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Top Chef Power Rankings, Week 13: Do Not Eat The Turd Fish Tartare

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With Top Chef, you normally expect the stunt challenges to happen early in the season. That’s when they’re still trying to keep people watching and it’s okay if some person goes home for not being able to catch enough grasshoppers because who cares? We hardly know those people anyway. Later in the season, once we already know and have become attached to the remaining chefs, you expect the more conventional cooking challenges.

Not so this season! Last episode, with only four chefs remaining, the producers busted out the testicles. This week, they brought on Chris Cosentino — the Brett Gurewitz of food — to introduce a fly fishing challenge. Why is the guy known for offal (I ate a pig face at his restaurant once, it was great) introducing a fly fishing challenge? Who knows, maybe the original judge got in trouble for sexual assault.

Aaanyway, the chef-testants had 40 minutes to catch, clean, and cook a trout. Which seems fair. Fly fishing, that seems like something one can just pick up, right? I mean why not. Today fly fishing, maybe tomorrow piloting their own helicopter for a boar shooting challenge. I can’t even count how many times I’ve just picked up a fly fishing rod and assumed I’d catch my dinner inside 20 minutes.

Meanwhile it turned out Chris Cosentino actually did know a lot about fly fishing. Or at least, enough to know not to eat Adrienne’s part raw river trout. As he explained it: “There’s an old saying: ‘does a bear shit in the woods?’ They do, they do uphill, and it taints the water. So, fish of this caliber needs to be cooked through.”

Hot damn, did he just combine “does a bear shit in the woods” and “shit flows downhill” into a single adage to explain a real-life situation? What are you, Confucius? I haven’t seen someone take that circuitous a route to a point since Lincoln. Quick, now do the one about the bear and the rabbit running out of toilet paper!

“Do you know the phrase ‘if you’re aunt had balls she’d be your uncle?’ That’s exactly why you have to add a little water to fix a broken emulsion.”

After that display, the contestants headed to the Aspen food and wine festival… Assspenn, where the food and wine flow like wine… where their task was to cook for 200 people. A dish for 200 people, PLUS, no protein, AND they had to cook over a “cowboy stove,” some kind of dangling disk sled filled with charcoal. Luckily, they got to pick sous chefs. Surprise! It was the previously eliminated contestants. Kudos to the show for not even attempting to pitch this like it was a big reveal. Everyone knows every reality show is going to involve at least three reveals where the eliminated contestants show up again.

It was at the Food and Wine festival that they ran into all the heavy hitters, like guest judge Daniel Boulud, the only human whose name must be pronounced with the italics, like Le Bernardin. Oh, and also Jonathan Waxman, who seemed to assume that Adrienne was Bruce’s sous chef and not the other way around (either that or it was some very rude anti-Waxman editing). This comes after Waxman supposedly skipped out on $100k plus in bills when his San Francisco restaurant closed a few months back. Quick, someone get to work on that “Scumbag Waxman” Meme.

In any case, this was a perfect unachievable Top Chef challenge: give us a high-brow Food & Wine Festival dish, but also cook it over an open flame and make sure it tastes like barbecue in two hours. Oh, and no meat!

…All judged, of course, by Padma in her finest Woodstock outfit. That has nothing to do with the unachievable challenge part, I just thought it seemed worth mentioning.

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Anyway, there isn’t much left to rank with just one more episode to go, but let’s jump in.

3. (-2) ((Eliminated)) 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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Way to make me look like an idiot putting you in the top all season, Mustache Joe! What a surprise, though, that the guy who we found out grew up eating goombah pork fat stew in the last episode would be kind of lost when forced to cook vegetarian.

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“Smoked trout rillette with spring onion corn cake and Summer berry glaze.”

Mustache Joe went berry crazy this episode, with a “Summer berry glaze” in the quickfire (Summer Berry Glaze is the name of my 60s pop cover ukulele band) and some gooseberries in the elimination challenge. Neither of which he ended up winning, and the latter of which got him kicked off.

Honestly, I kind of figured he was cooked when he announced that he was making a “beet carpaccio.”

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Beet carpaccio with beet yogurt, green bean tomato vinaigrette, and sourdough bread.

How stoned do you have to be in order to think beets in any way resemble or are an effective replacement for meat? There were lots of puns, about trading “beet for meat,” and him trying to “beet that meat,” but the fact remains: except in puns, beets are not a great stand in for meat.

Joe was a smart player, though, correctly realizing that the judges would bitch if he didn’t give them enough smokey char on a dish cooked over a cowboy stove. To the point that he literally just threw some charcoal into his beet pot, to go along with the other beets actually cooked inside the charcoal. Mmm, ash! But you know Joe, he likes it extra smokey.

Gail ended up praising him for it: “I like how you put the charcoal in your beets and your beets in your charcoal.”

Unfortunately she also said it “didn’t eat cohesively” and Tom added that the yogurt sauce “didn’t knit these two together.”

I know no one agrees with me on this, but I think part of the problem was that he used sourdough, and sourdough just isn’t that good. Look, stop yelling, it’s fine. But it’s never better then French bread. It’s just not! It tastes worse and it’s harder to chew!

Anyway, Joe’s gone now, meaning the house has no crystals with which to absorb the universe’s energy. I expect the next episode to be all out of balance.

2. (+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 Wham Flamm Thank You Flamm

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Joe Flamm won both challenges this week, so the conventional wisdom would say that he deserves to be ranked number one. But you guys don’t come to me for the conventional! That’s why I’m wearing this designer shirt that says “rebel.” My thought process on this: streaky Joe hasn’t won two things in a row all season, now he’s going to suddenly win three? I honestly don’t know. It feels like a pick ’em, between up-and-down Joe and consistently unspectacular Adrienne.

Either way I’ll look like a fool, I haven’t had either of them number one all season.

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Pan-seared trout, black garlic beurre blanc with fennel, mushrooms, asparagus, and bread crumbs.

Joe Cheeks was the first one to catch a fish and ended up winning the quickfire, justifying me nicknaming him Cliff Clavin in the process by dropping hot facts on the other Joe. “Hey, Joe, did you know elk are just deer above 5,000 feet of elevation?”

Is that even true? Or is this another fake elevation fact from Top Chef, like when the ASMR English guy claimed he’d been cooking at a restaurant at 18,000 feet of elevation in the Alps, where the tallest peak is only 15,000? I don’t trust it. What does a guy from Chicago know about deer, anyway?

Joe was clever though, choosing Carrie as his sous chef, guessing correctly that the mountain woman who made an oven out of snow would know her way around a cowboy barbecue. He was right, and later he fed Padma his baby zucchini and she loved it (I’m really sorry for this one).

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You knew he was headed for the win when Tom said “this is the first time I’m really getting smoke.”

Bro, if you want smoke just go smell the other Joe’s mustache.

Tom’s only criticism of the dish was that “I wish he’d used a regular zucchini because baby zucchinis don’t have much flavor,” which is like all-time bitchy Tom nitpicks. Even Tom knew it wasn’t serious and Joe got the win anyway.

I like Joe Cheeks’ chances in the finale, and that goes double if he brings back his adorable grandma.

1. (+1) Adrienne Cheatham — AKA Fish, aka Halle Bearnaise, aka Le Bernadin, aka Salt, aka Salon, aka The Sheriff Of Ballsville

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Adrienne started this episode off pretty poorly, trying to make Chris Cosentino eat her turd fish tartare. No one wants to eat the bear turds, Adrienne! Does the show have insurance for this, by the way? There were four trained chefs present and only one of them knew you’re not supposed to eat shit trout raw. This does not instill confidence in leaving it up to chefs to know what foods I can eat.

Oh well, at least her skin was crispy. Where’d you learn to cook crispy fish skin like that, Adrienne? Was it, perchance, at LE BERNARDIN??

In the elimination challenge, Adrienne got paired with Bruce as her sous chef, who seemed to spend the entire prep period pitching Adrienne dishes she didn’t want to cook. “Hey, maybe you should make some gnocchis. Oh, what about some meatballs and polenta? No wait, maybe make some cavatelli on your mandolin.”

QUIET DOWN, BRUCE! CAN’T YOU SEE ADRIENNE’S TRYING TO REMEMBER HER TRAINING AT LE BERNARDIN?!

Adrienne’s dish actually sounded pretty good, a corn pudding wrapped in swiss char. Tom asked why, and Adrienne answered, “Sometimes you just gotta let your balls hang.”

Whoa, easy there, Adrienne, Armie Hammer did just that on Call Me By Your Name and it cost the production millions. Also, wasn’t it Adrienne who made “Ball-Drop Soup” in the last episode? What is it with you and balls?

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Charred corn pudding wrapped in swiss chard with shishito peppers and champagne broth.

Adrienne’s dish looked the best from where I was sitting, but you know how these judges are. “I can’t help feeling like she missed an opportunity to go bolder with char.” “I wanted more smokey cauldron.”

I swear, you give them a perfectly-cooked, white tablecloth-ready dish cooked over a tire fire and they’re mad at you because it doesn’t taste enough like tires.

Can Adrienne take out Joe Flamm in the finale? Again, I think it’s a contest between the inconsistent chef capable of occasional brilliance vs. Ms. Consistency, who hasn’t really knocked anyone’s socks off yet. I’m going to add one more reason I give Adrienne the slight edge: Dinner always ends with dessert, and she’s an OCD pastry chef.

Vince Mancini is on Twitter. More reviews here.

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