Top Chef Power Rankings, Week 8: Restaurant Wars And Petty Squabbles

This week on Top Chef, it was the episode you’ve all been waiting for! That is, the episode that those five or six of you who wait for Top Chef episodes have been waiting for! That’s right, Restaurant Wars! That’s when the cheftestants separate into two equal groups, take aim with muskets, and fight to the death. Sometimes, atrocities are committed. And at the end, the winner gets to write the episode. Restaurant Wars is hell, friends.

With Midnight Oil freshly eliminated (thanks to last week’s idiotic and, as far as I know, unprecedented abdication of immunity), eight chefs were left. They broke into teams consisting of:

RED. Brooke, Shirley (Hotpot), Sylva, Emily (Avril Terrine).

BLUE. John (Bangles), Katsuji, Sheldon (Shel Chillverstein), Casey.

The red team, captained by Hotpot, named their restaurant “Latitude,” a seafood concept with a brilliantly broad genre that allowed everyone to cook their own style. Meanwhile the Blue team, lead (sort of) by Bangles, branded themselves “Southern Belle,” a restrictive theme limiting them to cooking a style based on a region none of them are even from (unless you count Casey, from Texas, which I kinda don’t).

Classic Top Chef pitfall! The perils of imperfect nomenclature!

See, if you say you’re going to cook Eskimo food and then you don’t give Tom Colicchio seal blubber, or say whatever region and fail to serve whatever stereotypical definition of the cuisine of that region (see: the great biscuit debacle of episode 2), you know he’s going to put on his best Andy Rooney voice and go “ehhh, this is great, but whale tartar just doesn’t scream ‘Eskimo’ to me.”

Sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself. First, Padma’s dress.

Good ol’ Padma. She always has that smirk on her face, like she knows full well everyone in a 10-block radius is now distracted.


8. (-4) ((Eliminated)), Katsuji Tanabe, AKA Draymond, aka Professor Katz, aka Sooj Knight

I’m torn between thinking Katsuji got a raw deal and thinking he’s an idiot for not knowing better. BUT FIRST! Hands down the best part of this episode was this waiter’s reaction to Katsuji’s beef tongue dish:

That the producers just dropped this amazing reaction into the show with no explanation was pure art. Why didn’t they have this guy judge the challenge? That’s the show I want to see.

Anyway, Katsuji managed to annoy the hell out of Bangles this entire episode, and since Bangles is already the most annoying guy on the show it became a kind of perfect storm of annoyingness. Which is perhaps best summed up by Tom’s reaction to their nonsensical bickering:

Us too, man.

Anyway, despite the horrified reaction of Horrified Reaction Shot man, Katsuji’s tongue was actually everyone’s favorite protein. Which makes sense to me, coming from the Mexican guy. Here’s a taco truck life hack: always order the lengua. So Katsuji made three dishes for some reason, the lengua everyone loved, a lame cobbler with tequila whipped cream (earning extra scorn on the supposedly Southern menu), and some sweet potato tamales with charred onion that apparently tasted burnt. Points for an accurate title, I guess.

To sum up, he had one great dish, one failed dish that wasn’t the worst of the day, and one dish no one talked about. And this got him kicked off because… ? Because he talked too much? Because he had a funny accent? I can’t really figure this one out, but all that being said, he should’ve known better, because YOU NEVER COOK MULTIPLE DISHES ON TOP CHEF, IDIOT. It’s literally number five on my top 10 ways to get kicked off Top Chef. This show is decided by bitchy nitpicking. And not like average bitchy nitpicks per dish, cumulative bitchy nitpicks. Cooking more than one thing just means more nits to bitchily pick, and no amount of good things cancel them out. Know how the judging works, yo.

7. (-6) John Tesar, AKA Bangles, aka Steve Douchemi

Every once in a while I’ll feel bad for Bangles about how mean everyone is to him especially me, but then he’ll start talking about himself in the third person again and I’ll remember how we got here.

So, believe it or not, I had John at number one last week, and in the top three for a few weeks running. He made it all the way down here to number seven only on the strength of turning in possibly the worst Top Chef performance to ever not be eliminated. He captained the Southern Belle team, meaning the restaurant concept was on him, which should’ve been elimination-worthy all by itself, since it precipitated all of the “wahhh this Southern Food isn’t biscuity enough” bitching that made up the bulk of the criticism.

On top of that, he cooked the worst dish, a “pimento cheese crab dip” using canned crab (!!) that Padma called “the worst thing I ate today,” the guest judges called “fishy, slimy,” and about which Tom Colicchio said “I think I saw that recipe in the seventies on the side of a cream cheese container.”

To which Bangles responded, hilariously, “That’s what I was going for!”

C’mon, bro, canned crab? No food goes from best thing ever to grossest thing ever quicker than crab. But don’t take my word for it, here are some satisfied customers:

On top of that, his service was (*extremely Trump voice*) a disaster, where his restaurant couldn’t keep the tickets straight and the waiters were terribly trained. How did this get blamed on Katsuji again? I don’t know what’s going on. You can’t blame it on entertainment concerns overriding merit, either, because Katsuji was easily the most entertaining person on this show.

It’s a mystery. Maybe some of those good luck charms dangling from John’s chunky bracelet actually work.

6. (+3) Casey Thompson, AKA Nerd Alert, aka Texas

Poor Nerd Alert faced a dilemma this week: on the one hand, making the girl work the front of the house seems kind of sexist. On the other, Casey’s a congenial Texas debutante who lives to entertain. What to do! In the end, the latter outweighed the former and it saved Casey from elimination because she didn’t have to stand between Katsuji and Bangles while they were food fighting. She also cooked (“cooked”) the most “Southern” dish, according to the judges, a strawberry sorbet with meringue. Not a bad showing, I suppose, but c’mon, Texas, we both know you ain’t winning this thing making sorbet.

5. (+4) Emily Hahn, AKA Avril Terrine, aka Mud Chowder

Attitudinous rebel Avril Terrine (she don’t give a damn bout her bad reputation… -that’s Emily’s musical cue that plays every time she walks in a room) would’ve gone home last week if not for Jamie’s act of chivalrous idiocy, and she opened this week’s ‘sode crying into her pillow. Come on, Emily, rebels don’t cry. I’d like to believe she was just leaking liquid middle fingers.

After that, she got chosen last (because of her bad reputation!), and it was one elevator incident away from capping off Emily’s no good, horrible, very bad week. Except then she whipped up a caramel buttermilk cake that everyone loved and looked pretty good. C’mon, Emily! Flip some tables! Roll up some packs of Lucky Strikes in your sleeves! Emily’s starting to cook well, but she’s really shaping up to be the worst outlaw ever.

4. (+2) Sylva Senat, AKA Fishbone

Fisbone brought the big backstory this week, revealing that the reason he no longer has dreads is that his restaurant burned down in an arson fire a week before it was supposed to open and he got so depressed his hair started falling out, Friday “damn” dot gif. I really have to hand it to the Top Chef producers here, if this show was on Food Network we’d already be sick of Sylva’s sap story 10 minutes in. Anyway, he made some spice-dusted halibut and everyone loved it and it was very emotional for him. Go Sylva!

3. (-2) Shirley Chung, AKA Bowl of Hug, aka Peppercorn, aka Hotpot

Hotpot was a font of decisive leadership this week, being perhaps the first person I’ve heard described as “bossy, in a good way.” And “actually, it can be helpful that she’s only capable of speaking in an ear-shattering bellow, really.”

Now that I think about it, most of Brooke’s compliments about Shirley were kind of passive-aggressive. Anyway, the shit show on the other team only served to offer flattering comparison to Shirley’s steady, if shrieky, leadership (is it just me or is the too-loud voice thing 10 times more forgivable if there’s a foreign accent involved?). And good thing for Shirley, because the judges weren’t feeling her fish-with-broth, despite a solid concept. “This should’ve been braised!” Tom Colicchio raged to the heavens as if over a fallen soldier.

And even that went better than Shirley’s panna cotta pandemonium, which had so much gelatin it was like eating an actual horse hoof, or so we were led to believe. I should add any gelatin-related dish in my 10 Top Chef commandments. Honestly, what’s the upside here, people? Like what’s the most mind-blowing panna cotta or flan you’ve ever eaten? I’ve never had a mind-blowing flan. And trust me, buddy, I’ll eat the hell out of some flan. The upside is, it’s super finicky and easy to screw up! Custards are the pork loin of dessert.

2. (even) Sheldon Simeon, AKA Shel Chillverstein, aka Keanu, aka Hopalong

Poor Cool Breeze. Just when he’d finally gotten over his injuries (presumably with the help of cortisone shots and enough opiates to tranquilize a yak) he got stuck on a team (by virtue of being the first pick — the super chill guy with mad mise en place skills is the one you want on your team) with Bangles and Draymond, who fought the whole time, which totally harshed Sheldon’s mellow.

“You can’t cook with hate in your heart,” he said, dripping a single tear. All the internecine strife got Sheldon so flustered that he took a nice vegetable stew, normally his wheelhouse, and tried to put a lei on it.

I like to imagine that when Hawaiians get flustered they just start putting flowers on everything. “And here we have… uh… steak tartar, served in a grass skirt!”

Anyway, if this show was judged on being consistently above average, Shel Chill would win going away. As it stands, he’s destined for first or second runner up.

One. (+6) Brooke Williamson, AKA Biscuits, aka The Girl With The Radish Tattoo

And just like that, Biscuits is back to her winning ways. She exudes such steady competence and gamesmanship, she’s like Jeffrey Zakarian before he got that dumb con show and started shouting all the time. Brooke not only cooked well (some kohlrabi with spiced almond milk situation), but once again proved that she’s the only one who read the rules to this game. She called her spiced almond milk “Tiger’s Milk,” and not one judge even bothered asking what that meant. The take away here? Don’t use a name of something they already know, that only gives the judges rope to hang you with. Much better to just make up a name that kind of sounds like a food and carries no associations. “You know, Padma, I think this is the best tiger’s milk I’ve ever had.”

“No kidding, and these platypus titties are so tender.”

Smart play, Biscuits. It’s yours to lose.