Top Chef Power Rankings, Episode 5: Snow Ovens & Bun Ovens

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At the end of every Top Chef, Tom Colicchio inevitably tells the just-eliminated chef “Buck up, Chief, we’ll see you on Last Chance Kitchen!”

That’s Bravo’s web show companion to Top Chef, by the way, which they plug at the end of every show. Every year I get all excited to watch it like Charlie Brown with his 57th shot at Lucy’s football, and every year they end anything important on a cliffhanger where they save the exciting conclusion for the actual show. Stupid me, nothing consequential is going to happen on the free web show, come on.

This year Last Chance Kitchen had an uber shocking ultra triple lindy super twist, which was actually just a variation on the twist in every reality show. Which was, surprise, they’re bringing back past contestants! The challenge between eliminated chefs from this season and the ghosts of seasons past came down to Kwame (aka Wormser) from season 13, Lee Anne from season 1, and Claudette eliminated a few episodes ago.

The prize? Getting to come back to the house! HELL YEAH, A SEAT AT THE TABLE! SEAT AT THE TABLE!

(I never thought I’d get to use a gif from The Program in these recaps)

Tom started by eliminating Kwame, presumably for serving his chicken heart dish in tiny ass bowls. Come on, Kwame, a man doesn’t want his food all constrained. A man doesn’t want to worry about spilling his food all over the table. Let that food manspread a little.

Then it came down to Lee Anne’s dumplings vs. Claudette’s unpronounceable Aztec-named thing. Another twist: it was a tie! You’re both on the show! …Man, sucks for Kwame.

The other contestants all groaned, as did I on account of my Power Rankings have to be two contestants longer this week. Thing is, Lee Anne is pregnant, and Top Chef probably couldn’t resist the built-in drama of a pregnant competitor. I hope there’s a raw shellfish-tequila pairing challenge where Lee Anne has to choose between being a Top Chef and her unborn child. Come on, Lee Anne! DO YOU WANT THIS OR NOT!

After the showdown it was off to a camping challenge, in which the chefs had to lug all their food out to the snowy woods and then cook it — including buying their cooking gear at a camping store with a $100 budget. Sure, why not. I have this theory about camping that that whiter you are the more you enjoy camping. Let’s see if it plays out!

Power Rankings

12. (-3) ((Eliminaged)) Tu David Phu — AKA Johnny Football, aka Jake Ryan, aka Tu David Phu Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar, aka Tippecanoe And Tu David Phu

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I think we all saw this coming. This may have been the least surprising elimination since Rogelio bit it a few episodes ago. Tu started this season hot and seemed super cool, only to lose his first-team status long with his social cachet with every faux pas, from claiming his lamb dish would’ve been better if the judges would’ve eaten it with their hands to crying weird during a weird meatball moment last episode. Yes, it’s okay to cry. But also… no one likes it when you cry weird. When you’re laughing, the whole world laughs with you. When you cry weird, everyone tries to quietly scoot their chairs away from you.

This week Tu decided he was making “rabbit three ways” and it was pretty much all over from there. Anyone who has watched more than 10 minutes of this show knows you never make a duo or a trio, it’s just more things to screw up. In fact if you cook the same food in more than one way in a single dish it’s best not to even mention it. Tu seemed to know this but then cooked it anyway. Because he likes a pointless challenge, I guess? Reminds me of a friend I had who would go to the casino, get really drunk, and then hit on a hard 17 just to watch the dealer get mad at him.

Sadly you get no points for doing the ill-advised. “I’m taking a risk!” should be written on every eliminated Top Chef competitor’s tombstone. If you eat some crappy food, the chef coming out and telling you that he cooked it over a tank of hungry sharks doesn’t make it taste better. Tu’s main contribution this episode was giving Tom fodder for dad jokes. Like “ooh, a rabbit three-way!” when Tu said he was cooking rabbit three ways, or “I think Tu shoulda stuck to one!”

I like this new Dadlier incarnation of Tom Colicchio. I’m hoping we get a “hot enough for ya?” or a “working hard or hardly workin’?” from him this season.

11. (-1) Brother Luck — AKA Barbershop, aka Man Down

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Brother Luck (yes, for the umpteenth time, that is his real name — he should marry Reality Winner) started this week in whimsical fashion, going ass over teakettle while running to get food, sliding into the table of food, and smashing half the eggs in the process (note: I’m still not entirely sure what “ass over teakettle” means, but it seemed food related). As Joey Cheeks described, “It was like a plane going through a chicken coop.”

I see Joey’s been watching Michael Bay movies. Anyway, falling was about the most exciting thing Brother did this episode. He didn’t land in the bottom three, though the judges did say his pheasant was chewy. Truth be told, Brother hasn’t been in the top much and didn’t win last week despite having a dish everyone loved and by far the best story to go with it. That can’t bode well. Er, Bro’d well.

10. (-4) Joseph Flamm — AKA Joey Cheeks, aka C-Pap, aka Chicago Beef, aka Bob’s Big Boy, aka Flamm Bae, aka InFlammable

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I had naively assumed that the only upside of Tyler going home last week was no more “bear den” jokes, but then this week’s episode had to involve camping in the woods. God. Dammit. Jokes about poppa bear talking to bears ensued, sort of. At least Joey Cheeks seemed to know the bear den joke was dead. Come on, guys, these are zombie bear jokes.

Anyway, Joey Cheeks didn’t make much of a splash this week, staying out of the bottom and the top three for a squab that everyone simultaneously loved but thought was overcooked. WAY TO GO, IDIOT. By the way, did you know squab is pigeon? I wonder if you could get people to eat rat if you gave it a fancy Euro-sounding name. “Here, try this, it’s scurrioni, it’s an Italian delicacy.”

Anyway, this makes two or three shows in a row with Joey Cheeks near the bottom after a hot start. Get it together, man.

9. (-5) Tanya Holland — AKA The Professor, aka Ghost, aka Waffles (left)


Tanya landed in the bottom three this episode, though it mostly seemed to be a matter of confusing plating. She made some lamb chops that the judges loved, and some farro with mushrooms, but then added some kind of beet/berry puree/chutney? It was one chutney too far.

I don’t know what the hell to do with Tanya. She’s up, she’s down, she’s putting a chutney in the wrong place… Tanya is this competition’s wild card. Who knows when she’ll show up?

8. (-3) Adrienne Cheatham — AKA Fish, aka Halle Bearnaise, aka Le Bernadin

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Speaking of wild cards… was Adrienne even in this episode? I don’t remember hearing anyone compare camping to working at Le Bernadin (pronounced with italics) so it’s hard to say. I didn’t write down what she cooked. Did she cook anything? Was this discussed? Anyway Adrienne continues to have great hair.

7. (+3) Bruce Kalman — AKA Arthouse Guy Fieri, aka Gnocchis, aka The Dungeon Master, aka Bruce Bruce, aka Peter Pander

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It seems all of Bruce’s ass-kissing (oh judge, you’re so wise, I will dedicate the rest of my life to doing exactly as you say, how else can I please you, oh wise judge?) finally paid off this week when he won, for his wild boar sugo with cavatelli. With all the oohing and ahhing over Carrie and Lee Anne’s food, the Bruce win was a bit of a surprise. Though it wasn’t a surprise when Bruce dedicated his win to Tom Colicchio, and his sage, sage advice: “It’s just like you said, daddy, I mean Tom.”

Also, does anyone else think Bruce got a little too much credit for his “brilliant” decision to use his mandolin to make ridges in the cavatelli? Like making pasta in the woods is probably pretty hard, but the part where he used a thing that looks a lot like the thing you normally use doesn’t exactly strike me as a Galileo-level discovery. But hey, good on Bruce for making pasta in the forest. Though I’m going to need to see another win or high finish before he moves up in the rankings. One of these judges tables I keep thinking Bruce is going to pull out a special Magic card that gives him +7 elimination immunity.

6. (N/A) Claudette Zepeda-Wilkins — AKA Frames, aka Young Susan Feniger

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Claudette seemed to have learned an important lesson on Last Chance Kitchen: “cook your food,” which is nearly as much of a cliché on Top Chef as “I’m not here to make friends” on every other reality show. For Claudette that means awesome-sounding Mexican stuff I haven’t even heard of. Whatever that hard-to-pronounce thingy Claudette made in the Last Chance Kitchen pre-finale was (Tom called it “very anchovy forward”), it was good enough to tie the dumpling woman making dumplings, so it must’ve been good. She got back in the competition and… promptly finished in the middle of the pack with a guajillo quail.

Eh? It’s a start, I guess. Cook your food, Claudette!

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

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Who would’ve guessed the Mormon from Idaho would be the best at camping? I know, I know, I’ll give you all a second to sweep up your broken monocles and pop in new ones. Yes, it was a great week for Tots, and the judges were going on and on about her dish so much you’d think she would’ve won. She clearly should have.

At first, when Tots grabbed the blueberries I actually shouted “Nooo!” at the TV, remembering her blueberry bruschetta disaster from episode one. Luckily the berries were for a dessert this time, the only place blueberries should really be. Specifically, an upside down cake (probably the best kind of cake). Not only that, when she couldn’t find a dutch oven (ha) at the camping supply store, she had to put the cake batter in tin cups and bake it inside a wood-fire igloo thing she built. I mean, I think? This show could do a lot better actually showing us what the chefs are doing.

Maybe drop some of the bear jokes to save space for some shots of the snow oven? Just a thought.

But Fatima yelled “she built a stove out of snow!” so I guess we have to take her word for it. Anyway, I get the feeling Carrie could get lost inside a Starbucks, but apparently she turns into Bear Grylls when there are trees around. Maybe she and the Alaska lady could have a show together. They’d be like the Hoda and Kathy of avoiding bears.

4. (-1) Chris Scott — AKA Silky, aka Good Damone, aka Amish Soul Food

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God dammit, Chris, never second guess yourself! The coolest contestant in Top Chef history had an uncharacteristic moment of self doubt this week, when he wondered if his buffalo campfire chili was “five star enough.” Come on, Chris, didn’t you just win with fried chicken drums with hot sauce on top last week? Take the hint!

So instead of just serving the chili, he tried to use some of the buffalo meat he’d been smoking to put on top with some fancy agrodolce. He landed in the bottom three, but I still think he’s a favorite in this competition. Is that partly because he’s super cool? Probably. I mean this week he improvised some spoken word blues to go with Bruce Bruce’s guitar, and it was actually not lame. Chris is the only man in the country cool enough to pull off spoken word. I can’t remember the last time I didn’t have to fast forward through a reality contestant’s cringe-awkward attempt at music.

3. Lee Anne Wong, AKA Prego, aka Dumplings, aka The Oven


Lee Anne, comin’ all the way back from Top Chef 1, is making history as Top Chef’s first pregnant contestant. She also took down Kwame, Jen Carroll, and all the previously eliminated contestants from this season on her way back to the house. A SEAT AT THE TABLE! This week she made beef liver dumplings in the Last Chance Kitchen offal challenge, then cooked a bunch of stuff in goose fat for the camping challenge that was so good the judges finished it all before they even tried the other chefs’ dishes. Again, I’m not sure how Bruce beat Lee Anne. Was it the stupid mandolin thing? Tell me it wasn’t his brilliant idea to use ridges to make ridges that won him this thing.

You might wonder why I don’t have Lee Anne, the veteran, who immediately finished in the top three, as my number one favored chef. You could certainly make a case for her. I just assume she’s going to be undone by her pregnant lady hormones at some point, trying to cook watermelon dipped in nacho cheese with hot dogs and pickles or something.

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

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I’m not sure the nickname Ally Shadidi applies anymore now that Fatima has stopped being a wallflower and turned into the show’s comic relief. She’s a most welcome respite from bear jokes. Normally I hate it when contestants ruin my better nicknames, but I fully enjoyed Fatima’s five minutes of shit talking on camping. “Have you ever pitched a tent before?” “What do you think.”

Anyway, typical week for Chokers, cooking something the judges seemed to love but not quite good enough to land in the top three. She’s just drafting, letting the others catch all the scrutiny until she makes her break for it in the finale. That’s my prediction.

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

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Joe Sauce landed just out of the top three, but he served yet another well-received dish thanks to, you guessed it, a sauce. This week it was the fume broth he served with his trout, which was so good that Gail kept saying she wanted to beer bong it. Jeez, settle down, Gail, leave some broth for the rest of us. You have to appreciate Gail wanting to chug your fume.

I’m also giving Joe credit for cooking a well-received dish despite him using trout, which is on the very short list of things I never order on account of it sucks so bad. Seriously, trout is awful. It is a mushy garbage fish with awful texture that doesn’t taste like anything. Trout’s only good for tacos and exploding in the microwave of someone you hate. That Joey Sauce cooked trout and someone actually liked it is a tall feat.

This competition seems to be coming down to Lee Anne’s pregnantness vs. Joe and Fatima’s youth/Chris’ occasional inferiority complex. Time will tell, folks, time will tell.

Vince Mancini is on Twitter. More reviews here.