With the race becoming too close to call on Top Chef, this week gave us… (*gasp*) a double elimination! Going into this episode, there were two obvious candidates for that double elimination, who I think we all could agree on. But surprise surprise, they both avoided the guillotine’s blade. Lotta that goin’ around lately.
Before that, there was a quickfire challenge in which the contestants were assigned to make “the perfect dish, using flour.” The twist? No all-purpose flour! Instead, they only had an assortment of no-purpose flours! Unorthodox flours only! Tapioca? I hardly know-ca!
They were only given 30 minutes to complete this challenge, which was somewhat disappointing considering that every sourdough-starting bandwagon baker bro in the country was probably hoping to see how those flours might rise. Wait, no crumb shot? Man, this bread porno sucks. Honestly, how are you going to do a flour challenge where no one uses yeast? Oh, gosh you made a roux? How exciting.
To judge this challenge, they brought in Gru from Despicable Me.
I kid, I kid. Clearly that’s Chris Bianco, the world-famous pizza man. He joked that while he had dedicated his life to pizza, the contestants’ dishes did not actually need to be round. At this Bryan Voltaggio let out a hearty guffaw and wrote it down to save for later. “Ha ha ha,” he said, shaking his head. “What’ll they think of next.”
After that, the boys and girls drew knives, with each knife representing one of the five tastes — salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami. Dang, which one is a crudo? They paired off into teams of two and had to build dishes based on the flavors on their knives. That’s when Padma dropped the bomb: it was to be a dreaded double elimination challenge, in which two people would go home.
A conductor of the LA Philharmonic was brought in to help judge and the contestants got to tour the Walt Disney Concert Hall in order to inspire the proper quotient of bad music metaphors. “Hmm, the sustain on these smoked peaches is superb, but I do wonder if the uni foam needed to be so fortissimo.”
10. (-5) ((Eliminated)) Nini Nguyen
AKA: Broad City. Aka Quipz. Aka Bolo. Aka Gwyneth.
Nini went full wellness in the first five minutes of this week’s episode (the slot the producers reserve for screwball comedy) charging up her crystals in the sun with Malarkey and Melissa. Did you get the sun on your yoni? I heard the crystals don’t work with a shaded yoni. I guess crystals were inevitable in a season set in LA. But if someone busts out an e-meter I’m leaving.
Nini’s banh xeo (a bomb-ass savory Vietnamese crepe, I highly recommend) landed her in the top three of the quickfire, but after teaming up with Karen in the elimination, the pair cooked up a poached cod in tomato broth, which the judges said was a beautiful dish, but ate more sweet and sour, rather than umami and sour like it was supposed to. Tom was incredulous. Apoplectic that a professional chef could fail to roast their tomatoes for additional umami flavor. “Honestly, you should probably just kill yourself,” Tom said, handing Nini a .357 magnum.
And so Nini and Karen went home (pending the outcome of Last Chance Kitchen) in a double-elimination based on this season’s bitchiest nitpick. Pretty rough. For those keeping score in your Top Chef hoarders trapper keeper, this was the second time Nini has gone home during a double elimination. This time she even got booted right after placing top three in the quickfire.
9. (-3) ((Eliminated)) Karen Akunowicz
AKA: Good Witch. Aka Glenda. Aka Aunt Kitty. Aka Rosie The Triveter
Assuming you read the above you know that Karen was eliminated along with Nini. I am shocked, SHOCKED that Karen left the competition before Lee Anne, Malarkey, and Stephanie C-Monster. Karen didn’t make the quickfire top three like Nini did, though she did reveal a background in musical theater during the trip to the concert hall. Hold on, the contestant with the pink hair and cat-eye make up was into musical theater?! Please, someone pick my jaw up off the floor.
It was a disappointing finish rendered disappointing-er by the fact that Nini and Karen are almost the exact same size.
RIP, Team Twinsies.
8. (+1) Brian Malarkey
AKA: Shenanigans. Aka Grandpa Fancy. Aka Squirrely. Aka The Imp. Aka Leprechón.
Everything in this episode seemed to be leading us to a Shenanigans Swan Song. First, he recharged his crystals with Melissa and Nini, because of course. Then he attempted ice cream in the quickfire. It turned out he nailed the ice cream but couldn’t finish the accompanying donut, which was disqualifying in a flour challenge. He nonetheless took the opportunity to brag about his ice cream and paint the judges a mental picture of his non-existent donut. You gotta hand it to him, Squirrely can sure talk his way out of a jam. Almost like he has lots of practice or something.
When the judges let the contestants choose their own partners in the elimination challenge, Malarkey and Lee Anne ended up being stuck together, on what I like to call “Team Stench Of Failure.” This after Shenanigans “threw Lee Anne under the bus” two episodes ago, by blaming her own dish on her. They fought the entire time, could barely agree on anything, and ended up making… the judge’s second favorite dish of the night. They called it the best food either had cooked so far and said things like “you could really taste the team harmony, you guys worked as a cohesive unit, and it really came through in the dish.”
C’est la vie said the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell.
7. (+1) Lee Anne Wong
AKA: Frazzle. Aka Loud Mom. Aka 911.
For the second week in a row Lee Anne managed to go without getting the paramedics called on her or her family members, which was a victory in itself. As if that wasn’t feat enough, she snaked all the endive to sabotage Eric and Bryan, and then her and Shenanigans’ “beef with miso anchovy hollandaise and bitter greens” (Umami/Bitter) damn near won them the episode. Just veteran move after veteran move from Lee Anne this episode. She’s right, one should never apologize for gamesmanship. Remember where Ned Stark ended up after all that time moaning about honor — headless in a mass grave.
Lee Anne tried to keep Shenanigans from buying carrots and tomatoes, only to end up feeding him carrots in the winner’s circle. Goes to show, sometimes you just have to pat Malarkey’s flanks to keep him calm (if you blow a whistle behind him he pees on the ground).
6. (even) Eric Adjepong
AKA: Ghana. Aka Thesis. Aka Uncle Rico. Aka Kanye West Africa.
At this point, you might be noticing some weird things happening in this week’s rankings. Look, what can I tell you about Eric? He’s been coming on strong for the last three episodes and the first half of this one, but as soon as I saw his and Family Bry’s bone dry pork loin I thought they were going home. Pulling sweet/bitter, they spent hours making a maafe lacquer (*Borat voice* Ma afe!) for their pork loin only to discover that, yep, it was still a pork loin. There’s only so much you can accomplish with a pork loin crust when your crust-to-meat ratio is like skin-of-grape-to-rest-of-grape. Sure, Lee Anne swiped their endive but endive doesn’t put fat in pork loin am I right, guys?
Again, I’m shocked they didn’t go home. So does Eric rise in the rankings or plummet? I can’t bring myself to put him below Malarkey and Lee Anne or above anyone with high finishes this episode so I guess he holds steady at six.
5. (+5) Stephanie Cmar
AKA: C-Monster. Aka Underdog. Aka C-Truffle.
Speaking of funky rankings, what do you do with C-Monster? She was paired with Gregory, almost certainly the favorite of this competition, and they received solid reviews on their brothy fish. She has to be above the challenge losers (Nini, Karen), the perennial basement dwellers (Lee Anne, Brian), and arguably Eric, who almost got sent home for his dry ass pork loin. So the C-Monster shoots up to number five, even though she was merely competent. Is this a new beginning or a peak? I guess we’ll C.
4. (even) Bryan Voltaggio
AKA: Flatbill Dad. Aka Bry Voltage. Aka Kyle Shanahan. Aka Linkin Clark Griswold. Aka Family Bry
Most days Family Bry exudes the energy of an active flatbill dad in the Kyle Shanahan mode, looking to grill up some burgers and down a few Bud Light Limes between longboard seshes. This week, he seemed more like Kyle Shanahan after blowing another Super Bowl lead and going on a three-day bender in Vegas, complete with five o’clock shadow.
First, he blew the quickfire by cooking a delicious dish that used flour only in a crumble. He ended up in the bottom three alongside the other Brian. Then he hooked up with Eric in the elimination challenge for the aforementioned moisture-free pork loin debacle. Bry Voltage opened this competition looking like a favorite, but this is three or four lackluster finishes in a row now. I still have him at number four but I admit he’s skating by on reputation at this point.
3. (even) Kevin Gillespie
AKA: Hops. Aka Oops All Kevins. Aka Bachelor Fried Rice. Aka Thicc Kev.
While the new wave hippie contestants were recharging their crystals in the sun this week, I like to imagine Southern Good Ol’ Boy Kevin was snorting a line of crushed pork rinds and sleeping inside a charred bourbon barrel for aromatherapy. Kevin has been nearly flawless these past few weeks, but he can’t quite pull ahead of prohibitive favorites Melissa and Gregory.
Paired with Melissa, Oops All Kevins turned in a “fish sauce caramel roasted cabbage with pork and apple crumble” for salty/sweet that ended up winning the challenge. But what can I do, put him ahead of his own partner? Or Gregory, who wins the quickfire every damn week? Kevin feels like the Charles Barkley of this competition, or maybe the Dan Marino, depending which sports metaphor you prefer.
2. (even) Melissa King
AKA: Zen Master. Aka Dimples. Aka Shutterstock.
Melissa is so put together and casually confident that she can even make believing in magic crystals seem reasonable. She landed in the top three of the quickfire for her financier (think Proust, not Mnuchin) but lost a squeaker to her only real competition, Gregory. Before you could say “fish sauce caramel” she was back on top thanks to some crafty cabbage work (between this and the charred endive in episode one she clearly knows how to char some veg). Should Melissa be number one? Ehhh. She and Kevin were a number two and three (based on last week’s rankings) going against a number one and 10. I don’t know much about math or sports or odds or how to apply those to cooking competitions but it seems to me like she and Big Kev had the advantage all along.
1. (even) Gregory Gourdet
AKA: Kravitz. Aka Hepcat. Aka Lids. Aka Pollos Hermanos.
Gregory dropped a bombshell of an advantage in the flour challenge: he’s been gluten-free for 10 years! I’ll be honest, I have nothing but respect for vegetarians and vegans but when someone tells me they’re non-Crohn’s disease gluten eschewers I mentally dismissive wank a little. As my ancestors would say: You donna like-a grandmama pasta??? VA VONGOOL!
This probably guarantees I will develop a gluten sensitivity in the next 10 years. Anyway, Gregory basically cemented his place at the top of these rankings when he won yet another quickfire cooking tapioca pancakes. He won with fucking pancakes! I haven’t ordered pancakes and not been sick of them after more than three bites since I reached puberty and this slick son of a bitch is beating entire baseball team worth of expert chefs with them. How do you even compete with a guy who’s winning challenges with fuckin’ tapioca pancakes?
Gregory is going to underbite smile his way across the finish line without even breaking a sweat. I’m not sure he even does sweat. Much like Melissa, this is a dude so chill he can pull off a studded leather vest with fringe.