Note: This is my fourth-to-last Top Chef Power Rankings post for Uproxx. Follow me on Twitter and/or Patreon for updates on how to find them after that!
This week on Top Chef World All-Stars, the producers first brought out Britain’s most fabulous chocolate man to paddle their bottoms and tell them that they’re ever so naughty.
That was actually Paul A. Young, a “Master Chocolatier,” who immediately had everyone excited to find out where the fudge is made. Ah, but don’t let the shiny shoes, velour suit, and ascot fool you — wait, is that an ascot or a cravat? It’s an ascot, right? I think cravats have buttons, dangit I should’ve learned this in finishing school.
Anyway, it turns out, this flamboyantly dressed Englishman was actually Larry David in disguise!
He might be fancy, but his true passion in life is the HARD SCONES! Or in this case, HARD BISCUITS! And by “biscuits,” I of course mean “cookies,” because stuffy old powdered wigs still call “cookies” “biscuits.” (See? This is why we had to have a revolution).
The quickfire challenge was to produce two “biscuits” — one sweet and one savory. And lord was the polka dot man ever the biscuit stickler! He demanded that the biscuits “clink” when they hit the table, “snap” when you break them in half, and blush when you speak frankly! He threw a little tantrum every time a chef tried to present him with “gluten-free” crumbles, some cakey bullshit passed off as a biscuit, or a thing one was meant to eat with a spoon for some reason. Not a biscuit! To the tower with you!
I want to make light of his persnicketyness, but I have to admit… I’m with you on this one, Polka Dots. It’s always an argument in my house when my wife (*Borat voice*) makes cookies because she likes them all soft and gooey and undercooked in the middle and I like them a little harder so I can dunk them in milk. I do appreciate the chewy-gooey ones, on some level! They’re great if you’re just eating the cookies plain and unaccompanied like a savage who lives in the trees!
In this shiny-shoed man I recognized a fellow dunker and it brought me joy. These cooks are made for dunkin! And that’s just what we’ll do! One of these days these cookies are gonna DUNK ALL OVER YOU!
That was a fun challenge, but after it was over they put Paul back in his decorative box and moved onto the elimination challenge: football food at Tottenham Hotspur! What fun sports mascots they have in the UK! Sources say the “Hotspur” derived their nickname from the way the townspeople would all pile their belongings onto horseback and spur them onward whenever Tottenham came to town to keep the football hooligans from headbutting their families. Oi, which a youse can cook up da best scran, yeh? Last c*nt off da pitch gets a bashin’!
This challenge was actually a masterpiece of Top Chef producer impishness. First, the chefs would be broken up into groups of three. In round one, two groups would go head to head to make one dish using “an English specialty ingredient.” The other two would do the same with a different ingredient. The loser of each of those matches would then go head to head with a different ingredient. The loser of that match would then be split into three individual chefs who would have to compete against each other.
Which in practice meant that the chefs all grouped into threes with who they thought would be the strongest chefs, only to realize that those chefs would be their potential foes. The dastard!
This season is all previous Top Chef winners and finalists, so they know how to play the game. They all quickly did the math that if they teamed up with the chef who had immunity from the Quickfire, and their team lost, their chances of going home would jump from 33.33% to 50%. So they treated the chef with immunity like a leper.
This was the face of Buddha, the most Moneyball motherf*cker to ever compete in this competition when he realized he would be stuck on a team with the chef who had immunity:
That was a fun format, but if I could be allowed one minor quibble: Could we please stop with the “this was a great dish, but the chef didn’t highlight ______s enough,” format? NO ONE EATS LIKE THIS! I’ve never met a single human who takes a bite of a dish and goes, “Gee, that was really tasty, but I don’t know if the leek saddles were really the star of the dish.”
No one cares which component is the star! If it tastes good and seems harmonious, isn’t that the goal? I mean, I know it’s the goal — it’s just that when you’re pitting the world’s best chefs against each other the judges end up having to nitpick. I get it. Still, it’s a little obnoxious that the lowest-hanging nit always seems to be “Durrrr I didn’t get enough of that BRAMLEY APPLE FLAVOR I was looking for.”
No one cares, man! Sucks to your apples!
Hold up, I got so caught up in complaining that I forgot to mention that one of the judges for this challenge was a Sacha Baron Cohen character:
They passed him off as Aquiles* Chávez, judge of Top Chef Mexico, but come on, man I think I know a Sacha Cohen character when I see one. It looks like he was going for… a French surrealist painter ex-Rockabilly guy turned baseball analyst? I dunno, seems a little conceptual, Sacha. (Wait, Aquiles… Achilles??? This dude is named Achilles?!)
Maroon: Amar, Victoire, Nicole, aka Team AVN.
Green: Luciana, Gabri, Begoña, aka Team LGB.
Yellow: Buddha, Ali, Tom, aka BAT Team.
Purple: Sara, Charbel, Sylwia, aka Purple Team.
Quickfire Top: Nicole, Ali*, Luciana.
Quickfire Bottom: Victoire, Gabri, Tom.
Round One: Stilton cheese: Maroon defeats Green, 5-0.
Round One: Wensleydale cheese: Purple defeats Yellow, 4-1
Round Two: Bramley Apples. Yellow defeats Green, 5-0.
Round Three: English Peas. Begoña and Gabri defeat Luciana.
Better Mormon name: “Wensleigh-dale” or “Wenslee Dale?” Discuss.
12. (even) ((Eliminated)) Luciana Berry
AKA: Real Estate. Crinkle. Smoke Alarm. Tonka Beans.
I had Luciana ranked low last week, but after her top side of the quickfire finish (thanks to a biscuit made with TONKA BEANS, my new favorite phrase), I thought maybe she was turning things around. She even correctly diagnosed the problem with Team LGB’s first dish:
Bleu cheese and egg yolks, it turns out, isn’t a good combo (just don’t tell your mom’s panties I said that).
Sadly, no points are awarded for your correct advice being ignored (story of my life!). Their next dish could conceivably be blamed on Luciana:
Apparently, she cut the apples too early and they got soggy. How do you like them soggy apples? I don’t! Good day!
During this challenge, we learned that Bramley Apples are the “national fruit of the UK.” Gail described them as “more tart than a granny smith, a very satisfying apple.”
Well sure, who doesn’t love an apple that tastes like absolute shit? Certainly not not the Brits! Oi, dis app is so taht it’s rearrangin’ me teef, it is! Oy’ve awways wan ‘ed to have me teef reawwanged, oy ‘ave!
Finally, Luciana signed her exit visa with some subpar scallop carpaccio. Car pacci NO!
As judge Cohen put it, “Why you not put acid things on?”
As much as I want to blame the judges for their “not enough pea flavor” (heh, “pee flavor”) complaints, an Asian-inspired raw scallop dish as a vehicle for English peas admittedly sounds like kind of a terrible idea.
So I guess we’ll pea ya later, Tonka Beans. We’ll never forget the times you got super angry for exactly 15 seconds and then immediately went back to being chill again.
11. (-1) Victoire Gouloubi
AKA: Al Dente. Minute Rice. Steven Seagal. Three’s Company. Pulp Fiction.
There was a nice lil’ gettin’-to-know-the-chefs segment in this week’s show, in the middle section when they gave them the night off. And you know what? I am starting to get to know this season’s chefs. Chef Victoire opened up a little more about leaving Congo at 20 to go to Italy, where every day people don’t know how to treat her because she’s black. Meanwhile, she’s only been speaking English for four months!
Last week I speculated that she probably speaks five languages, and this week she revealed that the real number is seven! Someone could nitpick whether she’s 100% fluent in all seven, but seven languages?! I can barely name seven languages, let alone speak them.
All of this makes me feel like a real bastard for ranking Victoire this low. But she did make a biscuit so bad that Padma immediately was like “Girl, you need gluten.” Padma honestly looked offended. But then Victoire teamed up with Amar and Nicole for a stinky cheese and duck dish that took down the green team 5-0.
This was not only a winning dish, it required a call to an ambulance when Victoire revealed a severe walnut allergy halfway through standing next to Nicole while Nicole chopped walnuts. “I’m allergic to walnut,” Victoire said sheepishly.
(*loudly chopping, squinting through a cloud of walnut dust*) “WHAT? I CAN’T HEAR YOU. ANYWAY, THE WALNUT SNOOTERS ARE ALMOST DONE, I THINK IT’LL REALLY CLEAR THEIR SINUSES FOR THE CHEESE.”
At this point Victoire started puffing up and losing her voice and was immediately dragged away by the show’s medics. She found out her team won the challenge with the epi-pen needle still in her arm. I’m calling her Pulp Fiction from now on.
10. (+1) Nicole Gomes
AKA: Clawhoser. The Contessa. Kindergarten Cop.
Strong week for Nicole, who damn near won the quickfire with some very cute cookies, er, biscuits.
Don’t you just want to feed those to your dolls and clap your palms together like a little lord? Out of all the contestants, Nicole definitely looks like the one who’d bake a mean cookie.
She also revealed that she can be a bit of a foodzilla during team challenges, which was illustrated with a montage of Nicole speaking at a slightly higher than normal volume a couple of times during a food service (which, in my experience, ALWAYS involves shouting!). I’m sorry, I know from the other contestants’ reactions to Nicole that she can be annoying sometimes (hence the new nickname, Kindergarten Cop) but it’s hard to assign any malice to anyone who looks so much like a cartoon leopard (sorry to keep harping on this, but the smile and cheeks really remind me of Clawhauser).
Nicole then won a team challenge alongside Amar and Victoire, so theoretically maybe she should be ranked higher. I’m not quite a Clawhoser believer, but we’ll see.
9. (-1) Charbel Hayek
AKA: Davos. Soup Nazi. 25.
Charbel keeps sneaking under the radar, though he does maybe deserve some credit for correctly recognizing that what his team’s “too thick” cheese sauce really needed was MORE CHEESE. When in doubt, always add more of the special ingredient. It’s the chef version of just mashing the B button.
Charbel also dropped a heck of a zinger, cheering “Come on, Green Team! It’s green apple and you guys are green.”
Nailed it, bro. Drop that one at Def Comedy Jam and the security guards would need smelling salts.
8. (-1) Sylwia Stachyra
AKA: Auntie Claus. Potato Girl.
This episode was notably light on Polish Potato Girl one-liners, which is a little disappointing. But maybe she deserves it for trying to take my job of giving nicknames. Anyway, probably the funniest thing Sylwia said this episode was when she told another contestant that her savory cookie was a “caesar cookie,” which sounds kinda good, but then when she got in front of the judges she got flustered and said “I make anchovies cookie with parsley.”
That sounds… less good, but much funnier.
I have to knock Sylwia down a couple of pegs on account of her proposed solutions to the Welsh rarebit sauce were “Sriracha” and “maybe some chilis?”
Then again, cheese with chilies, maybe not such a bad thing. Welsh queso sauce? “Hey Chef, is this a freakin’ Welsh rarebit sauce or a Polish queso, am I right?!”
7. (+2) Amar Santana
AKA: Big Sleazy. Laughtrack. Hibbert.
Big Sleazy (I call him that not because he’s literally “sleazy,” but because he’s always takin’ it sleazy, so to speak) has been the class clown all season and I’ve dinged him for it a little bit. This episode it seemed like even though he’s been trying to make all the other competitor’s jokes seem funny this season, he has been paying attention. His biscuits understood the assignment (step one: be a biscuit) and his cheese dish had lots of cheese, which was enough.
Just making the judges what they want seems like a great way to skate through a challenge, and he did. He spent the rest of the episode proverbially smoking cigs behind the PE building while everyone else ran laps and God bless him for that.
I feel like it’s even money between Amar, Sylwia, and Sara for who would be the “best hang.” Discuss. (I actually hung with Amar once and he fed me fancy ham so I’m probably a little biased here. Open invitation to any of the other chefs to feed me more ham and be declared good hangs).
6. (-3) Tom Goetter
AKA: Meekus. Fuckboi Tom.
Tom has maybe been coasting on his naughty little pervert persona for too long, and when he tried to pull his usual wicked, German “I have made you a cookie that is not actually a cookie at all, ha ha ha!” act this week, Judge Polka Dots was not falling for it at all. He tossed Tom’s liquid nitrogen “clouds” in the garbage and promptly sentenced Tom to 12 years of hard dough in biscuit jail.
Dude was going on and on about biscuits and baking and blah blah blah when Tom cut him off with the most majestically passive-aggressive “Okay thanks, cheers, mate” I’ve ever heard. The perfectly concealed animus in that, so obvious and yet so perfectly disguised, was just a wonder of German engineering. It was like looking at a BMW engine, or Tom’s hair.
Later Tom teamed up with Buddha and Ali, and… hold up, dog, are you wearing a ladies’ shirt?
Damn, if that V was any deeper Joe Biden* would’ve have to blow it up to keep Russia from selling cheap gas to the EU. *Er, “Ukrainian separatists.”
I like to think Tom was late for filming so he just grabbed that shirt from a girl he woke up with. “Hallo darling, would you like to taste some clouds?”
Here was their team’s first dish, btw:
Looks… fine? But you knew they were in trouble when Buddha was like “I’m glad we’re not pairing that cheese with cauliflower, that’s so obvious.”
Trust me, man, no one outside of a Top Chef judge or contestant thinks Wensleydale cheese and cauliflower is “too obvious.” Sometimes “obvious” is good. Mostly in food and in your mom jokes.
If you think I’m lying, consider: in round two, yellow team was assigned apples and made an apple pie. That one they won. Clearly, they learned the correct lesson.
5. (+1) Gabri Rodriguez
AKA: The Black Pearl. The Mongoose. Wile Y. Coyote.
What the hell do we do with Chef Gabri? I feel like I could put him in the top three or the bottom three and justify either. First, he started off being blinded by Judge Polka Dots and his beautiful shiny shoes — “he look like Austin Powers,” said Gabri hornily, even though Austin Powers’ entire thing is being kind of ugly.
Then he made a “corico biscuit,” which involved corn and lard. Which sounded kind of good, but looked like this:
Are you okay, bro? This looks like a bowl of corn nuts. Poor Padma sat there chewing it for five minutes like Mr. Ed when they put peanut butter on his gums. Rule 1A of biscuit making, you’re not supposed to have to eat it with a spoon.
Later Gabri teamed up with Luciana and Begoña for two losing dishes that seemed like their idea and then had to go head to head with them. Where Begoña and Luciana seemed like they both went to the well in round three and just made variations of restaurant dishes of theirs, Gabri made this crazy thing:
Said Tom: “Gabri’s peas are clearly undercooked, but he still made a better dish.”
Said Sacha Baron Cohen: “He create a very tasty flavor plate.”
A very tasty flavor plate indeed.
4. (+1) Sara Bradley
AKA: Party Mom. Reebok. Sassparilla.
This week, Party Mom revealed that she played soccer in high school, but only so she wouldn’t have to go home right after school and could drive around smoking weed before practice. Which is both the most Party Mom story ever told and probably equally true of a good 85% of the chefs I’ve ever met. Again, Sara seems like a good hang.
Later she ended up on Team Purple, probably because she likes to smoke that sticky-icky (purple is the weed color, right? weed and penises). She played quality control on Sylwia’s thiccc sauce and co-signed Charbel’s “more cheese” solution. “I think they’re gonna be happy with it,” Sylwia said.
“They’re gonna be constipated is what they’re gonna be,” said Sara.
I love any chef willing to talk about poop. The way to my heart is through my butt.
3. (+1) Ali Ghzawi
AKA: RRR. Maui Wowie. The Strain. Giz.
I wish the Top Chef producers would just tell me whether Ali’s name rhymes or not. It’s better for my jokes if it does. Ali is like Gabri’s foil, in that he’s another chef I could see in the finals or getting eliminated, but for the opposite reasons. Where Gabri is like a gay Tasmanian Devil in the kitchen, Ali is calm and quiet and it’s hard to tell whether that’s the earned confidence or it’s just the handsomeness and he’s actually a himbo.
You knew Ali was going to win the quickfire as soon as they showed clips of him worrying whether his food was “too simple.” The interviews take place after the challenges, so I think that’s more chef’s false modesty than editorial manipulation. “Oh, that winning dish? My only worry was that it was SO EASY.” It’s the food equivalent of when someone compliments your outfit and you say “Oh, this old thing?”
2. (-1) Begoña Rodrigo
AKA: Tilde Swintón. Beach Mom. Thtevie Nickth.
This week, Chef Begoña revealed during the get-to-know-the-chefs sequence that she actually lives with her mother, son, and ex-boyfriend. Having an unconventional living arrangement is the most Tilde Swintón thing ever and entirely unsurprising. She also pronounced “Eez not been easy to be a chef” with a hard “-ch” on “chef” which I know shouldn’t be funny but still gets me every time.
I had to knock Chef Begoña down in the rankings a little bit. That blue cheese-and-egg-yolks idea was totally hers and definitely backfired, and then it seemed like Chef Gabri stole her thunder in the pea round. Of course, I’m not going to knock her down too far, because holy shit just look at these biscuits:
She is not from Earth!
1. (+1) Buddha Lo
AKA: Moneyball. Double Down. Big Data. Buddha.
I’m surely biased from having just seen this guy win a season, but I just get the feeling Buddha can do everything. Where other chefs bitch about having to make dessert, Buddha makes this thing:
What is this, a TACO FOR ANTS?!
In the same challenge, he also got a human interest vignette montage featuring his pug, whose name, Buddha explained, means “little crumb,” and “he’s got more rolls than a bakery,” a line you can tell Buddha has used at least 100 times before. But truly no group of humans on Earth does corny dad jokes better than Australians. It’s part of why I love them.
Buddha further revealed that he used his Top Chef winnings to pay for his pug’s eye surgery so that the little crumb wouldn’t go blind. That’s amazing. In America, we just do boring shit with our extra money like pay off our massive student debt. I’m still paying mine off and I’m 42 and I’ve been fully employed for 16 years! Hahaha, it sucks here so much.
I digress. In this episode, it was clear that Begoña had an off day. Buddha didn’t exactly thrive either, but he instantly went from “cauliflower and cheese is too obvious” to “let’s take apples and make some apple pie,” which is exactly the kind of finely calculated triangulation that makes me feel like he’s the favorite. He’s gonna buy that pug some gastric bypass.
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