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Top Chef Rankings, Season 17 Finale: Why You Make-A The Butcher Cry? Molto Embarrasante!

Not to get too inside beefball here, but this week’s rankings require some explanation. See, the way this usually works is, I get an advanced screener of the show a day ahead of air, watch it a few times, and write these power rankings in time to get the post up as soon as the show finishes its first airing. But being the finale, this week’s advance screener does not include the final act, to keep any of us hacks from spoiling the ending for you piggies.

Which is to say, at the time of this writing, I’ve seen the entire show except for the part revealing who wins. And so this week’s rankings will be entirely speculative (though educated!). Phew! Now then.

This week’s episode capped off… I don’t know, a pretty good season, all in all, no? I was bummed to see Gregory go home, but overall I was still reasonably invested in the remaining contestants’ stories, which isn’t always true. Could Bryan Voltaggio finally close the deal, after being runner-up on both Top Chef and Top Chef Masters? Could Stephanie Cmar complete one of the all-time Top Chef Cinderella stories? Or would Melissa King ice a competition that’s felt like hers to win almost all season (definitely since Gregory left)?

You say HUMAN, I say INTEREST; hu-MAN! int-TREST!

Before the competition could even kick-off, the judges flipped the script by cooking dinner for the contestants. Or should I say, the judges’ alter egos cooked dinner. Hey, look! It’s Eyeglass Padma, the klutzy (yet sexy) nerd!

Bravo

And my God, is that Grandpa Tom over there, in his favorite Papa Smurf hat?

Bravo

Note: Grandpa Tom appears only fleetingly, like a shooting star in the night sky. He kept the Papa Smurf hat on so briefly that this screencap was the clearest shot of it.

I know what you’re thinking, and yes, Gail Simmons was there too, but in her original form, because Canadians lack the guile necessary for alter egos. (*extremely Canadian voice*) Chad, you hoser, that’s just you in a toque!

After a nice meal, Padma announced that the final challenge would be to serve a four-course progressive menu, “no twists.” Oh wait, here’s Lee Anne and Shenanigans! Tell me bringing Lee Anne back isn’t a twist. That’s right, three of the eliminated contestants showed up to play sous chef: Lee Anne Wong, Brian “Shenanigans” Malarkey the Stretched Out Leprechaun, and Kevin “Foghorn Kevhorn” Gillespie, the Grandstandin’ Southerner. Could they still blow the competition from beyond the grave?

THE COMPETITORS

Stephanie Cmar

NBC-Universal

AKA: C-Monster. Aka Underdog. Aka C-Truffle. Aka Smar Ya Later. Aka Muammar Kataifi.

Just in this week’s intro, we discovered that Stephanie Cmar wasn’t Stephan Sea Mar at all, like I’d always assumed, but rather Stephanie Smar. Stephanie SMAR?! You’re killin’ me, Smars! Well hell, I guess I’ll just C myself out of here.

Drawing the first choice of sous chef, Smar Ya Later chose Brian Malarkey, a surprise twist! Would this decision come to haunt her? I say, “no.” Malarkey can cook his ass off, and his overbearing personality makes him an ideal hypeman. Think Twee Flava Flav. Plus, he doesn’t have a chance to ADD himself to death when someone else is calling the shots.

After that, Steph revealed her friendship with Kristen Kish and became the first chef to do the “Italian chef’s kiss” gesture in Italy. How the hell did it take this long?

Steph’s Menu:

Bravo

Bryan Voltaggio

NBC-Universal

AKA: Flatbill Dad. Aka Bry Voltage. Aka Kyle Shanahan. Aka Linkin Clark Griswold. Aka Family Bry.

After the Italians called Family Bry less than a man last week because they didn’t like his cheese, and then tore out his heart and stomped on it on national television, he vowed this week that “I will slap ’em in the face full of heart and soul!”

Uh, yeah, go get em, Linkin Clark! Slap their faces with… Uh, I mean slap their faces full of… heart and soul. Sure, sure.

While Stephanie C was calling up her bestie K-squared, Linkin Clark cranked up a Skype call with a Top Chef winner of his own: his little bro, Michael Voltaggio.

Bravo

Egads! How did I never notice before now that Bryan Voltaggio/Michael Voltaggio and Colin/Chet Hanks have the exact same brother dynamic?

Bone-chilling. You have no idea how angry I am at myself for missing this obvious observation.

Anyway, Bryan chose Kevin as his sous chef, which seems… fine? They have different styles but seem to get along. Unless Kevin somehow accidentally drops a ham hock in something this seems like a perfectly cromulent choice.

Bryan’s Menu

Bravo

Melissa King

NBC Universal

AKA: Zen Master. Aka Dimples. Aka Shutterstock. Aka Valedictorian.

Despite choosing last, Chef Melissa “got stuck” with the other Asian chef with whom she’d be cooking Chinese-influence Italian food. That seems like a really good last pick! That’s just sort of how this competition has been going for Melissa. But would loud, frazzled Lee Anne somehow find a way to flap the seemingly unflappable Melissa King?

I doubt it, but it was nice of the editors to introduce the possibility. Gotta keep us piggies guessing.

Melissa’s Menu:

Bravo

Pre-Service Menu Rankings

The progressive dining challenges raise the inevitable question: which tasting menu would you order if you had the choice between these three? Pretending I knew nothing about the chefs in question or how they’d prepared the food other than the way it’s listed, I think I’d go:

1. Stephanie
2. Melissa
3. Bryan

Sight unseen: the two most intriguing menu items here to me are Bryan’s lasagna and Melissa’s cha siu octopus, but Steph’s sounds the most solid all the way through (my fervor for agnolotti with szechuan chili oil is dampened somewhat by the presence of squash, a food I have never in my life been able to get excited for). Melissa’s leans weird and Bryan’s waffles between why (soil! no one wants to eat fucking soil!) and what’s that (cacciucco, squid ink focaccia)?

Having seen the food, I give the edge to Melissa. Steph’s “milk-braised veal” becomes a little less intriguing once you know she’s using one big lean piece of veal. Madon’, wrap some fat around that baby, wouldja, Schmar? Daddy hates a dry meat. Meanwhile, those porcinis Melissa was roasting made me squint my eyes and raise the backs of my hands in front of my face like the spirit of my Noni. Holy hell that looked amazing.

Post-Service Dish Rankings

First Course

Tie, Stephanie and Melissa. These all looked pretty amazing, and I’m sure Bryan’s beets were good, but it just doesn’t inspire me quite like the char siu octopus or the shrimp wrapped in a nest of crispy fillo. Fillo noodles? As a half-Italian/quarter Armenian how the hell did I not know that exists?

Second Course

Bryan. I think he crushed that lasagna, even if he did put kale on top. That fluffy ricotta bechemel (I think I can hear Zach somewhere, screaming his head off that this is technically a mornay because of the cheese) put it over the bar. And finally, he learned to introduce it with a personal story, about his mom cooking them dinners every night. Even if it wasn’t that great a story, especially after Stephanie brought up her dead brother in the first course and made Gail cry.

Third Course

Melissa, in a walk. Those porcinis, madon’!

Fourth Course

My eyes say Stephanie (hard to beat anything bread pudding related), but based on feedback I think it has to be Melissa. She made Dario Cecchini cry! Even Cecchini (easily the best goofy foreigner guest judge since Wolfgang Puck) seemed embarrassed about it. Ay, you make-a you butcher cry, che pecato! I don’t know what it says about Dario Cecchini that he heard a heartwrenching story about Stephanie’s departed brother and his eyes were drier than an overcooked turkey breast, but took one bite of a milk tea tiramisu and cried like a baby. I don’t know what it says about me that a dead brother story washed right over me but an Italian butcher crying over tiramisu got me a little misty.

All I know is that Bryan Voltaggio sure didn’t win this course. Soil?! Va fongool!

Final Thoughts

Theoretically, we don’t know the outcome, but come on. It was Melissa, right? Her mushroom made Marcus Samuelsson clutch his chest, and her dessert brought the butcher to tears. SHE BROUGHT THE BUTCHER TO TEARS. If that isn’t the Top Chef equivalent of a walk-off home run I don’t know what is. If I’m wrong on this, you can chase me out of my house with a rolling pin.

Vince Mancini is on Twitter. Read more of his cooking commentary in UPROXX’s Cooking Battles and Viral Cooking. For past Top Chef Power Rankings, go here.

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