‘Top Chef’ Power Rankings: ‘Restaurant Wars, Part 1’

This week on Top Chef, it was part one of the world famous Top Chef recurring challenge: Restaurant Wars. That’s when the drama really HEATS UP, and we find out which contestants aren’t here to make friends. It’s not food, it’s war. Now show me your war face! Not good enough! Scream like someone just overcooked your protein!

Unfortunately, being a two-parter, it also means there’s no closure this week. No quickfire challenge, no immunity, no winner at the end of the show, no contestants eliminated. Not having the normal drama generators surely makes a producer uneasy, imagining viewers abandoning the show in droves. Perhaps as consolation, Padma was wearing far and away her best outfit of the season. Remember what I said about saving the cleavage for sweeps week? I was not wrong, friends. And that is why I am the Top Chef expert. (Vince’s Future Tombstone: “Say what you will about him, dude watched a lot of cooking shows.”)

Perhaps not coincidentally, I awoke this morning, after watching Top Chef in a boozy haze thanks to a dinner date with friends that went a little long, to find my laptop open with “Padma Lakshmi Naked” in the search bar. Oh don’t act like you’ve never done it.

We all know how Restaurant Wars work at this point, which meant it was time for a BIG TWIST to really SHAKE THINGS UP. Here, the editors used an actual (*RECORD SCRATCH*) sound effect before Padma explained the twist. I always love a good record scratch sound effect. It’s a classic stage shorthand that never seems to go out of style, the auditory equivalent of slipping on a banana peel. I hope that the record scratch sound effect lasts long after people have forgotten what records are, or how they could be scratched, or what a record scratch might have to do with surprise.

The big twist? This year, the contestants will be required to serve two services, lunch and dinner, in the same 24-hour period. This, we’re made to understand by the editing choices, is considered a lot. That’s when the gloves come off and people start being really mean to each other. And this year, instead of choosing one executive chef who’ll take the fall if the team’s food sucks, and one front-of-the-house manager, who will somehow have to prove their chef skills by performing tasks chefs typically don’t do, every person will have to be either executive chef or front-of-the-house manager for one service. I don’t necessarily know if fairness creates better television, but it’s an admirable choice.


Padma Lakshmi Outfit Watch

If I were guest judge on this episode (think about it, Top Chef producers), I would probably have to recuse myself. “Hi, yes, unfortunately I won’t be able to eat tonight, it seems I’ve swallowed my tongue. Also, I have a painful erection.”

But don’t worry, this episode also had…

A Little Somethin’ For The Ladies

Toughest part of getting dressed for Phillip? Making sure whatever talisman he’s wearing doesn’t clash with his ink necklace.

Restaurant Wars

Team One:
Amar (captain), Kwame, Jeremy, and Phillip
Restaurant Name: District L.A.
Theme: Modern American.

Team Two:
Karen (captain), Marjorie, Carl, and Isaac
Restaurant Name: Palate
Theme: Mediterranean-Californian

Power Rankings

1. Karen

Admittedly I don’t have much to base these rankings on this week, but Karen is the captain of what seems like the strongest team, and got by far the best reviews on her dinky-sounding steak salad. It must’ve been pretty good, but let’s be honest, no one watches cooking shows to see you cook a f*cking steak salad. “Oh, how interesting! Can you tell us how you got the dressing on there?”

Nickname(s): Rosie the Riveter, Which One’s Karen?

Dish: Flank steak salad with carrots, daikon, jicama, cabbage, papaya, peanuts and herbs.

Reviews(s): “This is something I could eat for lunch every day.” “This is so far the most interesting thing.” (That the most interesting thing the judges had was a steak salad does not reflect highly on this episode.)

Notable Quote(s): N/A. I don’t know that I’ve ever remembered a Karen quote to use for one of these.

2. Amar

Amar cooked a good, but boring dish this week. Chicken breast? C’mon, bro, you’re better than that. Not only would I never order a chicken breast, I’d be silently judging people who do. He served it with polenta and wild mushroom ragout, which is annoying, because that part sounds pretty good. “Excuse me, waiter? Could I get this polenta with a protein that less resembles dry wall paste? Thanks.”

Anyway, Amar seems to be staying comfortably middle of the pack yet again. It may backfire at some point, but probably not yet.

Nickname(s): Big Sleazy

Dish: Roasted chicken breast with polenta and wild mushroom ragout.

Reviews: “The chicken itself is moist, but I feel like there could’ve been a little more gravy with the ragout.” “It’s a little one dimensional.” “It is a little safe.”

Notable Quote(s): “Kwame is like my little brother.”

3. Marjorie

Last week I said Marjorie had to unleash her inner Phillip, and this week she did, all over poor Isaac. He’d make suggestions, like “I can make cornbread!” (oh, we know, Cornbread, that’s why your nickname is Cornbread), and she’d just ignore him. Not “refined” enough, she says. Here’s the thing about refined food: no one but chefs ever think about this. It’s not that Isaac’s food hasn’t been refined, it’s that it’s been dry or underseasoned. They love Isaac’s comfort-food-type sh*t, that’s part of the problem. He describes a delicious comfort food thing and then gives them food that isn’t quite executed and it’s a big disappointment, a victim of its own expectations. Dammit, I’ve thought way too much about this.

Anyway, Marjorie was front of the house this week, which seems like the last place she’d ever want to be, and she was sweating bullets the whole time. But she handled it well, and even used the ol’ free champagne ruse to get diners the hell out of the restaurant so they could turn tables. It looks like her team’s going to win, which is why she gets to be so high on this list, despite cooking a boring thing the judges didn’t really like. Way to go, Mike Ms.

Nickname(s): Sheyore, Dark Horse, Mike Ms.abella.

Dish: Marinated beets with pickled cauliflower, baby greens, and shaved garroxta.

Review(s): “Really nice, it was fresh.” “I just wonder: if you got one dish, is this what you’re going to serve us?”

Notable Quote(s): I don’t want any clunky food on our menu.” [Mee-yow] “I don’t think it’s fine dining, but I think it’s refined.”

4. Jeremy

Fratdad was executive chef of District L.A. (side note: how bad were both of these restaurant names?), and his dish was roundly praised, yet again. So why is he all the way down at number four? Partly because it looks like his team lost this round and he was the captain of the ship, and partly because they teased a risotto dish in the next round. NEVER COOK RISOTTO ON TOP CHEF! Haven’t you watched this show? Jeremy could end up getting kicked off next episode, despite being the strongest competitor for most of this show. Also, from here on out, I think we have to drink every time Jeremy mentions crudo.

Nickname(s): Frat Dad, Totino, The King of Crudo

Dish: Arugula salad with grilled asparagus, crispy egg, and truffle vinaigrette.

Lunch Dish Review(s): “This asparagus and egg dish is something I would totally order for lunch.” “I really liked that bit of savoriness of the dressing.” “I thought Jeremy’s salad was perfect.”

Notable Quote(s): You didn’t ask me for bacon, dude. So quit saying that sh*t. If you told Amar that’s a different story, bro.

You know how sometimes with people who speak other languages, their accent comes out stronger? That’s how it is with Jeremy and calling people “dude” and “bro” when he gets agitated. I love that he’s almost a Kyle Mooney character. “I dunno, bro, I’m kind of like the original gangster of crudo, I just think your ahi wasn’t that tight this week?”

5. Phillip

Phillip wasn’t that annoying this week, but give it time. I have faith. Some people would probably second guess Amar choosing Phillip over Isaac, but that’s just good strategy. If you’re on the same team with Phillip, and you end up losing, that means someone on your team goes home. And if Phillip’s on your team, let’s face it, it’s probably going to be Phillip. The judges hate Phillip.

Nickname(s): Chef Top Knot, The Weez

Dish: Roasted salmon with ratatouille and greek yogurt.

Review(s): I really liked the way Phillip cooked his salmon. But I don’t know if I like the ratatouille on top of my salmon. I’m finding these vegetables to be undercooked.

Notable Quote(s): “I think the name should be something doesn’t have an actual meaning.” (This is quite possibly the perfect Phillip quote.

6. Kwame

Just thinking about his dad two episodes ago seems to have broken Kwame, and now he can’t do anything right. Not only did he make a dish the judges called underseasoned, he was front of the house for a restaurant that didn’t finish a service. Kwame is actually the odds-on favorite to go home at this point. What happened that continuing source of inspiration to everyone around him from a few episodes ago?

Nickname(s): Wormser, The Prodigy

Dish: Corn and sage velouté with pancetta.

Reviews: “I thought the soup needed a little more seasoning.”

Notable Quote(s): I can’t wait to get to DC and crush it.” “Let’s get feelings out of the f*ckin’ way.”

7. Isaac

Poor Cornbread. No one would listen to him this week. It’s like his lizard sidekick Peppah is his only friend. He cooked a seafood stew this week, which sounded delicious as always, and the judges only picked it apart a little. Also, it seems like his team is going to win. So why is he down at number seven? Well, the editors are treating him like an underdog, so I feel like I should.

Nickname(s): Cornbread

Dish: Seafood stew with cod, shrimp, clams, and mussels.

Review(s): “I think Isaac’s stew could use a little more oomph, but it was solid. Flavor is good.”

Notable Quote(s): “I can make cornbread?” “We’ll let those bros take themselves down.” “Everybody’s got their game face on, and Marjorie’ game face is a little on the frowny side.”

8. Carl

Ol’ Whatshisface was finally slightly memorable this week, but for all the wrong reasons. During the brainstorming session, he said “We have 24 hours to prep, which means we could make like a terrine or something,” which might be one of the dumber things anyone has ever said on this show. A terrine? Have you ever heard someone say “Bro, come over here, you gotta taste this terrine!” Have you ever been on your way to a restaurant and thought, “Ooh, I hope they have terrine!” Has someone ever said, “My favorite food? Probably terrine.”

No one has ever eaten an unforgettable terrine. Though it is kind of perfect that the show’s most boring contestant would be really into terrine.

Nickname(s): Ol’ Whatshisface, Charlie White Guy, Him?

Dish: Pork and bacon terrine with haricot vert, gem lettuces, prosciutto, salum, and golden raisins.

Reviews: “I’m surprised to see a terrine. If you do make a terrine, it’s two or three days before you’d want to order it. It’s not something I would want to order.” “I guess you liked that terrine, Tom?” “No I didn’t. Texture’s off. It’s not seasoned well. It’s kinda chewy. It’s almost spam like.” “The vegetables are interesting.”

Notable Quote(s): “Oh boy, a terrine! I love terrine! Oh boy oh boy oh boy.”

I can’t wait until next week, when we get to find out the thrilling conclusion of Jeremy’s Epic Risotto Gamble.

Vince Mancini is a writer, comedian, and podcaster. A graduate of Columbia’s non-fiction MFA program, his work has appeared on FilmDrunk, the UPROXX network, the Portland Mercury, the East Bay Express, and all over his mom’s refrigerator. Fan FilmDrunk on Facebook, find the latest movie reviews here.