Top Chef Power Rankings, Week 3: The Saltiest Ricotta


This week on Top Chef we got a Christmas episode. Fitting for a show that airs five days before Christmas, but kind of funny when you think that they probably shot this in July. Top Chef usually acknowledges stuff like that, which I suppose they maybe tried to do by having Graham Elliot show up in a Hawaiian shirt. Only it didn’t really land because Graham Elliot looks like the kind of guy who sleeps in a Hawaiian shirt.


Every week on these I promise myself I’m going to stop making fun of Graham Elliot, whose only real crime is dressing like he plays trombone in a Christian ska band, but then this week he dropped the line “Strawberry and fennel are homies, right? They love to hang out.”

Gee whiz, Graham! Look at my strawberry and fennel just hanging out, drinking root beer and doing calisthenics like a couple of best friends! Isn’t that just the thing about having friends? That it feels just like a bag of sand?

So, uh… moratorium on making fun of Graham will have to wait until next week, I guess.

Before Graham showed up, past season winners Brooke Williamson and Richard Blais were on hand to judge a quickfire.


Apparently, there was no building inspector on the premises because I’m pretty sure hair this high violates several codes. Richard Blais is one of those dudes who seems really nice but also you’re kind of like “tone it down, dude, no one is that nice.”

Brooke and Blais were brought in to judge a White Elephant challenge. Or at least, that’s what I always called it. According to contestant Brian (Hipster Joe Flamm), it’s apparently also known as a “Yankee Swap.” Anyway, it’s the thing where you give each other shitty gifts and then steal them from each other. In this case, those gifts were big boxes full of ingredients. Not enough people recognized “box” as the sexual euphemism it is, in my opinion. Someone check Padma’s temperature, normally she’d be all over this.

After the quickfire, Eric Ripert and his copious wrist beads arrived to judge a 3 am dessert challenge. Yet again multiple contestants arrived without any dessert experience. Come on, people! It’s like you’re not even reading my articles

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


It’s extremely close between Nini and David, but they’re the two clear favorites at this point. Nini almost won the quickfire with a weird cheese/fruit dip with apples, which felt like a high degree of difficulty. The judges always treat not having a protein like it’s a magic trick. Then she used her pastry background to own the dessert challenge with… uh… some kind of… lemon… bark?


I don’t know, man, desserts are weird. Apparently, it was good!

Nini also got her own backstory package about doing Christmas with her brother two weeks before he died (don’t you dare make me cry watching god damned Top Chef). She also briefly channeled Padma in the Yankee Swap challenge, cooing “Eddie, how do you like my box?”

Which made Eddie, who last week described pregnancy as “a woman’s… uh… situation,” even sweatier than normal.

Don’t think about Nini’s box, don’t think about Nini’s box…

All Nini has to do if they ever go head to head is bring up her box again and watch Eddie slip in his sweat puddle and throw his stew pot into the air.

2. (-1). David Viana — AKA: Maybe. AKA: Superfan.


David opened this week’s episode by admitting his “man crush” on Richard Blais, which is the second time in as many weeks that David has had a “crush” on one of the judges. We get it, David, you’re virile. Hornier than a billy goat, this guy. By the way, don’t encourage Richard Blais, he’s already way too conscious of his own cuteness. Later David gushed “I’ve got Richard Blais’ fork!”

Okay, settle down, man, now it’s getting weird.

Anyway, David is shaking out as a clear favorite, winning the quickfire with a “leek carbonara.” Which was pretty creative (and again, no protein = magic trick). Nini beat him in the elimination challenge for the second week in a row, but it was a dessert challenge and she’s a former pastry chef. I think they’re neck and neck.

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


“Hey, guys, remember when I went to Ghana?”

YES, ERIC, WE REMEMBER ABOUT THE GHANA. Just kidding, Eric is probably the most likable person on this show and I will listen to all of his Ghana stories if he will be my friend.

I don’t think Eric has been in either the top or the bottom of any challenge yet, but I’m putting him number three because he’s the chef who most consistently makes food that looks really good. Almost everything he’s made had made me say “damn, that looks good” to the TV, which is a thing many well-adjusted people do.

This week Eric made some Ghanaian donuts called “bofrots.” I’ve never had one, but as always, I am here for all of your culture’s fried shit.

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


Party Mom revealed herself as the Christmas Jew this week, along with a backstory package about being the only Jew in Kentucky. She landed in the top three with some chopped liver and an egg fried in pork fat, which Padma said she would’ve been thrilled to eat at Passover. Hmm, I don’t know how much pork fat you’d be eating at Passover, Padma. I guess it’d have to be a Reform Passover.

Anyway, Sara still seems cool.

5. (+5) Eddie Conrad — AKA: Smiles. AKA: The Accountant. AKA: Seppuku. AKA: Sweaty Eddie. AKA: Calamity.


Does the Top Chef prize package include a psychiatrist? Someone serve this dude a Xanax tartare, am I right?

Eddie opened the week still beating himself up over getting the other Philly chef eliminated because of his expensive lamb. Then he landed in the bottom three in the quickfire when he couldn’t handle Nini’s spicy box. After all that he probably would’ve swallowed his knives if he hadn’t put himself in the top three with his strawberry fennel crumble thingy. A Homie Strudel, as Graham might’ve called it.

“Are you ‘appy? You still luke stressed,” Eric Ripert asked when he announced Eddie’s top three finish.

Chill out, Eddie! Get you some Buddhist prayer beads like Eric Ripert! I’m envisioning a buddy-comedy road trip, where Eddie sits shotgun in Eric Ripert’s tiny convertible while Eric Ripert smokes very thin cigarettes and teaches Eddie to relax as they wind through the European countryside. Life, she eez beautiful, non? Then there would be a montage of busty women for some reason.

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


Is Michelle somehow getting less screen time? Has there ever been a Top Chef contestant who was on camera this little? She didn’t go home so I’ll infer that she cooked food this week.

7. (+1) Justin Sutherland — AKA: New Spike. AKA: Cheech. AKA: Slick. AKA The Weez. AKA: Bacon.


Does anyone remember Spike from season four? He and Justin are basically the same guy, right? I need someone to validate this observation with the accuracy it deserves. Anyway, Justin managed to weasel his way through yet another episode without landing in the top three or bottom three of either challenge. He also made yet another dish involving bacon. Shocking that the guy with kind of a pander-y personality would be super into bacon. Epic, sir.

8. (+4) Kelsey Barnard Clark — AKA: Wine Mom. AKA: Elle Woods. AKA: Roll Tide. AKA: Can I Speak To Your Manager?


Notable Quote: “I can’t just wrap bacon around asparagus and put it on a plate and be like ‘here, Padma, eat it.’”

Kelsey, on her own dish: “Whatever, it’s stupid.”

Kelsey got bacon and asparagus in her box this week (heh), but apparently figured the obvious dish, bacon-wrapped asparagus, would be too basic to serve to Padma (come on Kelsey, embrace your brand) and made it with country ham instead. Which resulted in a classic mistake: calling her dish a thing and then not giving the judges that exact thing. If you bring up bacon-wrapped asparagus and then don’t give the judges exactly that, they’ll turn up their noses, like 5-year-olds who won’t eat the chicken tenders if they’re not shaped like dinosaurs. That landed her in the bottom three.

Kelsey and Nini formed the Smug Pastry Girl Club in the elimination challenge, but they both landed in the top three so you gotta respect it. The editors tried to set up a Big Drama scene by showing Sara open the oven right after Kelsey threatened to shank anyone if they opened her oven. But Kelsey improvised, and instead of fretting over fallen macaroons she just said “f*ck it, I’ll make biscottis.”

A lesson for us all. When life fells your macaroons, make biscottis.

9. (-2) Adrienne Wright — AKA: NPR. AKA: Dangles. AKA: Hollow Bones.


Adrienne, who can’t open jars (hollow bones, like a bird) doubled down on the chunky earrings this week, with a pair of even more dangly octopus tentacle deals. Maybe God gave all her wrist strength to her earlobes? You ever get the feeling Adrienne paints her own pottery? She reminds me of a third-grade teacher who isn’t mad at me, just disappointed. I always think she’s going to make me write an apology letter over a fart.

Anyway, Adrienne once again made two dishes that went almost entirely un-commented upon.

10. (+1) Brandon Rosen — AKA: Heydrich. AKA: Biff. AKA: Shhhh.


Just as I predicted, we finally got that backstory package about Brandon’s family owning a chocolate factory when he was growing up. Brandon tried to make a joke about eating all the ugly chocolates but Brandon’s jokes always come out sounding like he Google Translated them from the original Czech.

There was also a vignette about Brandon and Brian trying to accuse the other of using a flat iron on their hair (which was weirdly left unresolved). A flat iron? In the boy’s room?? My, how droll. Are you guys really trying to make fun of each other over this in 2018? 10 bucks says Graham Elliot has one of those retro perm dryers in his house.

Sadly for Brandon, his food seems to be getting worse as he grows gradually more tolerable.

11. (+2) Pablo Lamon — AKA: One Plug. AKA: Smooth Fabio. AKA: Brint.


Oye, Pablo. It’s jour ear ploge again. Why ju no put more chugar on the razbarries?

Damn, despite looking like an early favorite in episode one, Smooth Fabio ignored the advice of his sentient ear plug once again. He botched his sucre whatever and Eric Ripert made him button two more of his shirt buttons in penance (that’s the Eurotrash equivalent of losing chevrons). Even worse, Blais and Brooke kind of bagged on Pablo’s rosti for being out of style. Daaamn, every time you bag on a smooth foreign man for being unfashionable an angel loses his cigarette.

Incidentally, I love a rosti.

12. (-2) AKA: The Hair. AKA: Hipster Joe Flamm.


Brian made the classic mistake of showing up to Top Chef without a go-to dessert. Does the fact that he acknowledged it make it better somehow? As Brian put it, “I don’t know dessert, I cut meat!”

Yeah, yeah, stop overcompensating, Brian. Brian keeps trying to make hair his trademark personality trait. Looks aren’t personality, Brian, we already have one Graham. Anyway, Hipster Flamm has been in the bottom for a few challenges now but maybe there’ll be an artisanal butchery challenge or a challenge about matching a dish to your tattoos — then Brian can turn it around.

13. (-4) ((Eliminated)) Kevin Sharpf — AKA: Napoleon. AKA: Welcome Back, Ricotter


Kevin really earned his elimination this episode, grabbing five different kinds of flour for his ingredients in the quickfire and then serving up a ricotta cake with ricotta frosting (Dude, what is it with you and ricotta?) that, against all odds, managed to be too salty. Nothing screams “unforced error” like a dessert challenge with overseasoned ricotta.

Anyway, so long, Kevin, we hardly knew ye. The only upside of Kevin leaving so soon is that maybe people won’t notice that the Napoleon Dynamite jokes I’ve been making about him are basically the same as the ones I made about Carrie all last season. In my defense, I only know about three jokes.

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