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‘Top Chef’ Power Rankings, Week 5: So Hard To Find Good Help These Days

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This week on Top Chef we saw the thrilling conclusion of restaurant wars, that perennial Top Chef challenge in which the chefs take a break from food and suddenly get judged on things like interior design and the competence of their staff. I exaggerate slightly, but is this anyone else’s least favorite challenge? Don’t get me wrong, it’s good television and everything, it’s just that I always feel like I’ve stumbled into Hell’s Kitchen.

It’s all dramatic music and people fighting and shots of blurry customers. It stresses me out!

There’s a certain kind of escapism that comes from watching someone get judged solely for the texture of their risotto. Restaurant Wars is lots more interpersonal politics and economic realities and people yelling at each other and someone getting blamed for someone else’s mistakes, and another person losing a promotion because they didn’t toot their own horn enough. TOO REAL. Give me Tom Colicchio balling someone out for overly toothsome canapés any day.

On the plus side, after a whole season of missed sex pun opportunities, about juicy meat and Nini’s spicy box, Padma finally released her inner pervert and acknowledged the euphemistic value of a custard with “a nice jiggle.” Thank God. Own your brand, Padma. And that brand is being an elegant supermodel and brilliant cosmopolitan author who is not above a “that’s what she said.” Padma can say “that’s what she said” with only her eyes.

By the way, was it too much to ask to find some servers and hosts who know who Padma is? First, a hostess asked her “what’s the reservation under?” Really? Imagine not knowing this was a famous chick:

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That’s the jacket equivalent of being carried in on a litter. Later, Sara asked a waiter if he knew which one Padma was and he admitted that he didn’t. Hmm, probably the seven-foot tall one sitting on a jewel-encrusted sedan? Or perhaps the only one at the table who clearly hails from the subcontinent? I feel like this is low-level process of elimination here.

1. (+2) Eddie Konrad — AKA: Smiles. AKA: The Accountant. AKA: Seppuku. AKA: Sweaty Eddie. AKA: Calamity.

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Eddie number one?! Believe it. No, he didn’t “win” this episode, an honor that went to Brian, for Brian’s front of the house management and chicken ballotine, which easily overshadowed Eddie’s “forgotten crudo” in the appetizer round. But let’s not forget: Eddie was the one who actually cooked the ballotine. And it’s not like Brian invented chicken ballotine, the cooking part is kind of the whole deal, no?

Then, in the entree round, judge Nilou Motamed said “Eddie’s puree eats like magic” which is something I’ve always dreamed of a woman saying about me. Eddie has been just off the lead for a bunch of challenges in a row now, and it looks like he’s on the verge of sewing his pinky back on and really taking charge of this competition.

2. (+6). David Viana — AKA: Maybe. AKA: Superfan. AKA: Mouse.

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The smallest-voiced Top Chef competitor who phrases all his statements with a question mark continued his strategy of being incredibly low-impact this week. David earned praise for his snapper and creole duck and despite being on the losing team was never in danger of being eliminated. David feels like a near lock to make it to the finale, but if he doesn’t I imagine he’ll still be super polite about it.

3. (-2) Michelle Minori — AKA: Screen Time. AKA: Who? AKA: Yung Shaman.

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Michelle crushed her agnolotti this week just like we knew she would, with some of the judges calling it their favorite of the night. Somehow, this did not earn her the win. So why isn’t she ranked higher? I don’t know. Like Donald Trump’s net worth, these power rankings are based on however I feel that day. Michelle seems like a favorite, and that’s about all I have to say about her. We’re going to need a visit from her shaman grandma to make her interesting.

4. (even) Brandon Rosen — AKA: Heydrich. AKA: Biff. AKA: Shhhh.

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It pains me to put Brandon at the number four spot, just off the leaders, even though he has been much more tolerable since episode one. That being said, even when he’s not being overtly obnoxious Brandon still has the facial expressions of someone who’s never had a face before. This week he sabotaged Sarah’s soup by spiking it with pickled ginger, though his soy custard (sorry that still sounds terrible) had the “nice jiggle” Padma loves.

The judges also thought the corn he put on his dessert was weird (imagine that!). Come on, being corny is Brandon’s brand.

5. (even) Sara Bradley — AKA: Party Mom.

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Sara’s biggest contribution to this episode was taking so long to explain the menu to the judges that the editors had to use a time-lapse montage. Shouldn’t the rolling eyes and long sighs have been a clue to wrap it up? Read the room, lady!

There was also a nice moment where the editors contrasted Sara’s egalitarian front of the house management style to some of the other competitors, like Kelsey.

SARA: I always try to treat everyone with respect. These are my people, you know?

SMASH CUT TO:

KELSEY: Could someone PLEASE tell the help to hold their breath when they enter the room with me?? Their vulgar breath is fogging my pearls!

Anyway, it was hard to tell how good Sara’s actual food was this week, seeing as how Brandon sabotaged her soup with excessive ginger. She seems solidly middle of the pack.

6. (even) Eric Adjepong — AKA: Ghana. AKA: Sports.

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Eric still seems like student body president, but I had to ding him a few spots for his salty pork. He made a scallop and pork dish with carrots two ways (a duo duo!) and the judges loved his scallops, but his salty pork made Padma make this face:

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That’s Padma’s “tasting salty pork” face. I much prefer her “acknowledging a sex pun” face:

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Mmm, that’s the good stuff.

7. (even) Adrienne Wright — AKA: NPR. AKA: Dangles. AKA: Hollow Bones.

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Adrienne made two desserts this week, one a cheese plate with some bread, the other what looked like some yogurt on a plate topped with a single peach and some granola — er, excuse me, hazelnut crumble:

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You call that a dessert? The judges loved it, by the way. Next week Adrienne is going to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with the crusts cut off and read us facts about Siberian tigers from Zoobooks. Oh look, she brought orange slices for the whole team! What a brilliant dish!

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

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Extremely on brand Kelsey quote of the week: “Servers! I don’t want to hear your voices.”

SERVERS! Do NOT make eye contact with Kelsey! This is a Lululemon chef’s coat and your tawdry leering destroys the resale value.

So yeah, Kelsey was caught in the maelstrom of team Third Coast (the third coast is strife!), though she did manage to make a well-received pannacotta in between dressing down the help and sabotaging Nini’s dessert. Who the hell even knows where Kelsey stands right now? She’s up, she’s down, she’s drinking too much wine and getting loose with the gossip…

God help me I love Kelsey. I hope she stays in this competition solely for the joke fodder.

9. (-3) AKA: The Hair. AKA: Hipster Joe Flamm. AKA: Slouches The Wonder Butcher.

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Brian won this week, so why do I have him so low? I don’t know, I guess it’s because he mostly won for his front of the house management (the last time this skill will be rewarded in the competition) and it seemed like he got all the credit for Eddie’s cooking.

I admit, my reaction might just be a response to Brian basically writing an HR manual during this challenge and saying that he wanted to “build a culture.” Barf, dude, go run an insurance company if you’re going to talk like that. Soulless corporate speak should be shamed, not rewarded.

Then again, the last time I wrote off the guy who won restaurant wars for his front of the house management, the guy ended up winning the entire competition (that would be Joe Flamm, last season). Also, did anyone else notice that Brian kind of looked and sounded like Droopy Dog in a suit? I’ve never seen a human who so much resembled a cartoon dog.

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

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The Weez was notably unchill this entire episode, getting super pissed at Nini over her front-of-the-house management. To be fair, having your food constantly sent back would piss anyone off (I had to rewrite an entire “best of” list last week because my browser ate it and I still haven’t gotten over it), though it’s a little unclear whose fault their team’s disarray actually was. It seemed like Nini mostly didn’t get to train the staff not out of carelessness but because the team hadn’t budgeted enough time for their prep work. And as executive chef, wasn’t that partly Justin’s job? And was it wrong to expect the wait staff to understand table numbers?

Moreover, how didn’t any of this come up during judges table? Justin managed to make one of the worst dishes (the dreaded viscous bisque) while captaining the losing team and somehow wasn’t even in the conversation for who would be sent home. Classic Wee-eez. If Justin goes this entire season without extolling the virtues of CBD oil I will eat my own ass.

11. (-2) ((Eliminated)) Nini Nguyen — AKA: Brooklyn. AKA: Bad Cop.

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WHAAAAT?!? Can you believe this season’s most prolific challenge winner went home for being a bad hostess? I guess Nini is to blame for inheriting a wait staff who couldn’t understand table numbers or the concept of needing a spoon to eat soup, but it seems, I dunno, a smidge harsh. Less forgivable I suppose was her food, a chocolate something-or-other surprise, with a sometimes cacao nib sorbet. Tom said it wasn’t nearly chocolatey enough to please a chocoholic, which makes sense because chocoholics are like the food equivalent of Disney freaks. Here is my most controversial food take: chocolate isn’t that good. I’ve never gotten that excited about chocolate. Hurrr, I love eating beans for dessert, durrrr.

I genuinely hope Nini wins Last Chance Kitchen because she got a raw deal.

12. (-2) ((Eliminated)) Pablo Lamon — AKA: One Plug. AKA: Smooth Fabio. AKA: Brint.

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Well we all saw this one coming, didn’t we? Smooth Fabio had been underperforming for a while. His unforgivable sin this week was serving scallops with some kind of sweet applesauce and a short rib dish that turned out far too toothsome. As one of the judges pointed out, “if you dropped this short rib off a building it would stay in one piece.”

Because as we all know, the true test of a short rib is how well it does suicide. Anyway, we’ll miss you, Smooth Fabio. We’ll never forget your sexy accent and uncanny ability to have perfectly uniform hair length on your neck and skull.

(*singing*) One plug over the line, Sweet Mary, one plug over the line…

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

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