The most anticipated challenge of Top Chef is “restaurant wars,” and this season it came early (not that there’s anything wrong with that). As one contestant noted, restaurant wars usually doesn’t happen until week eight! That’s how you know this show has been on a long time: the contestants are so well versed in how it works that they can “well actually” the timing of a challenge.
Early restaurant wars meant a few things — three teams instead of two, a two-part episode, and no Graham Elliot in this one, which meant I didn’t throw things at the TV, but also I can’t just post a screencap of his silly outfit in my recap for easy dunks. This episode also had a double elimination. Wait, scratch that, it teased a double elimination, but it won’t actually happen until the next episode, because this one was a To Be Continued. They still have these? Sheesh. Delay my gratification?! What is this, the 30s?
The lack of a proper ending means these rankings are less scientific than usual (and they’re usually incredibly scientific). Top Chef‘s editors are certainly setting a few contestants up as the villains, incompetents, and nincompoops, but the question is, are these storylines background or just fodder for big exciting twists? Are they serving us confirmation or surprise? Time will tell, folks, and I for one can’t wait.
The elimination challenge left unfinished, but there was a Quickfire challenge based on the amuse bouche. “Amuse bouche” is, of course, a French phrase meaning “fun mouth” — which was also your mom’s nickname in junior high. It refers to a bite-sized dish that teases the palate and gets you all horned up to shove more food in your dumb face. Imagine the chips and salsa you get at a Mexican restaurant, only you only get one chip with a dollop of salsa on it and the food costs ten times more. ¡Cuisine!
Restaurant Wars Teams
Orange Team. “Northeast”: Adrienne, Brian, Eddie, Eric (We’ll call them The Favorite)
Blue Team. “Third Coast”: David, Justin, Kelsey, Nini. (The Underdog)
Gray Team. “Thistle”: Brandon, Michelle, Pablo, Sara. (The Dark Horse)
1. (+5) Michelle Minori — AKA: Screen Time. AKA: Who? AKA: Yung Shaman.
Michelle has gotten about five minutes combined screen time this season (when we learned that her grandmother was a drug shaman) and she managed to stay in the middle of the pack in every single challenge until this one. But she amused many a bouche with her tiny take on halibut ceviche. If I’ve said it once I’ve said it a thousand times, Top Chef judges f*cking love a crudo. Crudo is the reverse risotto.
It helps her ranking that Michelle is on a team that doesn’t look like it’s going to lose this restaurant wars (with Sara as front of house manager) and the agnolotti that she was working on looked pretty good. “Those are good looking agnolotti,” said Tom Colicchio, and you know that dude would just love to jump on you for sub-par agnolotti. Tom Colicchio lives to mansplain stuffed pasta, so they must’ve been good. Therefore, Michelle is my slight favorite to win this next challenge. Maybe we’ll even learn something about her.
2. (+1) Eric Adjepong — AKA: Ghana. AKA: Sports.
Eric has given off an air of class president this whole time and cooked food that consistently made me say “oooh that looks good” to the TV while sitting alone in my apartment (it’s a thing I do). Nonetheless, he hadn’t landed a top finish until this week’s quickfire, when a tiny curry put him in the top three. I feel vindicated. In the elimination challenge, he got a little grief from Adrienne (Hollow Bones) for making Eddie reduce his sauce, the editors seemingly setting him up as the team underachiever, but if we take the editors’ choices at face value, his team is probably going to win anyway. He and Adrienne have a Tracy Flick-Paul Metzler kind of a thing going on, if Tracy Flick was more of a granola NPR lady.
3. (+2) Eddie Konrad — AKA: Smiles. AKA: The Accountant. AKA: Seppuku. AKA: Sweaty Eddie. AKA: Calamity.
We didn’t get as many shots of Eddie sweating over a decision or looking like he was going to commit suicide over a broken emulsion this week, and, having to once again shop with a budget for a challenge, he even got to redeem his much-discussed Overpriced Lamb Debacle from episode two (guys, stop trying to make this “Moneybags” nickname happen, mine are much better). He seems calm (for Eddie), he’s on a team that looks like a favorite, and he said he was making a strip steak and a crudo.
I’m calling him a favorite based on the crudo alone.
4. (+9) Brandon Rosen — AKA: Heydrich. AKA: Biff. AKA: Shhhh.
Brandon is really pissing me off, not doing anything overtly douchey for the past two episodes and nearly winning the quickfire for his bouche amusing mini chowder (something something your mom). Own your brand, Brandon! Be more terrible! Coming up with jokes for this every week is hard enough. Anyway, the editors are clearly setting Brandon up as a favorite this episode, making him look like a real helpful guy and offering a whole vignette where Kelsey gossips to her teammates that Brandon’s team should just listen to Brandon because Brandon is so smart. I feel like only a person from Alabama could be this impressed by Brandon’s intellect.
One caveat to Brandon’s high ranking is that he’s apparently making a “soy milk custard” in the elimination challenge which, and I say this as someone who absolutely isn’t a corny vegan hater, sounds like complete and utter ass. It sounds like one of those high risk/low reward dishes that at best will turn out surprisingly tolerable. It’s like when the waiter takes your order without writing it down. No one is impressed at your memory trick, dude, the best possible outcome is that you don’t fuck up something most of us assumed was pretty easy to begin with so maybe just write it down there, okay Capitan?
Anyway, a soy custard is exactly like that.
5. (-1) Sara Bradley — AKA: Party Mom. AKA: G-Squared
Party Mom won some plaudits for her shrimp and sunchoke dish in the quickfire but didn’t make the top three. Then her team elected her Front of House manager, which could really go either way. Electing the life of the party as your party planner, they either lead by example and everyone has a blast or they chug all the beer before the girls get there and pass out in the bathtub. Time will tell with Party Mom.
Sara is on the team that’s clearly getting the least screen time, getting edged out by over-involved Front of the House manager Brian and under-involved FOH manager Nini. It’s hard to say what that means just yet, but if anyone goes home from Sara’s team my money’s on Pablo.
6. (+6) AKA: The Hair. AKA: Hipster Joe Flamm. AKA: Son of Shhh.
This week Brian revealed that he used to be in an indie band before he bottomed out, got sober, and found food, which has to be the least surprising revelation in the history of this show. Let us remember that in episode one I described his hairstyle as “I used to sing in a hardcore band before I went back to grad school.”
Anyway, Brian finished last episode at the bottom, having come to Top Chef without any dessert experience. This week he stayed out of the bottom in the Quickfire, got elected FOH manager for restaurant wars, and then spent all night writing a “service manual” for his waitstaff. The editors are clearly setting him up to look like the teacher’s pet, showing up on time with his homework all finished, so we’ll see how it plays out. Naturally, I’ll be rooting for the team who decided to drink wine in the bathtub.
7. (+2) Adrienne Wright — AKA: NPR. AKA: Dangles. AKA: Hollow Bones.
Adrienne had the most on-brand moment of any competitor this week, when she had the wait staff “pass around the service manual, with each of you reading one paragraph out loud.”
Born to be a kindergarten teacher, this one. Adrienne landed on the bottom of this week’s quickfire, but she’s on the team that the editors seem to be setting up for victory in the elimination, so who knows. Maybe she’ll win and celebrate by finger painting a new smock dress.
8. (-6). David Viana — AKA: Maybe. AKA: Superfan.
Mousy lil David won (almost?) every quickfire until this one, which landed him in the bottom three. I don’t know how much you can read into that one though, not many people can make stuffed pasta in 20 minutes like David attempted to. Thank God Tom wasn’t judging that one, he would’ve flipped over a table. Hubris was the theme of the episode, with David’s superteam assuming they were going to skate through restaurant wars on talent alone and finishing the episode looking like they were on the verge of imploding. That said, of the four chefs on his team, David seems like the least likely to go home. I don’t assume this setback will last long.
9. (-8) Nini Nguyen — AKA: Brooklyn. AKA: Bad Cop.
Coming off two straight wins, Nini is clearly being set up as the fall guy this time around, the AWOL FOH manager, fiddling with her ice cream while her wait staff stands around like cattle waiting to be herded. OH GOD, WHAT DO WE DO?? This is why you don’t drink wine in the bathtub when you should be doing your homework, Nini. God, I hope Nini’s team wins. The entire fantasy of the service industry for desk-bound schmucks like me is that you can spend the entire time getting drunk and having fun. Do not ruin this for me, Top Chef!
10. (+1) Pablo Lamon — AKA: One Plug. AKA: Smooth Fabio. AKA: Brint.
The editors broke a sweat trying to position Smooth Fabio as… stubborn (?) this week, though I don’t know how much it paid off. Pablo spent basically the entire time testing food on Brandon who gave him different variations on Randy Jackson’s “hmmm, a little pitchy, dog.”
Wasn’t the theme of this entire episode trusting yourself? Listen to your ear plug, Pablo! Oye, cook Padma some feesh! If Pablo’s team loses over bad food, my money is on Pablo getting sent home.
11. (-3) Kelsey Barnard Clark — AKA: Wine Mom. AKA: Elle Woods. AKA: Roll Tide. AKA: Can I Speak To Your Manager?
Kelsey, who — as you’ll remember from the first episode — promised to surprise us by not cooking Southern food, this week cooked a shrimp and grits hush puppy in the quickfire. That turned out to be too big for an amuse bouche and it dropped her into the bottom three. Kelsey, you’re so on brand and you don’t even know it.
Kelsey gloated along with her superteam favorites, getting drunk on wine and their own hubris, but now it’s looking like it’s all about to fall apart. If Kelsey got sent home I would miss her most of all, but it would be a just punishment for telling someone that they should listen to Brandon.
12. (-5) Justin Sutherland — AKA: New Spike. AKA: Cheech. AKA: Slick. AKA The Weez. AKA: Bacon.
This was the week Justin the chill fedora guy finally lost his chill. First Justin got mad at Nini for not doing enough prep work and pulled her away from training the wait staff, then when she was doing prep work he got mad at her for not training the staff. Which one is it, Justin! Sheesh, Cheech sure gets crabby without his weed. Or maybe it’s because the normally fedora’d Justin was wearing a sweatband instead of a fedora this week. Is it a coincidence that he lost his chill and his fedora at the same time? Perhaps he needs the Fedora of Ultimate Chill to properly center him in the mindful mindset (Justin seems like a guy who uses the word “mindful,” doesn’t he?). Or maybe the sports headband turned him all competitive. I could see Justin’s mood being decided entirely by headwear, like a Lego man.
Anyway, I put him last because he seemed the maddest, and the mad person on the worst team usually gets into a pissing contest at judges table that ends in them getting sent home.