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Top Chef Power Rankings, Week 8: The Restaurant War To End All Restaurant Wars

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This week on Top Chef, eight cheftestants remained and, as the characters noted in the first minute or two of the show, “eight chefs, four on each team, it has to be Restaurant Wars.”

Sheesh, way to spoil your own twist, guys. Credit for not playing coy, I guess. That’s right, this week’s challenge was Restaurant Wars, Top Chef‘s most iconic challenge, and arguably the one with the most real-world application. A chef may not be the fastest hog butcher or know the best way to highlight a batonnet in a German dish, but he should be capable of starting a restaurant people want to go to, right? That’s the theory, anyway.

Of course, the challenge also requires four chefs of wildly disparate backgrounds and styles to come together for no real reason — like a blind date of food — and then come up with a coherent theme for a single restaurant, for the chefs to take on non-cooking duties like marketing, design, and managing front of the house, and all in all provides ample opportunity for them to deploy the phrase “throw under the bus.” Which happened, in fact, less than 60 seconds into the episode. Mamma Mia, that’s-a a spicy a-reality show-a!

It also had an excellent bitchy Tom moment, when he walked into the Common Place restaurant and was positively mortified by all the high-top tables.

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“It looks like fern bar,” he sneered disdainfully, in the tone of something the Dowager would say about the servants vulgarly mishandling the gravy boat. This is exactly why I love this show so much.

Anyway, the episode largely delivered on its unstated promise, with lots of blaming, mutual bus-throwing accusations, and the eliminated contestant burning every bridge on her way out. Meanwhile, the favorites stumbled, the underdogs made a push, and generally my rankings have been thrown into PANDEMONIUM! (PADMA-MONIUM?)

If you don’t like fire takes, just stop reading here.

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Power Rankings

8. (even) ((Eliminated)) Claudette Zepeda-Wilkins — AKA Frames, aka Young Susan Feniger, aka Pepper Pot, aka Shaggy, aka Spicy

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Claudette finished last week’s episode in a two-way finger-pointing sesh with Tanya (who ended up going home) and this week picked up where she left off (it was Claudette accused of being a serial bus thrower inside of 60 seconds, by Carrie). Claudette ended up on Team Common Place, with Chris, Fatima, and Mustache Joe.

Now, a brief defense of Team Common Place’s performance: First off, the judges ate at the other restaurant first, so already they were at a disadvantage. There’s no spice tastier than hunger, and the reverse is true: it’s way easier to nitpick food on a full stomach. I judged a 28-team taco contest once, and trust me, everything after 20 was on a steep curve on account of I was close to vomiting.

Secondly, the other team was working with chefs who were all cooking variations on continental European (two Italian chefs, a French chef, and a new American, I believe). Common Place was working with chefs who cook Amish Soul Food, Italian, Mexican, and Pakistani. Those people would never collaborate in real life.

Aaanyway, the table was set for Drama early on when team captain Cool Chris, despite being captain, chose Claudette to be their restaurant’s executive chef — that is, the person who will probably go down if the team loses. Much was made of this, despite opposite team captain Carrie pulling the exact same move.

Claudette then interpreted her job as head expediter, responsible for getting everything out on time to the right people, but leaving the tasting and quality control up to the individual chefs. “We can wipe our own ass around here,” she said.

But wait, aren’t you a mother? You know how this kind of thinking turns out: With a bunch of people running around covered in dingleberries. Also, Claudette may be a bus thrower, but if saving herself was the goal, she sure whiffed on a softball at judges table. Tom asked “Did you taste the food along the way?”

The correct, ass-saving answer here is “Yes, but… [excuse goes here].”

But Claudette, apparently resigned to her fate (a lá Tanya last episode), just sort of rolled her eyes and said no, allowing Tom to pounce.

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Long story short, her team lost and Claudette went home.

Aside from playing exec chef, Claudette cooked a bone marrow and shrimp dish where the bone marrow had already melted, a grainy ice cream, and a too warm panna cotta made from “skyr,” whatever the hell that is. On a team that served a bland tartare, salty pork, flavorless oysters, and several sub-par pasta dishes, Claudette’s was arguably not the worst cooking performance of the week, but her going home seemed like more of a season underachievement disreward for being constantly on the bottom. Not to mention the added culpability as executive chef and the reputation of being a blame dodger.

On her way out, Claudette put the whole system on trial, storming out the door before Padma could even finish the sentence “You can say good bye to your new friends now…”

Later she told the cameras “the judges were wrong” and “if Top Chef wants a vanilla Top Chef… they’re doin’ great!”

F*CK YOU I WON’T DO WHATCHA TELL ME, F*CK YOU I WON’T DO WHATCHA TELL ME. As a die-hard Draymond Green fan, I always respect a fiery competitor who goes out with both middle fingers raised, raging at the ice cream machine. But I suppose I can see why this season’s editors decided to vote Claudette least likely to be here to make friends. I desperately want Claudette to win Last Chance Kitchen, just to give her one last chance to get super pissed when she goes home before the finale, just to see what she’d say. RIP, Spicy.

7. (even) Adrienne Cheatham — AKA Fish, aka Halle Bearnaise, aka Le Bernadin, aka Salt, aka Salon

Tommy Garcia/Bravo Media

Adrienne left us sober if you were playing the Adrienne drinking game this week (where you chug any time someone brings up Le Bernadin). Other than that it was a pretty typical week for the contestant with indisputably the best hair. She cooked a seabass with a “godawful” puree (the plates were too hot!) but also put out the judges favorite dessert, a buttermilk cake with carmelized white chocolate (yes I would eat that). She was also on the winning team, which saved her from the judges table.

Long story short, who the hell ever knows with Adrienne. She’s up, she’s down, she’s scorching purees… In as much as you can ever predict these things, Adrienne seems like the odds-on favorite to go home next.

6. (even) Joseph Flamm — AKA Joey Cheeks, aka C-Pap, aka Chicago Beef, aka Bob’s Big Boy, aka Flamm Bae, aka InFlammable, aka Cliff Clavin

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Carrie’s team (team Conifer) brilliantly decided to make Bob’s Big Boy over here the front of the house manager, which might have been the best decision they made the entire show. Tom noticed that Joe was really “engaged” and friendly and “in the moment,” which made sense, because I’m pretty sure he was super baked the whole time.

Either that or he has pinkeye?

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I don’t know, maybe I’m imagining things. Or Joe has some sort of congenital stoner-looking-eyes disease that I’m going to get in trouble for making light of. Either way, he was the “winner” of this week’s challenge, though he won it for not cooking, which is sort of like kissing your sister (I assume, I’m an only child). He could still win, of course, but C-Beef is gonna have to show me something to creep into the top five.

5. (even) Carrie Baird — AKA Tots, aka Chee-eese

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Great Tots moment this week when they were trying to figure out how many dishes each of the four people would have to get in order to put out nine dishes, and Carrie was like “two plus eight, that makes 12, right?”

Build an oven out of snow? Carrie’s got you. Divide nine by four? Be prepared to wait a while.

Also, she made a point to call “front of house” “Eff Oh Aiche,” one of those abbreviations that’s completely worthless on account of it’s the same number of syllables as the thing it’s abbreviating. AM I THE ONLY ONE WHO CARES ABOUT BREVITY ANYMORE?!? GRR, JARGON!

Anyway, Carrie’s another competitor who’s hard to rank. She captained the winning team and made multiple well-received dishes this week (including a deconstructed lemon bar dessert and a kale salad with “beet raisins”), and yet… she seems brainfarty enough that she could go home at any second.

4. (-2) Fatima Ali — AKA Chokers, aka Ally Shadidi, aka Reaction Shot

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Hmm, whose idea was it to make the snarky chick Front of the House manager? Fati is one of my favorite people on this show ever but being fake nice to people doesn’t seem like her bag. She couldn’t even pretend to enjoy camping. And why Fati when you’ve got Cool Chris, the human silk robe on your team, a guy so smooth he could make you feel comfortable at your own sex crimes trial.

Anyway, I don’t hold this week’s weak performance against Chokers too much, it seemed like her relative failure as a FOH (fohhhhh) manager was mostly due to being a bit of a worrier and a perfectionist, which it part of why she seems like she’s really good at the cooking part. Or maybe I’m projecting. I “get” the prickly artisan thing.

“I will show you my love through the thing that I am making for you, just don’t ask me to fake smile at you, I’m not your whore.”

3. (even) Chris Scott — AKA Silky, aka Good Damone, aka Amish Soul Food

Tommy Garcia/Bravo Media

Man, what can we say about Chris?

True Romance

Cool Chris captained the losing team (who I was strenuously rooting for, if only so I didn’t have to hear any more f*cking bear’s den jokes) and made medium-to-poor dishes — salty pork shoulder, a beet donut that apparently didn’t taste enough like beet. I love that criticism, by the way. Only chefs could make that criticism. “You gave me a fluffy delicious fried pastry, but I was expecting it to taste like an earthy root vegetable! I demand more dirt root in my fried butter dough! Make thee a dirt root puree post-haste!”

Then during judges table Cool Chris tried to take full responsibility for everything that went wrong, which is either a demonstration of his deep integrity (as Fatima put it) or a brilliant political move that totally worked out. Maybe it’s both, who knows, all I know is that Cool Chris is cool as shit.

I did enjoy how Fatima phrased the integrity comment. “It’s just that Cool Chris has so much integrity…” with that ellipses her unspoken way of saying “unlike SOME PEOPLE I know…” and turning to Claudette.

2. (-) Joe Sasto — AKA Mustache Joey, aka Rollie Fingerlings, aka Freddy Mercurioli, aka Joey Sauce

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Joe Sauce (who Cool Chris referred to simply as “‘Stache,” because Cool Chris is so goddamn cool) had a terrible week this week, we all saw it. He cooked “sort of flavorless” oysters with pea foam, a chicken purse (Mama mia! Calla da policia! Some-a bandito just-a run offa with-a my grandmama’s a-chicken a-purse!) with chewy dough, gnudi with burnt mushrooms… basically all of the bad things. To make matters worse, he spent the entire episode talking about how everyone was doing great and it was going to be hard to judge.

So why do I still have him as a top seed? Eh, I don’t know. I guess it’s that all of his dishes looked and sounded great and well thought out (universally things I would order if the show was a menu), he was the first pick when they were choosing teams, and everything he said (minus thinking his team did well) mostly turned out to be right — like wanting to choose a consistent concept for the restaurant. It seemed like a combination of an off-week and Claudette not doing enough quality control (either that or the judges also wanted to blame Claudette rather than admit they may have been wrong about Mustache Joe).

He still seems like a favorite. I still think his Nonna (also with a thick mustache) will come to him in a dream (chasing him around the room with a spaghetti spoon like my own Noni) and give him the advice that will put him over the top. Ay, Guiseppi, you gonna burn-a da sauce-a! Stronzo! Donna burn-a da sauce-a or I guana break-a you-a head!

1. (+1) Bruce Kalman — AKA Arthouse Guy Fieri, aka Gnocchis, aka The Dungeon Master, aka Bruce Bruce, aka Peter Pander, aka Captain Cavatelli’s Mandolin, aka He Gets It Now

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God damn if I have to hear Bruce tell that f*cking “make your meatballs and polenta” story one more f*cking time I’m going to sell my DVR. “I get it now…”

That being said, Bruce came on strong this week and finally solidified himself as the favorite everyone assumed he was at the beginning of the show. And he did it by taking to heart the most obvious advice in Top Chef history. It’s the eternal lesson, “play your hits.”

Tom told Bruce to make his meatballs and polenta, and this week Bruce made his meatballs and polenta. Everyone loved it. There is no show more straightforward than Top Chef. He also cooked a red pepper orrecchiette and an upside down cake (fire take: upside down cake is the best kind of cake and it’s not close), with the judges loving all of them. He also came off looking organized as an executive chef and seemed to be the voice of reason, noticing that Claudette wasn’t tasting all of her food (or so the editors would have us believe — I’m pretty sure that interview was filmed afterwards).

It all added up to Canny Veteran Bruce suddenly looking like a lock to make the finals. At least until the judges finally get tired of pasta, then he’s f*cked. Also, don’t discount the “I love my kids” factor. Every new editing package about a contestant missing their kids drops them a notch. We all know that’s just a way to pre-justify getting kicked off. “Oh good, now I get to go home and see my kids.”

Which only makes me like Claudette a little more. She didn’t pull any of that “now I get to go home to see my kids” crap. She went out throwing putasos telling everyone to eat a sh*t burrito. A true competitor.

Vince Mancini is on Twitter. More reviews here.

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