Top Chef Power Rankings, Week 5: Going Whole Hog With Hootie

For those of you counting down the episodes until this season’s Charleston-based Top Chef went barbecue, count no longer, because the barbecue episode is here. Was here. Whatever. Did one of the contestants helpfully explain the difference between “barbecue” and… uh… not barbecue? You better believe it. Chef Jim, of all people (aka Truman Compote), said he hates when people put a steak on a grill for five minutes and then call it “barbecue.” That’s not barbecue, ya dern yankees!

Can you believe it? Jim said “hates!” Unreal. Jim’s dominant personality trait is unconditional love. But yes, “barbecue” is cooking meat over low heat for long periods of time. That other thing where you cook meat over a grill is called “grilling.” I think most of us food television viewers have had this pedantically explained to us at least 10 or a hundred times by now. I can’t wait to hear some now-culinarily-woke Australian nudge his mate and say “Oi, Roggo, whoy don’t you put us anothah shrimp on the grillie?”

Oh, but that’s not all. This week’s guest judge? Why, none other than Charleston’s own Darius Rucker, Hootie himself. Who wasn’t afraid to “let her cry” any time a chef failed to bring the Darius Ruckus, know what I mean? (*dodges rock*) I kid, he was actually pretty nice. Because of course he was, he’s f*cking Hootie. He was the frontman of the least controversial band of the mid 90s, which is really saying something. Remember when Monica made out with one of the Blowfish on Friends? I sure do.

Padma rucks out while Hootie croons the BBQ blues

Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself, because in the quickfire challenge, the Top Chef producers took the novel approach of just sticking the chefs in a kitchen with some ingredients to see what they would do. Based on the ingredients provided, the chefs surmised that it was a biscuit challenge — correctly, I guess? Anyway, no one stopped them. I was kind of annoyed that none of the cheftestants refused to work until someone explained the challenge, or confirmed that there was a challenge. I mean, their job is to eat food, no welching on the part where you have to read the prompter, you lazy assholes.

Padma (watching from the control room) eventually came out, accompanied by guest judge John Currance. Quick, get me some expository resume fluffing!


SYLVA: Food and Wine Magazine called his biscuits some of the best in the country.

Oh good, well that settles it. So, they judged the biscuits and guess what? Chef Brooke won, validating my decision to nickname her “Biscuits” in episode two. It’s LIFE IMITATING POWER RANKINGS.

After that, a different guest judge explained Carolina barbecue some more and the cheftestants split into teams of four for a 14-hour whole hog barbecue challenge. “Any time I can break down an animal with a power tool I’m excited about that,” said Chef Brooke, as if half of you didn’t already have a crush on her.

Anyway, to the power rankings. BUT WAIT! First, an out-of-context screencap of Padma:


My screen froze on this one of the times I pressed pause, I just thought I’d share. It’s fun to look at people’s lidded eyes right as they go into that brief, food-induced fugue state. Durrrr I love food durrrrr.


12. Chef Silvia Barban (-4) ((Eliminated)), AKA: Chef-A Silvia, aka Pasta Fazool, aka Nostrils

This week, I noticed two things about Silvia: One, I’ve been spelling her name wrong for the past four weeks. And two, she does this weird thing where she leans her head back when she talks and aims her nostrils at you:

Silvia, what’s a matta for you? Close-em uppa you-a nostril, you let ’em inna di flies.

If you watch Whoop Dreams on Hulu, you can see that I do the same thing sometimes, but only when I’m trying to keep from looking at a girl’s bare breasts while I interview her (it doesn’t really work).

Anyway, Nostrils came out strong this episode, cooking up some kind of salmon and avocado infused savory biscuit during the quickfire challenge, which sounded, frankly, straight-up disgusting. The description of it even had Padma like:

Naturally, Silvia had never cookem uppa no-a biscuit a-before, being Italian and all, but when the judges actually tasted it, they generally gave positive reviews. “I hope you do everything this well on your first try.” …in bed

Then there was some B-story about Silvia’s birthday, and a segment about the infamous Top Chef Birthday Curse! DUNT DUNT DUNNN. And whaddya know, it struck again. Though I’m not sure the people claiming there’s a curse should be the same ones who get to carry it out, I don’t think that’s how curses work.

In any case, it wasn’t really the birthday that did her in. See, for the barbecue challenge, Silva (paired with Sylva, Amanda, and Katsuji) decided to make potato salad. (Well, she wanted to make roasted eggplant but everyone shouted her down, but whatever). Instead of going with your traditional, mayonnaisey Southern potato salad (which, and I say this as someone who is staunchly mayonnaise-positive, is like kinda boring at best and kinda gross at worst, no?), she decided to make some Italian potato salad thing. With mayonnaise? No, with salsa verde and agridolce.

I can’t really imagine what that might taste like, but it made sense: Silvia has been cooking up some random Italian thing (yogurt cake, the pan carasau, the farro hoppin john, etc) every week and it’s generally served her well. Only this week the judges were NOT having it. Said Tom: “this potato salad is terrible.”

Besides the birthday, Silvia ran into two problems: One, as we’ve been over, Top Chef judges are notoriously touchy about nomenclature. If you call something a “potato salad,” it’d better be EXACTLY THE POTATO SALAD THEY’VE ALWAYS PICTURED, or else you’re in trouble. “You tell me ‘potato salad,’ and then you serve me this room temperature potato side dish that doesn’t even have mayonnaise. What gives, lady?”

Top Chef judges can only imagine a dish one way and they’re kind of sticklers, which is funny because Italians are exactly the same way, hence this potato kerfuffle.

Two, as we’ve also been over, Tom seems to be a self-hating Italian — see last week, with “Did Snooki cook this?”-gate. Or, maybe Silvia’s potato salad was just garbage. Gail Simmons did describe it as “weighty and overcooked and slimy.” …in bed.

I dunno, Silvia seemed so promising! It seemed like she got a raw deal here. Especially in light of…

11. Chef Amanda Baumgarten (+1), AKA Annoying Amanda, aka Shhhh

So Shhhh was on the losing team this week, along with Sylva, Silvia, and Katsuji, but somehow when it came time to choose the worst, the judges left out Amanda. What?! Silvia made the non-potato-salad potato salad, Katsuji made baked beans that he accidentally left a funky pork gland in, souring the whole batch, and Sylva made a non-South Carolina-approved barbecue sauce. Fine. But Amanda made a slaw that no one liked either. And yo, it’s a slaw.

Beans, potato salad… those things are at least kind of time consuming. Amanda managed to screw up a damned slaw (a “kale and pickled apricot slaw,” to be precise, mehhh). Though she did have the best screencap this week, in reaction to Sylva trying to mansplain her slaw prep.

Funny thing about that mansplaining though… The thing Sylva was mansplaining was how to season slaw. And what did Amanda end up getting dinged for? You guessed it, underseasoned slaw. Boom, patriarchy validated. Anyway, Amanda should’ve gone home for her weak-ass slaw.

10. Chef Sylva Senat (-5), AKA Fishbone, aka Mansplain, aka Hoisin

Sylva quietly had a hand in almost every screw up this episode. First he talked Silvia out of making roasted eggplant, then he mansplained Shhh’s slaw, and left to his own devices, tried to combine South Carolina’s two main barbecue sauce styles — mustard based, influenced by the French and Germans, and vinegar and pepper-based, influenced by the English — as explained by guest judge Rodney Scott. Quick, someone fluff this resume!


JAMIE: Rodney Scott, he’s a legend here in South Carolina for his whole hog barbecue.

Oh, okay then. Where was I? Oh right, Sylvia tried to combine mustard-style and vinegar-style into one, which for some reason also involved ketchup and hoisin sauce. Way to go, IDIOT. Everyone knows Southerners like their bbq sauces the way they like their races, separate but equal. That said, everyone still agreed that the sauce was good. And on Top Chef, “the wrong kind of good” is actually a thing.

9. Chef Katsuji Tanabe (-5), AKA Sooj Knight, aka Draymond, aka Professor Kats

The green team pretty much screwed up everything this week. As you may have noticed above, all their dishes included a gloopy sweet sauce, whether it be Fishbone’s Hoisin-Fusion Disaster, Amanda’s bland slaw, Nostrils’ agridolce, or Katsuji’s Attempt To Disguise The Funk beans. But we’re forgetting that they also managed to screw up the pork by cooking it too hot. When Tom came by to chat while they were cooking, he noticed the Green Team’s pit seemed a little hot. Which Katsuji described as “We’re taking a bit of a risk, cooking it hot,” which was met with this face from Tom:

Jesus Christ, people, “low and slow!” It was right there in the challenge description, when Padma said “from making dough to low and slow.”

Note: I hope whoever came up with that line got fired.

Anyway, Katsuji was riding high off a win last episode and a top three finish in this week’s quickfire, and then he got all overconfident and just started throwing pig parts in his beans. Which sure seemed like a good idea, except that pigs apparently have a funk gland in their jowls (much like famed musician George Clinton), which Katsuji wouldn’t know because he normally cooks kosher. Oops! Talk about a bean boner! He’s lucky he didn’t get sent home. This show is no place for a Japanese kosher Mexican who can’t even cook beans.

8. Chef Jim Smith (+1), AKA Truman Compote, aka Buddy Challah, aka Melon Baller, aka The Friendship Gnome

I can’t believe I have to put this adorable little bastard all the way down in eighth place. One of these episodes, I just know he’s going to whip up some kind of magical dollhouse-sized, incredibly ornate cheddar dumpling that’s going to win him the competition and allow the evil witch to feel love, transforming her back into the princess, but after three straight bottom three finishes, in last week’s elimination and this week’s quickfire, I don’t know what else to do.

Jim finished in the bottom three during a biscuit challenge! Biscuits! Although, now that I’m remembering, Jim was the one who refused to cook biscuits back in episode two. A southern dandy like Jim may hate biscuits the same way my father who went to 12 years of Catholic school hates religion (at my great aunt’s funeral last year I literally had to shush him when he leaned over to me and loudly “whispered,” “You think they actually believe this shit?”).

Anyway, once Jim broke the buttermilk bonds of his biscuit prison, he did pretty well again. That trotter and pig’s head hash wins my vote for tastiest-sounding thing of this episode. I bet that pig had a big smile on his pig face when he donated his head and feet to this delightful munchkin.

7. Chef Emily Hahn (+4), AKA Stormcloud, aka Problems, aka Avril Terrine

Everyone tried to pull a Forrest Gump on Emily while they were choosing teams, which actually worked out in her favor when she landed on a team with heavy favorite Brooke, a surging Bracelets, and always-in-the-mix Shel Chillverstein. It didn’t stop her being all up in that DRAMA though, because drama is what Emily do. Like when she was all “Katsuji just got in my face about my beans” which is a hilariously Top Chef sentence.

Luckily, Emily’s team held her back while repeating “he’s not worth it!” 80s-movie style until she calmed down. Anyway, she’s seemed like a good chef with a bad attitude up until now, but this week, being on a good team was the only thing saving Emily and her undercooked ass beans.

6. Chef Shirley Chung (+1), AKA Bowl of Hug

Was Shirley even in this episode? Other than getting dinged for her “intensely seasoned” black pepper mascarpone during the biscuit round (she finished in the bottom three), she got barely any screen time. I guess she made the braised cabbage? Solidly middle of the pack.

5. Chef Casey Thompson (+1), AKA Texas, aka Nerd Alert

Hot Casey had the dubious distinction of getting even less screen time than Shirley this episode, finishing in neither the top nor the bottom of either challenge. And she didn’t even get to cry while saying something super dorky. Off episode for Nerd Alert.

4. Chef Jamie Lynch (+6), AKA Midnight Oil

The chef synonymous with sick tats and burned veg is finally turning it on, placing in the top three in the biscuit challenge. Then I guess he made some pickles or something? Anyway, shocking return to form or whatever.

3. Chef Sheldon Simeon, AKA Cool Breeze, aka Shel Chillverstein

Sheldon finished in the bottom three in the quickfire with this flat, doughy biscuits that he forgot the top of, leading Padma to ask, “Did you want them to be this flat?”

It’s never a good sign when a Top Chef judge asks you if you meant to cook something the way you cooked it. Anyway, after that, Sheldon got on the winning yellow team and I don’t know what he actually cooked himself, but whatever! He has back problems!

The only thing that makes a preternaturally chill dude like Shel Chillverstein even chiller is opiates. Until he runs out. Nothing harshes a chill faster than coming off opiates.

2. Chef John Tesar (-1), AKA Bangles, aka Steve Douchemi

Bangles at number two, can you believe this bullshit? He won last week’s quickfire, was in the top three of last week’s elimination challenge, and won the elimination challenge this week. And for what? For making some mac and cheese, that he spent 20 minutes bitching that he didn’t have flour for. If you ask snoots like Zach Johnston, “real” mac and cheese doesn’t have flour anyway, that’s a mornay sauce. Just use the water you cooked the pasta with for the same effect.

Instead, Bangles borrowed some xantham gum from Katsuji to thicken his mac, which may be the first time in the history of Top Chef that someone has busted out a molecular trick and had it work out. Hootie raved.

If there was one saving grace it was that John is back to seeming annoying again, whether he was casually calling the pigs “oinkers” or name dropping all the famous barbecue guys he’s hung with. I love barbecue, but nothing ruins it faster than someone talking about the most famous barbecue bros. Barbecue is like tacos, I’d much rather get it from a shack with no name on the outside. Nothing detracts from the experience like “buzz.”

Brooke was barely tolerating it:

Which brings us to…

1. Chef Brooke Williamson (+2), AKA Biscuits, aka The Girl With The Radish Tattoo

Am I biased towards the chef I nicknamed Biscuits winning the Biscuit challenge? Maybe. Probably. Whatever. If we’re recapping, Brooke won this week’s quickfire, last week’s quickfire, the elimination challenge the week before, and was on the top team in the elimination challenge this week. I have to think the judges only gave Bangles the win to keep Brooke from winning every time. Brooke is running away with this thing, just like it looked like she was doing on Season 11. At this stage of the competition, it looks like Brooke’s going to waltz to an easy victory, as long as the producers don’t bring back Kristen Kish in the finale. That would be awesomely wicked, by the way.