exorbitant lamb), which he probably could’ve had if he’d been just a bit more assertive about it. I have to think he didn’t listen to his sentient ear plug enough. Oje, Pablo, leesten por me, jour ear ploge: ju need to stand ope for jourself! No somos aqui for make amigos!

14. (-14) ((eliminated)) Natalie Maronski — AKA: Backstory. Shaolin.

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Daaamn, not since Lil’ Jim in season 14 has a contestant gone from the top to eliminated in the space of one episode before. Natalie was number one just last episode! It was a melted lemon curd pie that ended up doing her in, which seems like an understandable mistake when you’re cooking in 90-degree heat with 97% humidity. Though it was also the second misfire in a row for Natalie, whose undercooked farro in the quickfire Padma referred euphemistically as “so toothsome!”

Toothsome always describes something delicious, right? Hence the famous KFC slogan, “it’s finger-lickin’ toothsome!”

Farro and risotto are similar enough that I’m going to chalk this loss up to the risotto curse. Brutal one for Natalie. Though it should be said, she won her first challenge on Last Chance Kitchen. Defeating… the same Lil’ Jim! Top Chef is a flat circle.

Vince Mancini is on Twitter. You can find his archive of reviews here.