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Top Chef Power Rankings, Week 12: Ball-Drop Soup

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This week on Top Chef — mother of God, did you see Padma’s dress? It must be sweeps week.

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Sorry, I lost my train of thought there.

Actually, this week began with balls. That is, a Rocky Mountain Oyster challenge, which of course involved cooking a duo of beef testicles (aka “Rocky Mountain Oysters”), guest judged by the world famous sexily tattooed Voltaggio Brothers. Clearly, the theme was things that come in pairs (cum?). And to be honest, for a show that drove a running joke about “the bear den” deep, deep into the ground, there actually weren’t that many ball jokes. Padma asked if the contestants were “allergic to nuts,” har har but that was about it. Which is weird, because Padma can make anything sound like a sex joke and basically lives for variations on the phrase “meat in my mouth.” Adrienne had by far the best ball joke, but it was so subtle you could almost miss it.

After that, the contestants were promised a “big surprise.” Which, you’ll know if you’ve ever watched a competition reality show before, could only mean one of two things: they either brought back the previously eliminated contestants or invited the contestants’ families. Surprise! It was the second one.

We got to meet Adrienne’s mom, Carrie’s mom, Mustache Joe’s dad, and Joe Cheeks’ Grandmama. Which left us with a mystery: What the hell happened to Joe Cheeks’ parents? Dufresne! Search party of three!

Also… when did this show get so… poignant? Mustache Joe getting introspective about his departed mother with his jewelry-bedecked father (I can say that because I too have a jewelry-bedecked Italian-American father) damn near turned this episode into a less-contrived version of Chopped (GRR, BACKSTORY!).

Top Chef being Top Chef, I fully expected that the character with the most poignant backstory would be immediately eliminated. That’s usually what happens. Top Chef is the George RR Martin of cooking competition shows. Credit where credit is due though: this was a really great episode. What it lacked in “Drama!” (everyone cooked well!) it more than made up for in touching family stories. Bringing the family members on, and actually having them cook, rather than just be there for contrived drama, was a good choice. People tune in to see stories. Ginned up drama is just a substitute for story. If you have stories, you can kind of skip the contrived drama part.

Now then, let’s take these monkeys and rate how well they dance.

Power Rankings

4. (-2) ((Eliminated)) Carrie Baird — AKA Tots, aka Chee-eese, aka Crost-Tina! Come Get Some Ham!

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Pour out some milk for Carrie, this week was the end of the road for everyone’s favorite adorkable Mormon from Idaho. Carrie sounded like a favorite in the testicle cooking challenge, seeing as how she’d practiced for it (clever girl), but ended up landing in the bottom two for her nut meat paté.

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Then her mom tried to compliment her by saying she could out-ski “all her boyfriends” which immediately became the point of discussion. Hey, this is the same contestant who thought it’d be fun to name her food truck “down the chin” and her Super Bowl poutine “Bronco Pooter.” I can’t believe she lost the challenge involving actual testicles. The boyfriend discussion was a missed opportunity. “Gee, Carrie, I can’t believe you lost that Rocky Mountain Oyster challenge, you seem like you can really handle some balls.”

Carrie’s mom cooked some beef stroganoff and in retrospect, she was sunk right there. Everyone knows Tots’ wheelhouse is potatoes and cheese, and maybe fancy toast (Mustache Joe keeps making fun of her for it, but I buy a baguette every damn day. You know why? Toast is awesome and versatile. It’s your base for bruschetta, avocado toast, pan con tomate, and all manner of tapas and pinxtos. I’m staunchly pro toast.). Come on, mom! Give your daughter some god damn potatoes and cheese to work with so she has half a chance!

To make matters worse, the fact that Carrie wants to win partly to help pay for her father’s nursing home care because he’s in the early stages of dementia, which would’ve taken up most of the episode on any other show, ended up getting overshadowed by Mustache Joe’s mom tribute. It feels a little like she was penalized for not crying more.

In any case, Carrie’s beef stroganoff raviolo looked pretty good, and everyone liked it. The only fault Tom found with it was that he thought she could’ve mixed her créme fraiche with some of the beef sauce. It’s hard to know if that’s a real criticism or if she was getting penalized solely for Tom having a different idea about it, but that was all it took to get kicked off in a hair-splitting episode.

At the very least, Carrie went out on-brand, getting kicked off the same episode she finally used the phrase “frickin awesome!”

We’ll miss you, Tots. I hope to eat cheese covered potato treats named after sex acts at your Michelin starred trampoline club, Large Talons.

3. (+1) Joseph Flamm — AKA Joey Cheeks, aka C-Pap, aka Chicago Beef, aka Bob’s Big Boy, aka Flamm Bae, aka InFlammable, aka Cliff Clavin, aka The Sheriff Of Tiny Hat Town

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Ahh, good old Joey Cheeks, everyone’s favorite, from da sout side a Chicaaago. I had Cheeks — who’s only still in the competition after winning Last Chance Kitchen — ranked last after last week’s show, and when his cow nut dish made Padma do this:

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…it seemed like a good assumption.

This was that ball dish, by the way. It was a fried Rocky Mountain Oyster over a pea purée (he said “pea purée!” Everyone drink!), only he put ground up ball into the pea purée. That seemed like a bad call. That’s like cooking up a big plate of liver and onions and you go to take a sip of your refreshing beer only to realize it’s liver-flavored beer. Top Chef doesn’t award extra points for using more of the gross thing, man.

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So Joe was looking like a lock to be the next one eliminated… until he busted out his secret weapon, his lovable grandma:

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Hold on. Joey Cheeks’ grandma is an adorable old lady with a bob and a Joe Pesci-in-Casino accent? Why have you been hiding her from us all season? “Ya know, yer caampetition, they’re real claaass aaact people…

Joe Cheeks ended up making basically the same raviolis as his grandma (what is this, the ravioli episode? Once Bruce gets kicked off, suddenly it’s a pasta show? Are you trying to kill poor Bruce?). Only his innovation was a clever thing I’d never considered before: he ground up the tomatoes, separating them into paste and tomato water, using the paste for the sauce and the tomato water to cook the pasta in. Granted part of the reason I never considered it was that it seems unnecessarily complicated and I lack an apparatus for grinding tomatoes, but cooking pasta in tomato water did seem like a cool idea.

In an episode where everyone cooked good food, it ended up keeping him off the bottom. Either that or the judges just wanted to hang out with Joe’s grandma some more. Can’t blame them.

2. (+1) Adrienne Cheatham — AKA Fish, aka Halle Bearnaise, aka Le Bernadin, aka Salt, aka Salon

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Everybody give it up for peaking-at-the-right-time Adrienne. Adrienne landed number two in the beef nut challenge and ended up winning the hotly-contested elimination challenge. More importantly, she had the best (and most overlooked) ball joke, when she said during the quickfire that she was making an Asian inspired Rocky Mountain Oyster soup, which she dubbed “ball-drop soup.”

Ball-drop soup! That’s a perfect name. Hey, Adrienne, stop trying to take my job. “Hey, y’all, come try some of this ball-drop soup, it’ll really put hair under your armpits!”

(*answering in a deep voice*) “None for me, I already had some.”

Only, when it came time to present the dish and the Voltaggios asked Adrienne what hers was called, she chickened out and told them it was “Rocky Mountain Oyster dashi.” C’mon, Adrienne, stand by your joke! You think Padma wouldn’t have loved a great entendre like that? Her timidity probably cost her the victory. She really dropped the ball.

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Adrienne is also just hard to read because she doesn’t have an obvious point of view. This week she made an Asian dashi broth testicle and gussied-up gumbo. I think if anything is going to get her the win, it’s cheff’ed up Southern food. Fancy gumbo with duck fat roux? Sign me the F up. I knew Adrienne had this week locked up when they showed her poaching snow crab legs in a giant sauce pan filled to the rim with butter. It must’ve been that pep talk from her foodie stage mom.

Adrienne looks great (both as a cook and a human), but I still have to think she’s a slight underdog going into the finale. Also, I have to downgrade her slightly on account of her using the ultimate Top Chef cliché, “it’s my heart on a plate!”

Sounds like something Graham Eliot would say. Saying something is “your heart on a plate” is less gross than calling food sexy, but equally meaningless and lame.

1. (even) Joe Sasto — AKA Mustache Joe, aka Joey Crystals, aka Rollie Fingerlings, aka Freddy Mercurioli, aka Joey Sauce, aka Stoney Whiplash, aka Star Trek Forager, aka Quartz

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Goddammit, are you trying to make me cry, Top Chef? An Italian dad getting emotional while wearing dangly bracelets, a loved one dying of cancer, you’re really pulling out all the stops here. YOU WILL NOT TURN ME INTO THE GUY WHO CRIES AT REALITY SHOWS! THESE EYEBALLS DON’T RUN, OOH-RAH!

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Anyway, so first Mustache Joe cooked the only good looking testicle dish (above), and then Joe’s Bracelet Dad showed up and busted out some kind of pigskin and pork neck bone roulade.

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Mother of God. That is the heartiest goombah dish I’ve ever seen, and my own Italian grandpa literally drove a meat truck (not a euphemism). At this point, I wished I could’ve stopped the entire show and made them explain to me exactly how this dish was made. I simply must know. (I mean, probably it involves simmering some animal parts in tomato sauce for three hours, but still, an explanation would’ve been nice).

Anyway, MJ’s dad made the pig fat stew and also some lasagna, which Joe used as inspiration for his rolled lasagna dish, with the rolled up pasta dough mimicking the look of the rolled up pig skin. Rolled lasagna was another new one for me, and while it doesn’t look nearly as appetizing as just regular lasagna, it must’ve been pretty good. It was clever, anyway. Plus you figure any guy with a waxed mustache as big and bushy as Joe’s knows his way around some pasta. Madonn’, Guiseppe, you-a cookem uppa some-a nice-pasta, make-a you mama so-a proud, bellissima!

Joe has been the most consistent favorite throughout this season, and as long as he has his crystals in proper alignment I have to think he’s still a slight favorite to win it all.

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