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Top Chef Power Rankings Week 2: How Thicc Was My Pasta?

This week on Top Chef, the whole gang got back together for a short-order cook challenge in the quickfire. Which is a great challenge, because fancy-schmancy chefs seem to graduate from lowly breakfast cookery early on, yet making eggs to order is pretty damn hard, no matter how many Michelin stars you have. By the way, I know we’ve gotten used to it, but does anyone else find it funny that the most prestigious designation a chef can have comes from a tire company?

“He is greatest sculptor in the world. First ev-air to reach seven Lunchable.”

In the opening round, the chefs went one on one, attempting to cook up eight plates in 30 minutes. As decided by the guest judges, they were challenged on such classics as steak and eggs, dim sum, shrimp and grits, kimchi fried rice, eggs with veggie hash, fancy toast (yes, Carrie “Fancy Toast” Beard was back to guest judge, staying Mormonly on brand), and Richard Blaise’s order, hash with hash browns and hollandaise (I think he just chose all the H words?).

I’m still scratching my head over how there could be seven breakfast orders and not a single one required a poached egg, the most classic of all pain-in-the-ass breakfast cooking challenges. Maybe the producers just figured watching 10 people boil water would be boring? …Okay fine, that was probably a good call.

After that it was a beer and coffee-pairing challenge, perfectly tailored to this year’s host city of Portland, Oregon. For your next challenge, create a dish based on each model of Suburu’s 2021 fleet of all-wheel-drive vehicles!

Each chef drew a knife that told them whether they’d be working with coffee or beer. It being Portland, I have to assume it was mostly way-too-hoppy IPAs (can this trend be over soon? It’s like the giant-legged jeans of beer) and under roasted beans, but this was merely implied. Then, before they could get to cooking, Tom Colicchio showed up in a shawl collar sweater looking like Stanley Tucci about to take your mom out for Italian food and threw a wrench into the cheftestant’s plans.

Bravo

His head looks like a dang clitoris in that thing, and I know it was intentional. Ayy, get a load a Shawl Collar Tommy ovah heah!

Tom was there to announce that instead of the individual dish the cheftestants thought they’d be preparing, they now had to team up with someone on the opposite side and create a dish that utilized both beer and coffee. The ol’ forced team up! A Top Chef staple.

Elsewhere on the fashion beat, Dale Talde was also rocking the shawl collar (maybe Pendleton had a two-for-one deal going?), while Kwame was looking like Furio Giunta in animal print silk.

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Ugh, why couldn’t he be a contestant still? I’m dying to nickname someone “Silk.”

This week’s results:

Quickfire Top: Gabe, Shota, Jamie*, Gabriel, Sasha, Brittany, Nelson. (*winner)

Elimination Top: Dawn/Gabriel. Shota/Avishar*. Gabe/Sara.

Elimination Bottom: Sasha/Brittany. Chris/Byron.

POWER RANKINGS

14. (-5) ((Eliminated)) Sasha Grumman

NBC Universal

AKA: Gritty.

Notable Critiques: “There’s a lack of point of view here.”

Notable quotes: “I know it tasted good.” “Yeah, exactly.”

Sasha and Brittany clearly had a burgeoning girlmance (what’s the girl version of a bromance? wo-mance?) going this week, when they were drawn to each other like “magic magnets” for the team challenge. Unfortunately, their food did not make beautiful music together, and most of that seemed like Gritty’s fault. It was her decision not to put more milk stout sauce on the meat (a failure to trust the sauce!) and her components — the coffee hazelnut crunch and beet romesco sauce (both of which even sound kind of bad) were the judges’ least favorite. I was excited to see some new Sicilian food from Sasha this season, but it’s going to be a long road through Last Chance Kitchen.

Sasha seemed like the rare Top Chef competitor who maybe wasn’t anxious enough. Which does feel true to the spirit of Italian cooking.

13. (-1) Chris Viaud

NBC Universal

AKA: Stretch. Butter. Kelso.

Notable Critiques: “That pasta just wasn’t cooked enough.”

Thus far, Chris has distinguished himself mostly for being handsome and tall. Last week he chose “butter” as his special ingredient and this week he had the nerve to call this egg “over medium”:

Bravo

Come on, man! That egg may be perfectly cooked, but it damn sure ain’t “over medium.” “Over” means you flip it over. “Medium” means the yolk is cooked to medium. That’s a rare yolk on an egg that clearly wasn’t flipped over. Am I the only one who believes in semantics around here?!?

Then, in the elimination challenge, Stretch made the classic mistake of making pasta that looks pretty — coffee stripes! — but doesn’t taste good. “Thicc” may be an apt description of Tom Colicchio’s thighs in swim trunks, but it’s not generally something that should apply to pasta. Stretch should’ve made like Fred Durst and kept rollin’ rollin’ rollin’.

12. (-1) Byron Gomez

NBC Universal

AKA: Manolo. Burger King.

Byron revealed that he started his chef’s journey at Burger King this week, and he made some good food and even felt like the voice of reason on Chris’s team. But with a total absence of top finishes thus far, I’m not sure where else I can put him. I have a feeling Byron is going to bust out some cool Costa Rican thing and surprise everyone, but so far that’s just projecting.

11. (-1) Dawn Burrell

NBC Universal

AKA: Hothead. ‘Sheed. Legs. Breaking Dawn. Milk Carton. Coco Chanel.

Notable Critique: “It was just a home run all the way.”

You might (rightly) wonder how Dawn could finish in the top three teams this week and still fall one spot in the rankings. The truth is, I don’t know either. I don’t know how the hell to handicap Dawn. She’s this season’s most mercurial competitor, both in temperament and in challenge results. She’s either all the way up or all the way down. She managed to forget a component again in the quickfire this week, and again she won in spite of it (it helped that she was going against Sasha, who also didn’t get her egg on the plate).

Does that mean Dawn can win even with one component tied behind her back? Or is she just consistently too slow for these speed challenges? So far, both seem to be true. When she finally made a dish with everything on it she almost won. I’m nicknaming Dawn “Milk Carton” because one of her components is always going missing. And Coco Chanel, because just before plating her dish she always removes one accessory.

10. (-3) Avishar Barua

NBC Universal

AKA: Milhouse. Chillhouse. Thrillhouse. American Pie. The Carbonator.

Speaking of contestants I don’t know what to do with, there’s Chillhouse. He nearly went home last week and lost his one-on-one quickfire battle to Shota this week. Then he teamed with Shota in the elimination and helped win the day with his carbonated grapes. He seems like an early fan favorite and I’m definitely pulling for him but that winning lobster sunomono felt more like Shota’s dish and Avishar doesn’t have much in the way of wins outside of it.

Great job carbonating those grapes though, dog. Love a fizzy grape.

9. (-2) Maria Mazon

NBC Universal

AKA: Gas Can. Backdraft.

Notable Critiques: “It’s like both heats are fighting each other.” “I like it when the heats fight!”

Maria lost this week’s quickfire challenge to show villain Gabriel, which had to hurt. Still, all her food looks good and she never finishes in the bottom of the elimination challenges. So far, the worst thing the judges seem to have to say about Maria’s food is that it’s too spicy.

I’m nicknaming her “Backdraft,” which describes what would probably happen to me if I ate her food, which I would still do knowing full well what the consequences would be.

8. (+7) Jamie Tran

NBC Universal

Aka: Splat. Police Academy.

Notable Quote: “I express myself through food in ways that I can’t express myself in life.”

Jamie almost gave herself a heart attack from running three feet in the quickfire challenge, but all that physical exertion ended up paying off when she won with her shrimp and grits. Padma asked Jamie how she felt, and Jamie responded, characteristically, in a series of sound effects.

My reaction mirrored Padma’s:

Bravo

Cool, cool. Jamie didn’t fare nearly as well in the elimination challenge, though her and Kiki’s braised fried chicken did look amazing. Based on her win and almost win this week, one could argue that maybe I have Jamie too low here. And yet… how shall I put this… she doesn’t exactly radiate competence.

7. (-4) Nelson German

NBC Universal

AKA: Papa Bear. Ol’ Faithful.

So far, Nelson has displayed a knack for finishing solidly in the middle of the pack and staying on brand. He seems like the kind of guy you can rely on not to screw up, but will Papa Bear ever distinguish himself as top dog? It’s certainly possible, but it remains to be seen.

6. (-3) Kiki Louya

NBC Universal

AKA: Aunt Sassy. Peppers.

I love Aunt Sassy, and that fried chicken she made with Jamie makes me feel somewhat justified in putting her in the three spot last week. But you’re not going to win Top Chef by taking a “fancy toast” challenge and turning in some half-assed avocado toast that doesn’t even have enough avocado on it, as she did in the quickfire.

It’s hard to win with a dish that’s been a punchline as often as avocado toast has.

5. (-4) Sara Hauman

NBC Universal

AKA: Tails. Yogurt. Trapper Keeper. Manic Pixie Cream Sauce. Fiddlesticks.

Sara thus far has distinguished herself as a master of yogurt sauces, which sounds exactly like something a Portland chef would be good at. If she makes a granola you have to finish your drink. Sara managed another top finish (along with Gabe) in the elimination challenge this week, but that was after an uncharacteristic loss in the quickfire in her one-on-one battle with Jamie.

Sara seems like one of the best chefs in this competition but she also reminds me of nothing so much as an elementary school bookworm. For the love of God, just say a real cuss word. If there’s a challenge involving puffy paint Sara is a lock.

4. (+2) Brittany Anderson

NBC Universal

AKA: St. Pauli. Cartoon. Hot Chocolate. Stifler’s Mom.

Brittany was the other half of eventual loser Team Magic Magnet so you might rightly wonder why I have her ranked so high. All I can say is that “modern alpine” seems like a new-ish and kind of interesting perspective, and that her creamy mushroom fancy toast, with sherry and Manchego cheese, sounded really good to me at the time (then again, if the fondue lady can’t make good cheese toast it’s going to be a problem).

Even the elimination dish seemed like it was on the right track, until Sasha covered it with bad romesco, bitter crumble, and a lack of sauce. This was a down episode for the St. Pauli Girl but hopefully it will be an important lesson in sticking to your guns.

Listen to your heart, Brittany! Especially when it wants more sauce!

3. (-1) Gabriel Pascuzzi

NBC Universal

AKA: Patriarchy. Evil Gabe. Chad. Bluto. Mr. Mackie. The Noodge.

Notable Critique: “It was just a home run all the way.”

The Top Chef producers were clearly setting Chad up to be the villain this season and he didn’t do himself any favors this episode when he repeatedly tried to tell a black woman how to cook ribs. Which is… hmm, “bold” isn’t quite the right word…

If Brittany and Sasha were Team Magic Magnet, Gabriel and Dawn were Team Repelling Magnets. It was hard to fault Dawn for that one. Gabriel just seems to have that preternatural knack for being an overbearing micromanager, like a sitcom mother-in-law. True, Dawn’s ribs seemed like most of the reason their team finished in the top (and honestly, who doesn’t like ribs?) but the judges also ladled praise on Chad’s beer-compressed watermelon, which is exactly the kind of cheffy shit Top Chef judges cream their aprons for.

Which is to say that, while no one seems to like him all that much… well, you have to hand it to him… I guess.

2. (+3) Gabe Erales

NBC Universal

AKA: Good Gabe. Canelo. Fozzy. The Foz. Masa Father.

Notable Critique: “That was exciting.”

Good Gabe put beer in a tortilla this week and BLEW EVERYONE’S FREAKIN’ MINDS, MAAAN! It could be my general love of Mexican food talking here (and suspicion that the mainstream food world has only scratched the surface of Mexican food techniques and varieties) or Gabe’s natural cuddliness, but he’s looking more and more like a favorite every week — with top finishes in both challenges this episode.

Also, my man never skimps on the sauce. Let that be a lesson to all of you.

1. (+7) Shota Nakajima

NBC Universal

Aka: Beavis.

A lot of you yelled at me for ranking Shota, who reminds me a little bit of a Japanese version of the Fighting Irish mascot, so low last week. It’s not that I didn’t think he looked like a favorite, it’s just that he finished in the bottom of a quickfire last week, so what could I do? You can’t discount results.

Anyway, Beavis more than turned it around this week, with a bomb ass mochi in the quickfire and a winning lobster sunomono in the elimination challenge. All of these characters this season look like pretty good chefs, but Shota has the added advantage of being trained in Japan, while none of the judges or guest judges have a background in Japanese food. Meaning Shota brings a lot of techniques that feel new and surprising to them. That novelty value feels like a distinct advantage.

Plus he’s super chill and has a sweet border collie.


Vince Mancini is on Twitter. You can access his archive of reviews here.

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