Top Chef Power Rankings Week 2: Find Padma’s Biscuits

This week on Top Chef, the producers wisely avoided any additional plantation controversy, taking the cheftestants (sorry, that’s what they’re officially called) instead to meet the local river troll and sample his buttery delights drawn from a magical chest.

“Yarrr, answer me riddles and ye can taste of me tray-sure,” said the river troll, cackling wildly and sprinkling Old Bay on his nipples.

Jk, the river troll was actually guest judge Frank Lee, introduced, in classic expository Top Chef fashion, by Chef Jamie as “the Godfather of low country cooking.”

On that note, I would like someone to make a Top Chef montage of the moment when the cheftestants have to explain to the audience who the guest judges are. Tentative title, “Don’t You Know Who This Guy Is, Bro?!”

Steve Pilkerson!? He’s like the Mao Tse Dong of Savory Basque Percussionist Baking!

Anyway, Frank Lee was doing something called a “low country boil,” which apparently involves cooking shrimp in a buttery treasure chest. “Yarr, me map told true! ‘Twas buried ‘neath a sycamore tree 50 paces from the wreck of the Queen Anne’s Bustle! Now come taste the meat of me plundered sweets, yarrrrr tis sweet and buttery, yarrr yarrrrrrr.”

Actually, after the shrimp feed. Frank Lee sent the gang off to eat with a South Carolinian family, as their inspiration for a family style meal which they would later cook in two groups, rookies vs. veterans. The rookies ate a Gullah meal with BJ Dennis (he was on a Bourdain show!), and Carrie “She’s Known For Her Biscuit Company” Morey. The food looked good. After that there was some shoppin’ drama (“there isn’t enough money for my dish!”), and some biscuit drama, specifically over whether the rookies should cook a biscuit dish after breaking biscuits with a famously biscuity biscuit lady. They didn’t, which seemed like a reasonable choice at the time. But of course the first thing out of Padma’s mouth when served a pharoah’s feast of high-end Southern inspired banquet fare was “What, no biscuits? Padma is disappointed.”

Jesus, lady, were you watching the dailies? Probably it’s just that Padma is the type of person where you walk in the room hoping no one will notice the stain on your shirt, and she immediately blurts out “My God, what happened to your shirt!” It’s always the pretty ones.

Stuff That Sounded Real Good This Episode

Shirley’s pork and oyster stew. That really combines all the words I like.

Sylva’s dark meat rice. Ditto.

Favorite Thing This Week

The wild swings in juxtaposed reaction shots between when the judges praise a chef’s dish and when they go on to bash it for trivial reasons. I compiled a visual example from when Padma was critiquing Sylva’s “Permanent Slaw.”

I know that’s probably created entirely through editing, but it cracks me up every time. Nice job, editors. That’s not how you cook cauliflower, you asshole!


The Top

One. Chef Casey (+11), AKA Miss America, aka Texas

Chef Casey flew to the top by winning this week’s challenge on the strength of… uh… her decision to not cook her collard greens for super long? Collared greens with turnips and chicken skin and trout roe, huh? Guess you had to be there. The judges called it “deceptively complex,” which I guess will happen when you combine roots, chicken skin, greens, fish eggs, and a root vegetable. What exactly was deceptive about this complexity again? I think you mean “predictably complex.”

Anyway, I debated even putting Casey at number one this week, but she won the challenge so here we are. Casey also got all choked up about her heartwarming family meal, wiping a way a tear and squeaking “isn’t food cool?”

HAHAHA, DORK ALERT! This reminds me of the time in high school when our calculus teacher was graphing something and thought about it for a second and said, “…It’s actually quite beautiful, I think.”

At which point the entire class laughed at him, loudly, for a good five count. He retired the next year and said it was because of us. Good times. True story.

Anyway… minus 10 points for crying, Casey! But plus five for crying about the power of food and not about your dumb kids or something like people usually do. Casey is from Texas!

2. Chef Brooke Williamson — AKA, Biscuits

I guess I can’t put Brooke at number one considering she didn’t win the challenge this week, but she had immunity so she took one for the team and cooked some biscuits so that Empress Padma wouldn’t storm around the castle beating her servants. They looked like good biscuits, but not good enough to deserve mention in the top dishes, apparently. At least I finally have a nickname for Brooke. Anyway, I feel like this was just like a bye week in the NFL for Brooke, and that next week she’s going to come back strong and rested and sack the food quarterback and run for two food touchdowns or whatever. Sports!

3. Chef Sheldon Simeon (+6) — AKA Hang Loose, aka A Cool Breeze Blowing Through The Mountains

It’s a real shame Keanu Reeves stole the name Keanu, which means a cool breeze from the mountains, because it fits Sheldon so perfectly. Sheldon hula’d his way into the top three this week, incredibly, with a Filipino-inspired eggplant dish. I have a hard time imagining a truly noteworthy eggplant dish, but luckily guest judge Frank Lee called himself “a nut for eggplant.”

A nut for eggplant! I can’t even imagine. I feel like that was a line Tom Petty cut from “Free Fallin.” “She’s a good girl, crazy ’bout eggplant. Loves Jesus, and America too…”

4. Chef Shirley Chung (-1), AKA Bowl Of Hug

Chef Shirley didn’t make the top three this week, while John (Bracelets), who’s ranked lower, did. But I’m putting her ahead of him anyway because her “pork and oyster stew” sounded delicious. I can only assume that she didn’t land in the top this week because she didn’t give her dish another awesomely Shirley name, like Chinese New Year Surf And Turf Fun Time Stew or something. Stay on brand, Shirley.

5. Chef Emily Hahn (+1), AKA Stormcloud, aka Avril Terrine

Emily opened the show trying desperately to stay on brand as the show’s Angstyvillain, objecting not only to being put on the rookie team, but to the term rookie itself. “I’m starting to get a little P.O.’d,” said Avril Terrine. “I am not a rookie chef.”

OH SNAP! Sounds like Emily’s just havin’ one of those days. Everything is f*cked, everybody sucks. Stay away, motherf*cker!

Luckily, just when it seems Emily was feelin’ like a freight train, she cooked up a pickled shrimp dish (“a little acid to cut this heavy meal should hit the spot” — smart) that had the judges praising her, and Emily’s reaction (above) could only be describe, as the British put it, as “chuffed.”

Emily has a decent chance to leave this competition a winner, though a punk has a much better chance of leavin with a fat lip, if they don’t quit, talkin’ that shit. She’s like a chainsaw, what.

6. Chef John Tesar (+9), AKA Bracelets, aka Steve Douchemi, aka Budget Johnny Depp

Dammit, I can’t believe I have to put Bracelets in the top half of my rankings this week. Unfortunately, after opening the cooking segment with “I love the smell of chaos in the morning,” (B – dad joke! that is the top score of dad jokes!) Chef John cooked an actually pretty good-sounding crab gravy over rice dish that he impressively managed not to lose any bracelets in. “Mmm, John, this is good, and has hardly any baubles, well done.”

This landed John in the judges’ top three. There’s no way this can last, right?

7. Chef Jim Smith (-5), AKA Dapper Dan, aka Truman Compote, aka Buddy Challah

Adorably dapper, golden-throated southern sprite Jim shockingly didn’t end up in the top this week, I can only imagine because he was on the losing team. Jim had immunity this week and his team desperately decided they wanted him to cook some biscuits long after they’d left the store. But Jim put his tiny foot down, jingling the bells on the ends of his curly little shoes. Instead he made grits with ham hock and asparagus and hen of the woods mushrooms and sweet Jesus does that sound delicious. I like to imagine all the animals of the forest gathered the mushrooms for Jim while he sat Indian style playing the pan flute.

I love Jim.

Indistinct Middle

8. Chef Sylva Senat (even), AKA Haitian Man, aka Not Sylvia

It’s hard to say where anyone in the middle really stands, since their food seemed generally well-received, but not well enough to be in the top or bad enough to be in the bottom. I’m putting Sylva at the top because for the second week in a row he cooked something that I would’ve ordered if this show was a menu — in this case “dark meat rice.” I don’t know what that is but it sounds awesome. Come cook for me, Sylva.

9. Chef Sam Talbot (-2), AKA Handsome Dan, aka Kutch

Sam cooked some gluten-free, vinegar-and-tea-brined fried chicken this week (he’s type 1 diabetic) and talked about the religious experiences he’s had eating fried chicken (hyperbolic, but I understand). The judges didn’t say much about it at the end, but I’m putting Sam near the top of the middle on account of he’s just so damned handsome. Why worry about Sam’s food when we can feast upon his glorious features? Mmm, chiseled. People’s Most Beautiful People. Sam, so hot right now.

It’s a good thing John is also on this show to be the too-many-bracelets guy, or else I’d be roasting Sam ruthlessly right now for whatever opal situation he’s got going on there.

Lookin’ like Guy Fieri after a mindfulness seminar.

10. Chef Katsuji Tanabe (+1), AKA Professor Kats, aka Sooge Knight, aka Katsuji the Kosher Mexican

The Sooge defied his Kosher heritage multiple times this week, supping shellfish from the river troll’s mystery box and then serving up a shrimp stew with a spicy pineapple sauce. That sounds… weird. Good weird? I suppose so, with Judge Morey saying it “tasted creole” and calling it “just about perfect.”

Nice going, Sooge. He also said what we were all thinking about Amanda being obnoxious. “She’s kind of eenteresting when you pay attaintion to what she say-s, but I am not paying attaintion.”

11. Chef Amanda Baumgarten (-6), AKA Bangs, aka Obnoxious, aka STRUGGLING to control THE VOLUME OF MY VOICE

Amanda cooked a “whole fish ceviche” (the whole fish wasn’t on the plate, just a few strips of it, like normal ceviche, so I don’t understand the name), but was notable mainly for not being able to modulate the volume of her own voice or correctly judge the energy level of the room. Someone give her an emoji chart to study. For instance, “Person looking out the window while you talk = probably not interested in the rest of your story.”

12. Chef Sylvia Barban (-8), AKA Chef-a Sylvia, aka (*extremely Italian voice*) Ayyyy

Chef Sylvia this week claimed that this was the first time she’d tried Southern food, which leads me to wonder: are Italians the snobbiest eaters in the world? It’s not like she just got here. Anyway, Chef-a Sylvia clearly was out of her a-comfort zone this week, trying to cook an Italian take on Hoppin John (that’s rice and peas) with farro. Which the judges found underseasoned, not moist enough, and “fussy.” Maddon’. Sylvia goes from favorite to underdog, just like that.


13. Chef BJ Smith (-3), AKA Portland, aka Hipster Seth Rogen, aka Ear Plugs

I believe those chunky eyeglass frames are made from reclaimed wood.

Chef BJ committed a classic sin of hubris this week, getting all over-confident about his dish on account of “I cook meat.” He’s the meat guy! No chance he’s going to screw up a meat dish, right?! He certainly looks like a guy who’d be working the meat counter at Whole Foods.

Unfortunately, Chef BJ also violated one of my ironclad rules of Top Chef: NEVER COOK PORK LOIN! Don’t you remember last season when someone screwed up a pork loin every other episode? Here’s the problem with pork loin: either it’s in the top 10 pork loins you’ve ever had or it kind of sucks. It’s like white meat chicken — you have to do it perfectly or else it’s boring as hell. You know where you’re not going to cook pork loin perfectly? In a crowded ass kitchen you’ve never worked in before cooking for like 10 people. Get it together, BJ! This show needs your over-dramatic expository confessionals to keep the plot moving.

14. Chef Jamie Lynch, Aka Rodman, aka Gravel, aka The Tom Waits of the Kitchen (there’d be an awesome Tom Waits food pun here if I knew any Tom Waits songs)

Chef Jamie and his garglin’ rocks voice was on a mission to redeem himself for last week’s burnt vegetable debacle, and thus attempted a vegetable dish this week. Which turned out… poorly. Unfortunately it was an ill-advised squash casserole custard thing (?) that turned out “watery” and “practically scrambled,” according to the judges, who also tarred it with the now-dreaded adjective: “clunky.”

And so instead of redemption pie, Chef Jamie cooked up burnt broccoli on his way to possible elimination city. Burnt veg AGAIN?! Also, it’s possible that Jamie is actually more Midnight Oil than Tom Waits.


Okay, so they don’t actually look that much alike other than the fact that they’re both bald. Whatever, I still like my song. Though Jamie apparently shaves his head almost bald despite having what appears to be a normal, full headline. Aggressive move. Total Rodman stuff.

15. Chef Annie Pettry (-1) ((Eliminated)), AKA Crouton, aka Egg, aka Annie Are You Okay, aka Hard Luck Annie

Ol’ Hard Luck Annie couldn’t catch a break once again this week. The other chefs took all the good dishes, leaving poor Crouton kicking pebbles and muttering under her breath about how she can’t get no respect. I always half expect her sentences with “Aw, jeez, fellas,” like Butters from South Park.

Annie ended up having to take, semi-begrudgingly the tomato pie (which I had for the first time recently and it was delicious), choosing to make a tomato tart and inadvisably trying to make her own dough, assemble, and bake it in under two hours. All in a crowded, unfamiliar kitchen with finicky ovens. That’s hard! Annie basically had “no way to succeed,” according to Gail, which didn’t stop the judges from booting her anyway, despite Gail pointing out that Chef Jamie’s sad watery squash whatever was probably the worst. Damn, Top Chef, you gangster.

To add insult to injury, Tom Colicchio had the nerve to give Annie the old play punch on the chin and “Buck up, kiddo, now you’ll just have to win Last Chance Kitchen!”

Yeah, because I’m sure the head case with stage fright is going to do juuuust fine in the head-to-head sudden death challenge and beat 13 chefs in a row. Uh huh, sure. That’s cold, Tom. You’ll be chugging slimy okra in purgatory for that one. Incredibly, Annie once again did not cry, even though everyone expected her to. Say what you will about her cooking, Annie’s got ducts of steal.