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Top Chef Power Rankings, Week 8: The Restaurant Wars Martyr’s Brigade

Restaurant Wars returned to Top Chef this week, and guess what? I, your humble power ranker, was there. Sharp-eyed viewers would’ve seen me make my Bravo debut as “unkempt man who enjoys desserts.”

Vince Mancini

This is my brand now, I welcome it. Note the heavy pour on the wine glass. I kept the jacket on so you wouldn’t see my pit stains (I’m a sweaty one). We call that “professionalism.” Brian Malarkey waited on us. Here’s a picture of us looking like we just fell in love:

Kelley McGinnis (NBCUniversal )

What can I say, I get all dreamy around anyone who brings me Haitian food and drinks, especially if it’s a man with extremely high pant cuffs. Okay, that’s probably enough inside baseball (for now).

This week’s Restaurant Wars pitted Kevin Gillespie’s “Country Captain,” a restaurant that he modeled after fancy parties at his mee-maw’s house — in order to celebrate “the cuisine of the plantation south,” (whoa, Kev, ixnay on the antation-play, don’t you remember what happened a few seasons ago-fay?) against Gregory Gourdet’s Kann, a Haitian concept named after the local word for sugar cane. Would Restaurant Wars punish last week’s winners by forcing upon them the high-risk position of executive chef?

The short answer… sort of. As TopChefStats notes, the Restaurant War executive chef is the most likely to be sent home, but it’s a tie with front of the house manager, and only one ahead of line cook (not exactly a definitive statistical advantage). The breakdown for who wins are identical.

The chefs chose teams and divvied responsibilities, prepared their spaces, and did a service, all in just 48 hours. That seems impressive. But then again, what do we care? Take six weeks if you want, the show’s still only going to be about an hour.

With only one challenge for the whole episode, it was an opportunity to gin up some classic drrrama (with a capital RRR), which began with Team Kann pilfering Team Country Captain’s tableware (more on that below). It continued with Chef Lee Anne hulking out on some temp servers. Meanwhile, the most obnoxious part of Restaurant Wars remains the part where Padma has to spell her last name for the hostess. “Yes, reservation for Lakshmi? L-A-K…”

Right, I’m sure the 8-foot tall supermodel whose cleavage you can see from space needs an introduction. Oh right, I wondered why you were surrounded by all those cameras.

Anyway, enough preamble. To the rankings!

POWER RANKINGS

8. (-5) ((Eliminated)) Kevin Gillespie

Bravo

AKA: Hops. Aka Oops All Kevins. Aka Bachelor Fried Rice. Aka Thicc Kev. Aka Speech.

Thicc Kev was the Captain of Team Country Captain, which unfortunately slammed into an iceberg. Kevin took the noble way out and went down with the ship, if we were to believe Kevin.

20th Century Fox

Tom asked Kevin straight out if anyone should go home besides him. At which point Kevin launched into a speech worthy of the Oscar sequence from Wayne’s World.

“The monologue inside my head was my grandmother saying ‘you give them everything you can and then you give them more because that’s what you’re supposed to do with your guests,'” said Kevin. “To be very candid with you, I was raised to stand in front of your mistakes and own them for what they are. Frankly, I couldn’t live with myself if I tried to throw anybody under the bus to save myself.”

Damn, dog, nice speech. Did you just create your own personal lost cause myth? That’s some good martyring. Kevin’s about to receive 72 virgin daiquiris in Top Chef heaven for that sacrifice (is that enough borderline offensive analogies or should I try to squeeze in a Nazi one somehow?).

Might as well toot your own noble horn though, because after a season looking like a three or four seed almost the entire time, Kevin went home for something that ultimately did seem like his fault. The challenge seemed to turn on:

1. Kevin’s centerpiece “country captain” dish not tasting as good as it did the first time (possibly due to not being able to find the same curry powder). High expectations are a bitch. I suppose we could blame him for not making his own curry spice blend, but that seems cruel.

2. Bry Guy Voltaggio’s shrimp over grits dish eating more like an entree than a side. It was supposed to be shrimp gravy, but if you give Bry Voltage that kind of latitude, of course he’s going to cook up some $100 seafood dish fit for a sultan.

3. Karen’s weak-ass mushrooms — possibly due to her having to run ragged as the FOH manager with not enough time to prep servers.

4. Not enough banana in the banana pudding. You fools! I need more banana!

5. Grandmotherly decor and a tacky-ass menu that looked “very 80s Miami Vice,” according to the judges. I know this is a cooking competition but it’s all for naught if you can’t choose a font.

Which is to say, Kevin probably could’ve easily blamed Karen on the way out (weak dish, weak FOH management) and he might’ve gotten away with it. Was his only crime not micromanaging enough? Instead, he graciously took the blame and instantly got his honorable head lopped off like Ned Stark. C’mon, man, this show never rewards moral grandstanding. I’m with the judges on this one. You want to go home? Go home. I don’t want to see big speeches and people cooking the “right” way. Give me chef Draymond Green, throwing elbows and wanging Lebron in the ding dong. If you ain’t cheatin’ you ain’t tryin’, that’s what I say. What are you, here to make friends?

Though in the end, it does seem fitting that the Southerner went home for an overabundance of feeexins.

HBO

For the record, I would eat the hell out of everything Thicc Kev cooked this season.

7. (+1) Lee Anne Wong

NBC Universal

AKA: Frazzle. Aka Loud Mom. Aka 911. Aka The Teflon Wong. Aka Chefzilla.

When the going gets tough the tough get mean, that’s Lee Anne’s motto. Lee Anne has been clawing her way back into contention these past few weeks but seemed to almost snipe her way back to the bottom mid-service this week when she started to Chefzilla out on the temp wait staff for not having their orders organized. Damn, I thought she was about to toss one out of a helicopter as a warning to the others.

Seeing an impending disaster, the C-Monster volunteered to take over expediting duties and Chef Gregory swiftly made the swap, feelings be damned. The outcome and the editors at least would have us believe it was the right decision.

So where does Lee Anne stand now? She probably should’ve gone home four episodes ago, but I have to say: I ate Lee Anne’s food. She didn’t do anything especially fancy, or as impressive as that whole fish, but her salad and upside-down cake were the tastiest parts of the meal. If only Lee Anne can keep her heart rate down, she might keep this runaway truck on the road.

6. (even) Karen Akunowicz

Nicole Weingart/Bravo

AKA: Good Witch. Aka Glenda. Aka Aunt Kitty. Aka Rosie The Triveter

Not exactly a strong showing for the Good Witch this week but maybe that was because of Kevin and all his god damned feeexins. There was a big pileup in the dining room. Maybe Karen should’ve been better about tossing those lollygagging customers out on their asses after their meals were over, who knows. Let this be a lesson to the aspiring restauranteurs out there, the customer is always scum. Treat them like the dogs they are and they will beg you for treaty treats.

5. (+2) Stephanie Cmar

NBC Universal

AKA: C-Monster. Aka Underdog. Aka C-Truffle.

C-Monster has seemed like an also-ran for most of this season and still does, but you have to hand it to her for this episode. She stepped in before Lee Anne could go full Karen and demand to speak to her own manager (the proverbial Karen, not the literal chef named Karen). Steph’s quick thinking may not have saved the team but it certainly helped. She faithfully executed Gregory’s fried plantains and fish patties, but we’re left to wonder: is Stephanie at her best when taking orders?

4. (+1) Brian Malarkey

Bravo

AKA: Shenanigans. Aka Grandpa Fancy. Aka Squirrely. Aka The Imp. Aka Leprechón.

Another strong showing for Shenanigans this week in another challenge that seemed perfectly suited to his skill set. He skipped through the dining room using his leprechaun magic to convince us that we actually were on “Island Time” and it totally worked. Slow service? Nah, we were just relaxin’!

On the one hand, I can’t believe how far back Shenanigans has climbed after being so close to going home, but on the other, it doesn’t surprise me that someone with ADHD as intense as his thrives in a chaotic environment. Also, his outfit was even more magnificent in person. As my editor Steve wrote when I sent him the pictures, “Has there ever been a person more likely to wear a boater hat? Like you could travel the world hanging out with Harold Hill from Music Man and the gondoliers of Venice, and when they stumbled into this guy they’d all deferentially hand over their boater hats.”

He also may have torpedoed team Country Captain by casually stealing their entire place settings. Things got so heated that Kevin even called Malarkey “chintzy.” Holy shit! Back on mee-maw’s plantation them’s fightin’ words! I couldn’t tell whether this was calculated or if Shenanigans’ just assumed the dish place was laid out under IKEA rules. It looked like he maybe just assumed Kevin’s place setting was a showroom display.

As for the service, do we give Malarkey the credit for the roasted snapper that he theoretically cooked (which was wonderful, incidentally), or credit it to Gregory who probably handled more of the execution while Shenanigans was out glad-handing? Hard to say. But if Shenanigans makes it to the finale it would be the comeback to end all comebacks.

3. (+1) Bryan Voltaggio

Nicole Weingart/Bravo

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

This picture of Family Bry looking terrified kind of says it all. He seemed to smell disaster at every turn — too many dishes, not a focused enough menu, not enough time spent training the front of the house staff. I think he used the word “uneasy” 17 times. Can’t you listen to your dad? Listen to your dad! Bry Guy barely had time to let out a husky dad laugh. Easily my favorite part of the show this season.

Yet for all his Monday Morning Quarterbacking, it was partly his dish, the shrimp over grits, that was responsible for Kevin going home. You fool, that was supposed to be a fixin, not a share plate at the French Laundry! C’mon, Bry, no one likes a showboat. Act like you’ve been there before. That’s like number five on the list of 1o dad commandments, right after “if you haven’t put on a sweater don’t fiddle with the thermostat” and “time to lean, time to clean.”

Was it sabotage? Maybe this whole Linkin Clark Griswold thing act is just a cover.

2. (even) Melissa King

NBC Universal

AKA: Zen Master. Aka Dimples. Aka Shutterstock.

And then there was Melissa, casually cooking all the most well-received components of her team. Does she ever make mistakes? She’s a machine. It doesn’t even matter what team she’s on, she just breezes right through.

1. (even) Gregory Gourdet

NBC Universal

AKA: Kravitz. Aka Hepcat. Aka Lids. Aka Pollos Hermanos.

Only Gregory could conceive and basically control everyone’s dish without being seen as a micromanager. It’s the same way he can pull off a fringed leather vest, he just has something special. Gregory made all the right moves this episode, pulling strings like a maestro. Brian Malarkey as your first pick!? Are you insane?! And then Gregory made him front of the house manager and looked like a genius. Lee Anne hulking out on the service? Replaced instantly. There is no room for bad vibes on the USS Gregory.

Later when Gregory was talking about the sugar cane man shouting his wares with the smell of smoke in the air and the feel of an ocean breeze in your face I thought I was going to tear up. I’ve never even been to Haiti. Now that’s how you brand story. I can’t decide if I’m happy or sad that no one acknowledged the potential symbolism of the successful-slave-rebellion cuisine defeating the Plantation Cuisine. Chef Eric probably would’ve pointed it out. Restaurant Toussaint Louverture?

It didn’t even matter that, the way I tasted it, one of Gregory’s dishes (the chicken thigh) was the weakest of the service. He had the clearest vision, it was pretty obvious. Gregory isn’t a stone-cold lock but it feels like his competition to lose.

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

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