Top Chef returned to television last night, and with it, weekly power rankings. Thank God, I was close to running out of trivial things to complain about. Now, bear with me, as week one power rankings are admittedly highly speculative. The top seeds haven’t quite shaken out yet, and we have only the vaguest ideas about who is or isn’t there to make friends. Heck, we don’t even know everyone’s names yet and so we have to give them nicknames like George W. Who will be our pretend friends? Who will be our pretend enemies? It’s fun but overwhelming, like the first week of college.
Lessons Learned This Week
1. Don’t cook the judges dishes “I could get in a pizzeria”
It’s always fun to look for foreshadowing in the edits, like when Grayson (returning from season nine!) tells Amar “we’re both makin’ meatballs!” And he responds, “Yeah, but I’m not making red sauce.” And then it cuts to a reaction shot (probably taken from a completely different time and spliced in to look like it was a reaction) of Grayson looking like he just kicked her dog. Foreshadowing! Red sauce is going to be a thing! Later, Tom Colicchio disparagingly refers to Grayson’s sauce as “Jersey red sauce” with Padma chiming in that “I could get this in any pizzeria.” (Criticism always hurts more when the criticizer is super pretty and glamorous, doesn’t it?) This was basically the chef version of getting called a basic b*tch.
That’s when Grayson splutters “I MADE 400 BALLS!” and appears to turn away to hide her tears. Someone crying on the very first episode? Chug your drink!
2. Don’t double dip right in front of the judges
Reality show editors are always looking to turn people into characters and cut together a B-story, and this week’s victim was Wesley, aka Pig Pen. He was messy at his station, and then when he was serving the judges during the challenge, he stirred some sauce using the same spoon he’d just used to taste! (*GASP*) He reached off camera with the spoon right before he stirred, and I assumed he’d run it under some water before using it to stir (totally acceptable, no?), but Padma acted like he just spat in her food. Was it real? Was it manufactured? Who cares! Fat Southern Guy Who Is Also A Slob is just too juicy a storyline for them to pass up.
3. If you want to smoke some food using dry grass that dogs have peed on… go for it!
When Chef Philip, aka Man Bun (side note: can you believe that on the California season of Top Chef, there’s only one guy with a man bun?) grabs some dry grass from the park they’re cooking in to finish smoking his crab dish, one of the other contestants points out that this particular park has dogs walking around everywhere peeing on the grass (cut to some sweet dog b-roll). But, like the Russian guy in the “Pine Barrens” episode of The Sopranos, this plot point just sort of runs off into the woods and never comes back.
AKA: Bald Frat Guy
Dish: Snapper crudo with kombu gel.
It’s a little early to tell if Jeremy is a true favorite, but we have to start with the winner. Before he opened his mouth, I thought Jeremy, with his stylish balding-guy crop and reddish beard, was going to be the new Stefan, a haughty Germanic/Scandinavian with a penchant for perfectionism. Then he started talking and he sounded like a San Diego frat bro. It’s hard not to like the guy who’s just happy to be there. Jeremy could go all the way — all he needs is some tasty waves and a cool buzz.
Memorable quote: “I’m stoked!”
AKA: Latin Beard Guy
Dish: Pork belly meatball in the style of an everything bagel.
Dominican-born Orange County chef Amar seemed to get the most word of mouth (“Did you try Amar’s meatball yet? You’ve got to try Amar’s meatball.”), but then when it came time to pick a winner, the judges pulled a switcharoo and gave it to Jeremy instead. Maybe they’re just racist against meatballs? Or Grayson ruined meatballs for everyone? (THANKS, GRAYSON). Anyway, all signs point to Amar as an early favorite. Also, he seems to be annoyed with the same things as we are, so he could become the go-to audience mouthpiece.
Memorable Quote: “Yeah, but I’m not making red sauce.”
AKA: Lucifer, Cajun Man
Dish: Grandmama Toups’ shrimp court boullion
If you had “I can’t believe I’m going to cook (insert dish) for (Chef famous for that dish)!” in Top Chef bingo, you would’ve had to chug a beer for Isaac, who cooked up some Louisiana comfort food for his mentor, Emeril. But it worked out for him, and he ended up in the top three.
Memorable quote: Blah blah my grandma blah blah Louisiana.
AKA: Mini Alex Smith
Dish: Turkish-spiced carrot soup.
The food critics and bloggers had Carl in the top four, and while he didn’t finish in the top three once the judges got involved, Padma went on and on about his carrot soup. The dish doesn’t sound that great on paper, which may make it more impressive. Also, the first thing he did with his Top Chef coat is put it on his dog and take an Instagram picture, which makes me think we could hang out.
Memorable quote: “I live in a Middle Eastern neighborhood.” (I’m paraphrasing).
AKA: Poindexter, Glasses Guy, Tolerable Alton Brown
Dish: Poached chicken with “salsa apicius.”
Jason didn’t make the top four with the L.A. critics, but the judges couldn’t stop mentioning him. Also, he got a decent amount of time, with the editors trying to turn him into “Kinda Nerdy Guy.”
Memorable quote: “Apicius was a philosopher and gastronome.”
AKA: Wormser, The Prodigy
Dish: Spiced romaine lettuce with shrimp, pork, pineapples, peanuts.
Bronx-trained young dude Kwame made it into the L.A. critics’ top four, which would seem to put him higher on this list, if only Padma hadn’t singled him out to say “I don’t think Kwame belongs there.” (Another drinking game: drink every time Padma drops a truthbomb.) It looked like the editors tried to pump him up as a human interest story and then dropped him 10 minutes into the episode for lack of drama.
Memorable quote: “I’m just a poor kid from the Bronx!” (Something like that).
AKA: Beard Guy Light, Every Guy On Top Chef
Dish: Tangerine aguachile with scallop and shrimp cake (and ground grasshopper!).
With his rockabilly hair, big beard, and forearm tats (if there’s not a knife, pig, or radish in there somewhere I owe you a beer), Chad is what an artist would come up with if you said to draw a Top Chef contestant. He also used insects in his food (chug your beer!), rounding out his dish with “ground grasshopper.” Yum? I hope it was free range grasshopper, I hate to think of grasshoppers all cooped up in some factory farm. Anyway, Chad didn’t make the top four, but the judges mentioned him specifically. And Padma said “I love it!” when she heard about the grasshoppers. Shut up, Padma.
Memorable quote: “I’m going to win them over with my food… and my beard (*points to beard, showing off forearm tattoos*).”
AKA: Pig Pen, The Slovenly Southerner
Dish: Shrimp and clams with tomato water and mustard potato salad
We’re into the middle of the pack now, the chefs that made neither the top four nor the bottom four, and weren’t singled out by name. Wesley had the dubious distinction of getting the most negative screen time (his messy station, dropping things, double dipping his spoon), including a priceless shot of him leaving the label on his tomato as he chopped then threw it into a blender. He was straining it all to make a tomato water, so leaving a label on didn’t really matter, but that was some damned fine camera work. After all that, the judges seemed to like his dish, which is why I have him at the top of the middle. It’s just his bad luck that fat, messy, slow, and Southern seems to hit all of our stereotype receptors. They’re setting the table for Wesley to be a fan favorite, just wait.
Memorable quote: “Everyone I work with says I’m messy.”
AKA: Man Bun, Chef Top Knot, L.A. Guy
Dish: “California Produce with Flavors of the Pacific.” Which somehow included something smoked with dog-pee grass, puffed amaranth, and a foam.
Of course the chef with the man bun made a foam. Phillip crowed about knowing all the L.A. critics and bloggers multiple times, which even got him a reaction testimonial (from Tolerable Alton Brown). The editors are clearly setting up Phillip as “Obnoxious Hipster.” Tom Collicchio called him the epitome of new L.A. cooking, and it was hard to tell if it was a compliment.
Quote: “Yum, dog pee!”
AKA: Rosie the Riveter, Chef Hot Topic
Dish: Salmon and apple tartar.
The judges didn’t say a thing about her food, and she got zero screen time outside of a couple cutaways. She did get to be the go-to testimonial to highlight Wesley’s slovenliness, so… yay?
Quote: “Wesley’s station is next to mine.”
AKA: The One Who Works With Mike Isabella, Mike Ms.abella
Dish: Lamb tartar.
Marjorie’s food wasn’t mentioned at all, and she was only used as a flashback for Mike Isabella (who had “I want to do my boss proud!” in Top Chef bingo? chug your beer). She was also a device to paint Garret as an asshole and the go-to soundbite to illustrate Phillip braising his food in dog pee. The editors are clearly setting her up as “the one who objects to dog pee.”
Quote: “That’s kinda gross.”
AKA: Nosering Girl, Ms. No Screen Time, Who?
Dish: Vegan almond soup?
Giselle was so invisible they didn’t even put her dish online.
AKA: The Obnoxious One, Yoga Chick, That Girl You Sorta Remember From College Who’s Always Posting Smug Affirmations In Your Facebook Feed
Dish: Marinated pork loin with polenta.
Now we’re into the bottom four, as rated by the L.A. critics. I put Renee at the top of the bottom, the ol’ Cream of the Crap slot, on account of she won the quickfire challenge, and the judges seemed to like her food all right. Tom said her pork loin was underseasoned, and also her polenta was underseasoned. (Real talk: pork loin is always boring unless it’s covered in gravy or wrapped in something fattier). Her main function seems to be as this season’s antagonist, on account of… just seeming slightly smug, I guess. Watching any clips of her talking, you can see why. She does seem to have that ever-present smile of self-satisfaction.
Quote: “I specialize in nourishing wonderful healthy seasonal food.”
AKA: Asian Miley Cyrus
Dish: Mung bean soup with bitter melon.
Frances got the most screen time, on account of being a goofy, plainspoken foreigner. And she’s the only sous chef (future fan favorite, just watch). And then she made a mung bean soup with bitter melon, one of the least appetizing combinations of words ever conceived. Bummer, because most Filipino food is deep fried, full of pork, and/or covered in spicy sauce (see also: delicious).
Quote: “Google it, people.”
AKA: Grayson, How YOU Doin’
Dish: Veal and beef meatballs in spicy tomato sauce. AKA “Jersey Red Sauce” and “any pizzeria.”
The only returning contestant, Grayson blamed a mental breakdown for getting booted in season nine, and then proceeded to have a mental breakdown. Which was kind of understandable under the circumstances, there’s no harder criticism to hear than “this was good, but who cares?” She got hurt and lashed out, always a bad call. Never go on the offensive. Padma hates that. In fact, don’t even make direct eye contact. And try to stand perfectly still, Padma’s vision is based on movement. It looked like they were all set to boot her off, and then they pulled a switcheroo at the last minute.
Quote: “I MADE 400 BALLS!”
AKA: Save The Last Dance, The Young One
Dish: Goat cheese croquette with romesco.
Twenty-four-year-old Angelina looks like she should be starring in a dance movie, not Top Chef. Her dish got brutalized by the judges (too soggy, not enough sauce, muddled, bland) despite looking pretty tasty to this viewer. It’s hard to tell from just one show, but it looked like she was close to getting booted.
Memorable quote: “I have failed.”
AKA: Beard Guy Dark, The Pretentious One
Dish: Vietnamese chicken brodo.
It’s hard to tell if Garret’s dish was really the worst, or if they booted him out of sheer schadenfreude. The best part of the show was Garret talking trash on Mike Isabella serving “in my opinion, the worst bastardization of Italian food.” SMASH CUT TO: Garret, at his station, introducing his “Italian brodo infused with the flavors of Vietnam.” Mmm, next do a fish sauce polenta with dried shrimp gnocchi! With all his expansive, polysyllabic testimonials, I really thought they were setting up Garret to be this season’s Marcel. Then they booted him and I was like “Oh well, that’s cool too.”
Memorable quote: “Gustatory aesthetics.”
Early Fan Favorite Favorites
Frances, Wesley, Isaac
Judge Power Rankings
Most-Anticipated Possible Guest Judges
Wolfgang Puck: Have you seen the Wolfgang Puck episodes? He’s insane. The rest of the judges can’t hold it together when he’s around and start breaking character like SNL castmembers during a Matt Foley sketch. I would watch Wolfgang Puck throw dishes and scream about risotto all day.
Anthony Bourdain: Bourdain is strangely subdued as a Top Chef judge; it’s a whole different side of him.
Mickey Rourke: I don’t have any evidence that this has or is being considered, I just think it would be incredible. The contestants should cater a dinner party for Mickey Rourke, Eric Roberts, and that weird, tiny heroin Elvis Mickey Rourke always hangs out with.
Least-Anticipated Possible Guest Judges
Roy Choi: The only challenger to Toby Young’s crown of worst Top Chef guest judge ever. And he’s an L.A. guy, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he shows up again, spouting platitudes and being disappointed in everyone.
Simon Majumdar: British batboy hates pineapples.
Josh Gad: I don’t know how or why, but Josh Gad will find a way.
Adam Levine: The Josh Gad of music.
NEXT WEEK… Ludo Lefebvre (you knew he was going to show up at some point) and a battle of pop-up restaurants.
Vince Mancini is a writer and comedian living in San Francisco. A graduate of Columbia’s non-fiction MFA program, his work has appeared on FilmDrunk, the UPROXX network, the Portland Mercury, the East Bay Express, and all over his mom’s refrigerator. Fan FilmDrunk on Facebook, find the latest movie reviews here.