Top Chef Power Rankings: The Great Season 16 Finale, And The Pettiest Elimination


Last night’s Top Chef was the last of the season — pitting Chef Sara (aka Party Mom) against Chef Kelsey (aka Roll Tide, aka Can I Speak To Your Manager) against Chef Eric (aka Ghana, aka Student Body President) in a battle for Top Chef supremacy at the MGM in Macau.

After watching various sizzle reels of their respective journeys on the show, the chefs drew knives to decide the order in which they’d choose sous chefs, and Padma laid out the final challenge: $500 to shop, a half hour to plan, three hours to prep, then six hours to cook four courses. They’d be judged on the first course, with the bottom competitor eliminated before getting a chance to cook the rest of their menu.

Chef Eric promised to “tell the story of the trans-Atlantic slave trade” through his food and was promptly booted off because he burned his lotus chips, which is maybe the most Top Chef thing that has ever happened. Chef Kelsey went on to take the win in a major upset.

To everyone who says this show is rigged: do you really think they’d rig it so that the inspiring chef trying to introduce the world to West African cuisine would lose to the ‘Bama girl who yells at the help for making eye contact?

I was as bummed to see Chef Eric go as anyone, but hey, if you want to tell the story of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade through your food, maybe don’t burn the damn lotus chips. At the end of the day, this show is about tremendously bitchy nitpicks and that’s why I love it.

Meanwhile the guest judge, Alexander Smalls, a jolly professorial black Santa Claus with a deep, rumbling Dr. Hibbert laugh, nearly stole the show. Where was this guy all season? I could listen to that laugh all day.

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1. (+2) Kelsey Barnard Clark — AKA: Wine Mom. AKA: Elle Woods. AKA: Roll Tide. AKA: Can I Speak To Your Manager? AKA: Bambi.


Kelsey chose Brandon and Nini as her sous chefs, which is to say the Asian girl and the dude with Asian food experience, which seemed like a wise choice in Asia. Her theme was “Summers in the South” which had nothing to do with the Asian theme, but at least was straightforward and easy to understand. Probably why she won!

Kelsey’s first course? Cornbread with buttermilk. “It is literally them [Kelsey’s mom and grandma] on a plate.”

It sounded pretty tasty, and also incredibly on-brand for Kelsey to misuse “literally.” She followed that with a vichyssoise with oyster — Kelsey learned late in the competition that broths were her strength and rode that pony all the way over the finish line. Her weakest dish was a fried softshell crab (previously frozen product! not local ingredient!) and her strongest was the vichyssoise, which one judge called one of his favorite dishes of the year. “That vichyssoise looks magical!” I said to my dog.

In the end, Kelsey took home the victory, becoming the Broth Queen of Tuscaloosa County. Where is her tiara, you clods? I didn’t see Kelsey’s win coming, but I’m happy it at least went to one of this season’s more memorable characters. If the finale had come down to Michelle vs. Adrienne I might’ve had to retire this column.

2. (+2) Sara Bradley — AKA: Party Mom. AKA: One-Upper. AKA: Abe Fro-ma’am. AKA: Jiggle Juice. AKA: Waffle Box. AKA: Kanye.


Well it was close but no cigar for ol’ Waffle Box. Though I did appreciate Sara’s version of the “see what you did there” face:

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That being said, I was extremely disappointed in Sara’s shotgunning technique, or lackthereof:

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For God’s sake, woman, you’re a chef! Tilt the can at a 45-degree angle, use your thumb to find where the air bubble is in the bottom-side of the can, and pierce there so the beer doesn’t shoot everywhere. Am I going to have to give a seminar on this? Did I just find my life’s calling?

Anyway, Sara chose Eddie (aka Smiles) and David as her sous chefs, which seemed solid choices, talent-wise. She made chili prawns with boiled peanuts for her first course, which the judges loved, and chose not to do a dessert for her final course, which everyone seemed to agree was the smart choice against a pastry chef. Instead, she did a dirty rice and steak dish and everyone loved it.

Honestly, I thought Sara was taking home the win during judges table. Here are her two fatal mistakes, as I see them:

1. Apologizing for her bacon.

Sara served the judges a braised bacon dish that she told them was too salty before they’d even taken a bite, probably torpedoing her chances. Always agree with the judges’ criticism afterward, but never pre-criticize your own food! Top Chef judges can smell fear, like bees or dogs, and it spoils the meat.

2. Not making Jewish food.

Come on, Sara, you’re a Jew from Paducah! You won a challenge making Matzoh Ball soup! Own your point of view! Not to mention: Tom Colicchio’s wife is Jewish! It’s smart branding and smart pandering all rolled into one!

Oy. I guess hindsight is 20/20. In the end, Sara will have to be content to be crowned the chef I most want to party with.

3. (-1) Eric Adjepong — AKA: Ghana. AKA: Thesis. AKA: Student Body Prez.


I like Eric. You like Eric. An Eric victory would’ve been the best story and the biggest crowd-pleaser. But Eric slightly burned his lotus chips so now he has to die.

What a Top Chef way to go. Eric busted his ass making a jerk paste for a tartare, spent his prep time laboriously slicing beef tenderloin into tiny cubes, only to get sent home for the god damned lotus chips. Which were essentially the spoon for his tartare. The spoon has a water spot! Off with his head!

Top Chef doesn’t care about inspiring stories or crowd-pleasing entertainment, it cares only for the consistency of your lotus root cookerage, and that is why I still love it.

Stay petty, Top Chef, and see you next season.

Vince Mancini is on Twitter. More reviews here.