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Top Chef Power Rankings, Week 9: A Double Elimination

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This week on Top Chef, Tom Colicchio was very disappointed in everyone. In fact, the most shocking part of the show was that Tom didn’t just walk off the set forever at the end, muttering about how “I could get better nachos at a Barstow truck stop.”

You chefs, you really blew it this week. Seriously, the actives say they might ding your entire pledge class.

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(I call this face “Tom Ennuichio”)

Not only that, there were two eliminations this week, and it’s become abundantly clear, just due to simple math, that at least one chef that I’ve listed as a favorite all season long isn’t going to make the finale. Does that mean that I regret my choice of favorites? That my rankings are worthless? That I should admit that I’ve been wrong all along?

Nay, I decline. I believe, Donald Rumseld-like, that I was simply making the best choice based on the information I had to go on at the time. (I am not owned! I am not owned…)

The week opened with a bombshell, dropped by Padma (stop this bombshell on bombshell violence!): that this week’s quickfire would not only not come with the prize of immunity, but the loser would go home. And for what mega-important challenge would failure warrant the punishment of sudden death??? Why, cooking with edible flowers, of course.

Hmm, curious choice, that. I’ll be honest, when I think of a challenge that will test chefs on the skills necessary for chef success, “cook me up a plate of daffodils” isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. (“…And don’t overcook the stamens!”)

Nonetheless, the show went on. Favorites were laid low, lovable fat guys got kicked off. After that it was time for the elimination challenge — a Super Bowl tailgate! — which, thanks to the magic of television, was actually filmed months ago (presumably back when the guest-judging Denver Broncos still had a realistic shot at making the playoffs). Prior to their eight-game losing streak between October and December, I’m guessing.

Those guest judges included “placekicker/food blogger” Brandon McManus, who seemed to have his job as guest judge stolen out from under him by cornerback Bradley Roby, who kept putting up great disses and setting up Tom for football puns. Here’s Roby setting Tom up for “I think this mac and cheese ran the wrong route.”

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I’m really enjoying the “dad pun, smirk” combo Tom has been throwing all season. Anyway, great job judging out there, Roby! (*appreciative hetero ass pat*)

Power Rankings

7. (-1) ((Eliminated in the Quickfire)) Joseph Flamm — AKA Joey Cheeks, aka C-Pap, aka Chicago Beef, aka Bob’s Big Boy, aka Flamm Bae, aka InFlammable, aka Cliff Clavin

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Okay, so my favorites might’ve been a little wrong, but you have to grant me this: I was right to leave J-Flamm near the bottom of my rankings last week, despite his win in last week’s elimination challenge. I knew a win for front of the house managing was ultimately worth about a handful of magic beans in this competition.

This week, the J-Bone decided what was going to really win him the flower-eating challenge was wood oven-roasted radishes in some kind of cream sauce. You know, everyone’s favorite. This decision turned out about as well as his choice to make a nutella banana stock for his salty oatmeal a few episodes back (this is not a sex euphemism, despite how it sounds, despite how much I want to feed you my salty banana oatmeal).

The radishes landed him in the bottom three, putting him in a head-to-head showdown with Mustache Joe and cool Chris, where the challenge was to replace a familiar ingredient with… cauliflower, the undisputed flower king of edible flowers. Flammbone went with cauliflower risotto, even though, as Mustache Joe pointed out, guest judge David Kinch has cauliflower risotto on his menu. MJ seemed to think cooking a bigwig food that the bigwig himself cooks was a big no-no, and he turned out to be bigly right.

The Flamm man ended up going home, much to the chagrin of the other competitors:

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Damn, that looks like a renaissance painting.

Judge Kinch simply couldn’t deal with Joe Cheeks’ not-cut-small-enough cauliflotto. I also thought it was weird that J-Flamm decided to “flavor his cooking water” with arborio rice to give it more starch. So let me get this straight: you’re going to waste a serving of rice in order to make some cauliflower taste like the rice that you’re not using? Does that not seem profoundly stupid to anyone else?

Anyway, RIP for now, Joe Flamm, a favorite among his competitors. I can’t remember the last time I saw Padma brought near tears by a competitor’s departure.

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

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Now, I know that putting the other eliminated competitor second to last would be the obvious, safe choice here, but let’s face it, you guys don’t come here for lukewarm takes. The thing about Adrienne is, despite her incredible hair and Slumdog Millionaire-esque ability to point to a past experience that makes her uniquely capable of the challenge at hand (usually something about working at Le Bernadin, though this week she called an audible and name dropped Marcus Samuelsson instead), she hasn’t won a damned thing all season.

This week, she made a seared scallop carpaccio with radish blossoms in the quickfire and miso-glazed St. Louis ribs (St. Louis ribs over baby back every day and twice on Sunday), both of which kept her out of the bottom, yet were met with a resounding “Sure, that was okay, I guess.”

Adrienne has been a savant at not getting sent home, but I need to see a win before I declare her a favorite.

5. (-3) Joe Sasto — AKA Mustache Joey, aka Rollie Fingerlings, aka Freddy Mercurioli, aka Joey Sauce, aka Star Trek Forager, aka Quartz

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Joe Sauce opened this week with his own editing package, dedicated to his love of crystals and foraging. “I switched up my crystal configuration, I think that’s why I had a good week,” he told his girlfriend over the phone. To the camera, he clarified “crystals carry energy within them.”

They have the power to make me roll my eyes, that’s for sure. He also told us how he likes to forage for edible stuff, and later expressed his distaste with any and all “ball sports.” Yeah, man, I think we could’ve done the “I keep crystals in my pocket and forage for food” math on not liking organized sports there. I’ll give Joe Sauce this, he never called it “sportsball,” which means he’s still okay in my book.

The biggest mystery this week is how Joe Sauce didn’t go home. First he landed in the bottom three during the quickfire, for his poached squash blossom dumpling. David Kinch called it “pedestrian,” which is always just about the bitchiest insult you can give someone. “What was wrong with it?” “Nothing much, it was just sort of fit for peasants, that’s all. You probably wouldn’t understand.”

That led to a head-to-head-to-head cauliflower challenge against Joey Cheeks and Cool Chris, for which Mustache Joe cooked buffalo cauliflower. Great choice, I love buffalo cauliflower. Only he decided to smoke it in the wood-fired oven first. How’d that go? Well, this was Tom’s face upon tasting it:

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I think he likes it! (Sidenote: both the dishes that used the wood-fired stove turned out disastrous. Maybe the stove was the problem? Maybe the wood had cat turds all over it?)

Despite that face, somehow Joe managed not to go home, by the hairs on his waxed mustache, thanks to Joe Cheeks’ risotto debacle. For the elimination, he got paired with Adrienne, and supposedly had some revelation that he needed to cook what he likes and not what he thinks the judges will like. A good plan, in theory, though he promptly went on to cook fried mac and cheese. Which, and I may lose some friends by saying this, is never that good. Sorry, man, it’s true. I like pretty much fried everything, but fried pasta is about the most pointless use of a deep fryer there is. Cool… you made… more oily? (Fried raviolis, sure. Fried gnocchi, why not. Fried mac? Meh).

Long story short, everyone hated it. Tom basically awarded him zero points and wished God to have mercy on his soul — only to inexplicably keep Mustache Joe in the competition anyway. Honestly, does Mustache Joe have kompromat?

MJ looked like the clear favorite for a while there, but this barely-not-getting-kicked-off thing has happened to him like three times now. IS IT A SLUMP OR HAS HE BEEN EXPOSED?! The phone lines are open.

Time to rearrange those crystals, dog.

4. (-3) Bruce Kalman — AKA Arthouse Guy Fieri, aka BK the King, aka Gnocchis, aka The Dungeon Master, aka Bruce Bruce, aka Peter Pander, aka Captain Cavatelli’s Mandolin

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I know I had BK the King number one in last week’s rankings, but I don’t quite know what to make of this week’s performance. He was never on the bottom, we can say that. First he decided he was going to make bucatini, “my spirit pasta,” to which Cool Chris bid him a hale “my man.” Here’s my recreation of how that went down:

BRUCE: I’m gonna extrude some pasta.

CHRIS: My man.

Anyway, Bruce somehow botched his bucatini (extruding can be tricky) and Captain Cavatelli had to make Cavatelli again. To which Padma exclaimed, “Ugh, pasta again?”

Whoa, you shut your mouth when you’re talking bad about pasta, beautiful lady. Anyway, it was still good enough to keep him out of the bottom, and then in the elimination he made “grilled sirloin flap steak” (can you just call it carne asada? we all know it was carne asada) that the judges seemed to think was… just okay. Tom said it should’ve gone on top of the nachos. Sure?

It was… let’s call it a “mixed” performance. Bruce is still an odds maker’s favorite, I’m just sandbagging him a little bit because his previous revelation — that he can just make pasta and polenta in every challenge — isn’t looking too good now that Padma is expressly sick of pasta.

3. (even) Chris Scott — AKA Silky, aka Good Damone, aka Amish Soul Food

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Cool Chris landed in the bottom three in the quickfire over a watery scallop/bass tartare with chive blossoms. Then he dug himself out of that hole with a cauliflower caponata that the judges seemed to like the best of the three. Which is kind of weird, because in my mind, cauliflower is a terrible substitute for eggplant. I guess it was good though?

Cool Chris was still Carrie’s first pick for teammates, and went on to win, with his pork green chili poutine. Pork green chili? My man. Chile verde and poutine are two of my favorite things on Earth (during our chili competition I publicly advocated for the chile verde California burrito, which is basically pork green chili poutine in a tortilla), and it must’ve been damned good because the judges didn’t give him any grief about the lack of cheese curds.

That’s one of those nomenclature-based nitpicks Top Chef judges normally love. “Oh, you made a poutine with no cheese curds? How could it be a poutine with no cheese curds? Are you some kind of animal, were you raised in a barn, who hurt you that made you think it would be okay to serve poutine without cheese curds?”

Yet they didn’t. Chris looks like even money to make the finale.

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

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Yeah, that’s right, I’m putting an eliminated competitor in the number two slot, did I not warn you that this was not a place for lukewarm takes? I’m taking a bold stand! I’m saying it here: I think Fatima is going to plow through Last Chance Kitchen and make her way back into the competition, Kristen Kish style.

How the hell did Fatima even get kicked off this episode? She was in the top two in the quickfire, and then in the elimination challenge, the main criticism of her nachos was that the proportions were off. Let me remind you what Tom said about Mustache Joe’s wack mac:

“I’ll tell you exactly what was wrong with this, because everything was wrong with this dish. I ate the macaroni and cheese first. It was soggy. It wasn’t crispy. It also didn’t taste very good.”

Then, when comparing Fatima to Joe: “The only saving grace in Fatima’s dish was the chicken, everything else was terrible. There was nothing good about Joe’s dish.

And somehow Fatima still went home. THIS IS AN OUTRAGE!

She also got a little package about how she doesn’t know football, and she kind of wishes this had been a cricket challenge. Hoo boy, Pakistanis and cricket. The bad food and tedious sports is one of the low-key bad things about being colonized by the English.

1. (+4) Carrie Baird — AKA Tots, aka Chee-eese

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The editing package was right: I’d been underestimating Carrie all along. It’s just hard to imagine someone who seems so much like a Napoleon Dynamite character beating out all these super serious heavy hitter chefs (“Tina, come get some ham!”). I mean, come on, tell me you didn’t laugh when Carrie said she was making “fancy toast.” “Fancy toast” is the most Mormon-sounding ass dish I’ve ever heard (I mean, other than funeral potatoes).

Carrie also revealed that she played a lot of sports back in the day, including “rodeo,” which in Carrie’s world is both a sport and a verb. “I couldn’t cow wrangle, so I had to goat tie.”

Well, sure.

After her surprise win in the flower challenge silenced all the haters (especially Mustache Joe, who scoffed at Carrie’s fancy toast, while riding yet another dumpling straight to the bottom), the elimination challenge played right into her hands. If there’s one thing Carrie’s good at, it’s playing to her strengths. So she made sure her tailgate dish had extra potatoes and cheese. And the good stuff too, nacho cheese, all elegant-like (to her credit, Carrie made fun of herself for this before I could). Carrie is like the Bruce of potatoes and cheese.

Oh, and if there’s two things Carrie is good at, it’s playing to her strengths, and coming up with weirdly sexual names for food. Such as when she suggested that she and Chris call their dish “the Bronco pooter.”

You may remember, Carrie was also the one who named her food truck “Down The Chin” in episode three. It’s almost like the Mormon is sexually repressed or something. In an episode where virtually everything on team Carrie/Chris was Carrie’s idea, Chris proved his worth simply by shooting down “Bronco pooter” in the smoothest way possible.

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(“Haha that’s funny, but… nah.”)

Anyway, Carrie may be an unlikely frontrunner and I may not be a true believer yet, but she forced my hand this episode. I just hope she keeps crushing it, and eventually introduces the world to her chef’d up takes on Mormon classics, like ketchup sandwiches and mayonnaise pizza and papa’s cheese or whatever. She could use the prize money to open her own place and become the first trampoline club with a Michelin star (Mormons love trampolines, this is known).

Vince Mancini is on Twitter. More reviews here.

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