As usual, there's a lot of sneaky intel out there, but I'm endeavoring to keep this blog a spoiler-free zone. This isn't just for the readers, but for me, too -- I don't want to know what happens! As such, anything that's already been broadcast or has been posted on the official Bravo site is fair game for discussion. I will, for example, discuss the preview of next week's show at the end of the post. But if you've heard rumors that one chef has been hosting a lot of dinner parties, or that another chef was spotted boarding a plane to an exotic locale, please keep them to yourself.

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February 11, 2009

Top Chef - S5E11 Power Rankings

Well, that was a bummer.

I think those who were already irritated with this season have officially thrown in the towel. Personally speaking, this one hurt even more than Dale Talde last season. But still, I'm not in the camp that considers this season a failure. It's not one of the most compelling, no, but they can't all be season four. Actually, it's interesting to look back at how the progression of this season is playing out as compared to previous seasons. In seasons one and four, you had a couple of favorites slugging it out 'til the end. Season three looked like a runaway at times, but thanks to a late surge by a couple of others it ended up being remarkably compelling. Even in season two, weak though it was, you felt like you knew who was going to the finals and what you hoped to see from them. But this season is funny. With the most compelling culinary matchup now gone, we're left with a crowd of folks, none of whom (Stefan excepted) you get the feeling have been operating at peak efficiency. It's like you want to shake these guys and remind them that there are only three episodes left, so anytime they want to bust it out and show us what they can really do, that'd be just fine. Especially puzzling since this season has, to my memory, involved fewer restrictions than any other. Some will argue that's just the problem -- they've already performed as well as they can. But I'm still not convinced. We've seen flashes. It just feels like there's more there. My gut tells me that despite some of the recent unfortunate eliminations, the level of competition is going to take a sudden and jarring jump in the finals and we're going to wonder where the heck these people were all along. Maybe not to the level of some previous seasons, but I expect improvement. Just a feeling. Or maybe it's just wishful thinking, because otherwise we really might have a dud on our hands.

Along those lines, am I the only one who feels as though there's almost more drama surrounding fan favorite right now? It's not something I ordinarily care about, but seriously... Fabio's dreamy and funny and Italian. Carla's hysterical, her positivity is infectious and she's coming on strong. Ariane had a dedicated following from those who felt she didn't receive enough respect and was unfairly eliminated. And even Jamie, though some find her prickly, will get a lot of support from those who respect her food and feel she went too soon, I bet. As I see it, this a four-way race, and a win for any of those four wouldn't surprise me one bit. Okay, that's officially as far as I think I've ever gotten from the core foodness of the competition. Back to the important stuff.

Interesting side note before we get to last week's episode and the rankings. There's a great video up on the Bravo site right now. It's painfully labeled "Chef Crushes", and some of the contestants take that literally (there's talk of Tom, and a crowd of Jamie Oliver admirers), but for those who approach it as a question about inspiration and admiration, it's interesting -- and sometimes amusing -- to see who the contestants name. Stefan naming Jean-Georges Vongerichten is both unsurprising and admirable (heck, the guy's one of my heroes). It seems Leah would do well to take a few more lessons from Thomas Keller, whom she named, by remembering that this is a guy whose reputation is for maintaining incredible focus in absolutely everything he does. Other predictable matches include Gene picking Morimoto, Radhika choosing Floyd Cardoz, Danny naming Bobby Flay, Melissa naming Bayless and Fabio mentioning Batali. And then Jamie answers in a manner that adds a little context to the mini-controversy surrounding her exceedingly brief edited comments about Ripert. She's just not interested in celebrity chefs, it would seem. And while there are those who will no doubt suggest there's something disingenuous about taking a veiled shot at the chef as media icon trend in an interview for a cooking reality show, a little more of that "look, can we just make good food here?" attitude wouldn't be a bad thing.

Anyway, sidebar over, great episode, result excepted (though not unwarranted). We get what amounts to a solid episode of skills challenges, which is particularly fun at this late stage when everybody... you know... has some skill. I'm always happy to see another prep race, and having three stages of very different fish is a fun and appropriate step up in difficulty from the apples of episode one. And just as in season three, I loved the elimination. I've seen some complain that the chefs weren't making their own food, and that's true, but that overlooks how critical it is to be able to execute somebody else's dish. Of course, when you're inspired by something you eat somewhere, you want to be able to reverse-engineer it so that you can incorporate it into your own work (chefs, like any other artists, are skilled borrowers). But more importantly, when you're a cook working your way up through the kitchen, your creativity isn't what gets you started. If you're lucky, you're working under somebody who cares about fostering up-and-comers -- as long as they get their work done -- and who might even consider something you've made for the menu. But you don't work your way up the ranks by making your food. You do it by replicating somebody else's food as flawlessly as possible. And you may have graduated from culinary school and have the most brilliant ideas in the world, but if a dishwasher who thinks canned pork and beans is the pinnacle of centuries of culinary achievement steps on the line one day and does a better job of frying that bread crust, or roasting the monkfish, or braising the celery, guess who gets to continue doing so and who doesn't? Point being, all of the contestants have been here before, and it's something they should all do well. When they don't screw up, that is.

Boring rankings this week. No movement whatsoever aside from the shift due to Jamie's ouster. Yet I still manage to write obscene amounts of commentary! Clearly, I'm the one with issues here.

The power rankings are not purely a prediction of who is most likely to win, or an assessment of last episode's dishes, or a reflection of the contestants' historical performance, but rather a nebulous amalgam of all three, combined with a little bit of gut feeling, to provide a relative measure of current awesomeness.

1 Stefan Quickfires
Last Week: 1 Eliminations
Presuming he makes it through this week (can I jinx two top contenders in a row?!?), has there ever been a heavier favorite going into the finals? He certainly has the sabermatrician vote, having won MORE THAN A THIRD of all of the challenges thus far, evenly split between quickfires and eliminations. This week, he firmly establishes himself as the most technically skilled of the bunch, rocking both challenges, getting his THIRD double win of the season (more than all of the contestants of the previous four seasons combined, for those keeping track), and reproducing Ripert's lobster so well that some have speculated his was even better. But what I liked most about Stefan this week? It was this quote from his transcribed Q&A:
"I really love Jamie, as a chef, as a person and how she is. She is a straight shooter like me. Lots of people think, that we comes across as arrogant or pompous. Trust me, it is just love and passion for the kitchen. She is by far one of the most creative chefs I have met. She was my biggest competitor on the show. She is fun, and has the sweetest smile and laugh on the face of the earth. And yes, Jamie is that chef I want to cook against in the finale. Boring without her."
We can speculate about what percentage of this is professional admiration and what percentage of this is personal admiration, but my impression is that he's genuinely disappointed to have not faced his strongest competition in the finals. I know that feeling. It's the feeling that the win doesn't mean as much to you if your opponent wasn't at his/her best. It's the byproduct of a fierce competitive spirit, which is yet another mark in his column going into the finals.
2 Hosea Quickfires
Last Week: 3 Eliminations
I know a lot of people want to see Carla here, and I have to confess, I never dreamed I'd be considering her for the number two spot -- much less any spot -- this late in the season (and I did consider it). I'll get more into why I left Carla where she is shortly, but despite being on the bottom this week, I'm still giving some weight to his consistency over the course of he season, and also the fact that while they still look clumsy to me at times, he's making the kind of food that I can see the judges giving the title to. I was, however, a little taken aback by his quickfire. Some have expressed amazement that he wasn't practiced in cleaning eels, given that he runs a seafood restaurant. This doesn't bother me. If it's not on your menu, it's not on your menu, and it isn't as though eel is something you see a lot of in the States outside of a sushi context (though I personally consider that tragic -- eel rocks). But the fact that I knew more about HOW an eel is cleaned than he did? Very, very strange. Not knock-him-down-a-peg strange, but strange.
3 Carla Quickfires
Last Week: 4 Eliminations
How exactly did Carla become the X factor? I took comfort in the fact that apparently even her fellow chefs didn't see it coming. Though I wondered if the editors were intentionally keeping her under wraps, this week's sequester house video revealed that even Jamie seemed surprised by Carla's sudden "role reversal". She's gone from homey comfort cook to a classically trained French sauce wizard? The question, of course, is whether this is a blip or a trend. But before we get all carried away and start declaring her a major threat -- a popular label all of a sudden, especially among those who have said she was underestimated before -- let's remember that before these past two episodes, the only top recognition she'd received was for tart crust. Thhhhhhhhhhhat's it. Literally. Of course, this is Top Chef. All that matters is what you did this challenge. But my point is that this sudden departure from a previously well-established record is just that -- a sudden departure from a previously well-established record. Maybe she can bring something big for the last few episodes. Good golly, I hope she can. The finals may need it. But while I'm a hopeful skeptic, I'm still a skeptic when it comes to Carla. I believe that she'd put together a delicious, compelling meal for the final challenge, but I'm still not convinced it will be something I can see the judges hanging the title of Top Chef on. The real kicker is that my feeling right now is that she'll probably make the final challenge (and props to Elise for also picking up on this). If she survives next week -- and the inconsistency shown by Leah, Hosea and Fabio suggests that they won't all hit -- that gets her to New Orleans... nexus of big flavor, homey, multilayered American comfort food rooted in classical French tradition and technique. Presuming the finals stay true to form and the next-to-last challenge involves the foods of the exotic locale they're visiting, is there another location on the entire planet that could be more squarely in her wheelhouse? I mean, criminy, she just won a challenge with a creative, twenty minute gumbo last episode. If she makes it to the finals, she'll be competing for the title. Book it.
4 Leah Quickfires
Last Week: 5 Eliminations
This will be, I imagine, the other ranking that meets some resistance. People are just done with her. Done done done. And have been for a while. But despite waving her slacker flag yet again and getting lost in Ripert's miso sauce, she's still shone way, way more brightly than Fabio on the occasions when she has. What she needs is some rest. It's obvious (not to mention understandable) that she's fried. But I can't believe the finals won't motivate her, and I still believe she'll bring something big if she can hang on for one more episode. Unlike most, I'm rooting for her to make it, not because I think her attitude should be rewarded -- far from it -- but simply because I'm rooting for the most compelling finals from a food standpoint that we can get, and a rested and refocused Leah will help to provide just that.
5 Fabio Quickfires
Last Week: 6 Eliminations
That a guy who can't seem to shake technical problems did a fine job in Le Bernardin's kitchen isn't lost on me, but I think this is a matter of too little, too late. Add to this the fact that some of his recent dishes have looked just embarrassingly bad, and I don't mean that in terms of plating, but... well... yeah, that too. Leah has at least proven that she CAN belong in the finals, but after 22 challenges, I still haven't seen anything from Fabio that makes me believe he can perform at that level. Hey, I could totally be surprised. It's been that kind of a season. But charm aside, much as I like the guy (and I still do... a lot), he just hasn't brought much to this competition. And incidentally, here's hoping he walks away with everything he brought... including all ten digits.
6 Jamie Quickfires
Last Week: 2 Eliminations
I'll say it again, this one hurt even more than Dale Talde last season, partially because it may have been an even more egregious example of a chef going before her time, but also because of the impact it's likely to have on the finals. When Dale went down, you still had Richard and Stephanie and Antonia. At first blush, with the understanding that anything can happen, Jamie's ouster looks to have turned a two horse race into a laugher. And the manner in which she went down is frustrating as well, since she's been one of the more technically sound competitors. But unfortunately, this is the stage of the race where if you make a mistake, there probably won't be somebody else who made a worse one anymore. And as I mentioned earlier in the season, she seems to founder a little when out of her element -- an impression bolstered, I think, by her claim that she had a hard time getting inspired by this challenge. Speaking of which, to address the controversy du jour, while I don't want to say her comments about Ripert's food and the ensuing discussion is much ado about nothing, I do think it's been blown out of proportion, especially considering how quick the cut was and the fact that it appears to have been taped immediately after her elimination. Ripert's food may be minimal, but it's still fussy, and there are plenty of chefs who are anti-fussy as a matter of philosophy. To be clear, I don't know this to be the case with Jamie (and to be clearer, I like fussy when it's good!). I'm kind of supposing based on what we've seen from her. But while the comment came off as rather dismissive, I suspect it was a lot more innocuous than it sounded, and Tom seems to agree. Bottom line is that not only was she one of the most compelling contestants this season from both a technical and creative standpoint, she also comported herself in an unusually calm and mature manner, and a season full of that speaks more to me than an offhand comment ripe for varied interpretations -- all of which makes this one a sad, sad elimination. She was the chef about whom I was most excited entering the season, and at this late stage of the season she still was, even before I visited Absinthe. Jamie is a confident and talented chef who knows what she wants to do and is going to go right back to doing it. I'm confident she'll fall into the category of runners-up we haven't heard the last of.


Huzzah for eggs! There's much talk in the preview of eggs being the true test of a chef, and while I don't know that I'd call it THE true test, it's certainly one of the better barometers. They're tricky little buggers, eggs, and so critical to so many techniques. This challenge should be fun. As far as the elimination goes, I'm not sure what the heck is going on, other than a little unintentional butchering back in the kitchen. They draw knives to see which celebrity chef they get, but surely they won't be cooking just for that chef? Presuming they do, though, I actually think Fabio's in trouble. Two things about what I've seen in the preview bug me. First -- and I don't understand why nobody ever gets this -- just because a chef is known for MG that doesn't mean that's all he wants to eat! Time and time again, contestants try to impress MG chefs with their funky techniques, and they fail to understand that the MG chefs who succeed do so because they understand the techniques are only valuable so far as they serve the ingredients. It looks like Fabio busts out the chemistry set again, which is all fine and good, but despite his olive success I don't trust him not to fall into that trap. Then he draws Lidia Bastianich from the knife block. I'm still not sure exactly what that means, and I'm not convinced this is a good thing. If he ends up doing Italian, he can't exceed expectations... he can only disappoint. And one challenge away from the finals, you can cook well and still go home if everybody else is just a little more impressive than you.

I'm ready for New Orleans. Let's get this show on the road. Literally.


This is the best Top Chef site I have ever seen! I especially like the rankings. That's a very sharp observation about New Orleans big flavors with a French background being right up Carla's alley.

Thank you, Dom!

Tough call on Carla and Hosea. While I'd love to see Carla win, she just doesn't seem to have the chops. I'll change my mind if she blows me away the next two weeks, but for now, this is a one man race. The only other time in Top Chef history that I really thought it was so lopsided was the week after S3 Restaurant wars. At that point and up until Casy started to fire up the next week, Hung seemed to be so vastly superior that I couldn't picture anyone else winning.

I hope Stefan doesn't play it safe and end up on the bottom. His competitiveness makes this unlikely.
I guess there is something about Hosea that I don't get and I want to rank him at the bottom, although his performance doesn't put him there. Mr. Fish did not walk the talk last week.
I also think Leah has the most potential to surprise.

Great work Dom. Very thoughtful and well written, as usual. I think one of the reasons your blog resonates with me more than any other is that you do look at factors--both big and small. I find it hard to disagree with your rankings. I will, however, throw a couple thoughts out for rumination and discussion.

I, too, am most impressed with Stefan's skills. What makes me nervous is that things are just too perfect. I'm not suggesting a fix is in, or shenanigans a foot, but just when things look like a lock or a runaway is when something goes haywire. All that to say, I won't be surprised if someone other than Stefan wins. I think, if viewed closely, we're being set up for it.

I've consistently stated that Hosea could be a contender. Interestingly, for all the talk of assholery this season, I find Hosea less appealing than Stefan. Smoochgate aside, I'm turned off by his whining. Understanding that this is a cooking show, though, I have to give him credit for having skill. What will be interesting to see is if Hosea does challenge Stefan and wins. Could this possibly be a repeat of Ilan? Meaning, the winner is less palatable than the others right behind him. If Hosea is jealous of Stefan going in, can you imagine how pissed he'll be if he wins and all he's asked about is Stefan? If anything, that might be a just reward for all his pissing and moaning.

I've seen a little more in Carla than Dom has this season. Her personality, which I adore, is well know. But what about her food? I've listened to the comments about her flavors, even if her dish isn't ultimately the winner. Carla has consistently received kudos for flavor. Unlike canasian, I do think Carla has the chops (assuming I know what you mean by "chops"). I do not think Carla is in over her head. To the contrary, I think she has far more skill that we've seen this season and it's being revealed of late. What I fear is Carla's potential trap door is falling back into second guessing herself. I doubt this is unusual in competition. You become torn between what you want to do and what you think the judges are looking for. Hopefully she will trust her intuition. I actually think she is capable of winning, and also think the integration of French elements in New Orleans cuisine could fare well for her.

That's it. I finished with Leah and Fabio. I actually agree with Dom in the rankings here. I have appreciated Leah's dishes this season. She shown the ability to present clean plates with nice flavors. I am just too turned off by her lazy, "whatever," attitude to think she has a chance of making it to the top 3. In fact, that very issue may cost her a place in the Final 4.

I've been pretty clear that I'm not charmed by Fabio. I get why people are enamored with him, but I don't like it personally. I think it's funny that Carla is called crazy and deemed annoying for her personality, and Fabio is considered charming and humorous. Anyway, my issue with Fabio falls squarely on his food. I'm not impressed. For all the talk about ancient recipes handed down from his grandmamma, I am not impressed. He always seems to be off; sometimes a little, but more often quite a bit. I know plating is not the principle element, but it is important to me. Fabio fails miserably, in my estimation, with plating. He's clumsy and doesn't seem to know where the brakes are on his culinary car.

Sorry, I guess that was more than a couple of thoughts.

Two disagreements with Dom, which is pretty rare.

First off, as disappointed as I am to see Jamie leave, it doesn't touch the Dale Talde elimination for me last year. While both cuts were deserved, the memory of Lisa and that ugly face standing there victorious still haunts my dreams. Ugh.

My second disagreement is very minor. I think Carla has locked up fan favorite for several weeks now. Don't think it's particularly close.

Two more quick things. On Gail's blog she indicates she was a judge in New Orleans again, and says that NOTHING is as it seems, which seems to indicate it may not be the runaway victory for Stefan that seems so likely now.

And two, I'm actually going down to New Orleans this weekend. Would anyone know how I could find out where TC may have visited? Looking for a good restaurant trip, so any suggestions (TC related or otherwise) would be most appreciated.

Thanks again for the blog Dom!

I speculate that chefs will be pulling the names of individual chefs but cooking for *everyone. That they would be either putting a personal spin on the recipes of the chef whose name they draw, or would be "cooking in their style." But I can't imagine they'd be called on to just cook *for one chef.* For instance, no matter what, you know they're going to be cooking for Tom, so probably the whole of JT.

That said, it makes sense Fabio might break into the chemistry locker, in hopes of impressing WD50 himself while "spinning" something out of Bastianich's repertoire.

I know everyone waits for the power rankings with baited breath, so this comment may not win too many friends, but I like getting them on Wednesday morning. It sets up the day nicely, and keeps the comments fresh for tonight.

Nothing to add to the rankings. Looks spot on.

I agree with Man of Sand, losing Jamie was disappointing, but it wasn't even close to losing Dale T. If I had to rank disappointing PPYKAG moments it would be a second tier rejection, as was Jeff's. Losing Jamie was an "awww...that sucks" moment. Losing Dale was a "!#$$*@ #*!# *@!*!" ranting, cursing, totally losing perspective that it's just a TV show moment. least it was kind of like that for me.

@Elise: I agree, actually -- it makes for kind of a "pre-game field report" feel. =)

I can see how Jamie's departure and the competition turning into "Stefan vs. Everybody Else" has made it less interesting for a lot of us. I have a hard time seeing, in the absence of some disaster, how Stefan doesn't walk away with this. Head to head, I don't see Hosea, Leah, or Fabio standing much of a chance against the guy.

That's why the whole Carla situation is so fascinating to watch (and indeed, I'm sure that's exactly Bravo's intention). She's gone from "mildly annoying non-contender" to the sleeper of the season in just a couple of episodes. I find myself rooting for her mainly because it would make for such a dramatic narrative. (Also, I've come to really like her, which is funny because at the outset of the show she was the one who annoyed me the most.)

The cynic in me suspects this is how Bravo shaped Carla's story all along, as a way of creating suspense and interest in this final stretch.

But the optimist in me hopes that all of this is just a smokescreen for the dramatic surprise finish of the season, in which the judges, pushed beyond endurance, grab Toby Young in the middle of one of his tortured pop-culture food analogies, dredge him in a flour-oatmeal coating and deep-fry him in rendered duck fat before presenting him before a ravenous Gail Simmons. A boy can hope, can't he?

Dave: great comments yourself. I do think the Stefan-Hosea thing is being played for all its worth. Having Hosea constantly whine about Stefan means one of two likely things (I think, anyway):
1. Stefan wins and we see the utter frustration of Hosea
2. Hosea finally beats Stefan and we see the triumph of Hosea's "never say die" attitude.
Whatever happens, it does seem as if we're being set up for some sort of Hosea-Stefan "final conflict".

But a word about Leah: isn't it interesting that she's always saying "I didn't do well" or "I just can't do this" and then she ends up winning (quick fires). There's something not quite up-front about her, something self-deprecting that makes her hard to read. And, in the end, is she really that much worse than Hosea?

I say: go Stefan, go Carla.
Also: Whatever the level of the cooking, this is one of the most memorable seasons so far: the euros, top scallops, "smoochgate", creative monkeys and sending the love, Jamie (rightfully) being sent off, the Le Bernardin challenge ... the cooking was no doubt better last year (though Lisa really ruined it for me) but the personalities, this year, are really kind of fascinating and likable. Makes for very good television. Whatever happens, I'm there Wednesday night and I haven't been bored once.

Hard to disagree with most of these. But, I question whether your statement that Fabio hasn't shown any ability to rise to a finals level. He does Italian, and pretty good Italian from what I can tell (technical screw ups aside). Italian is homey and comfortable. Tom likes Italian.... Remember Dave from Season 1? I remembver Tom's blog saying something like "Chefs want homey food on their days off". I'm not saying pasta in a tomato ragu will cut it, but I could see him surviving, and given the opportunity to run wild in the finals, do well with a clearly Italian, but well done meal. But, I could also see him falling on his face with the obligatory "New Orleans" challenge in Part 1 of the finals...

I'm in the done with Leah camp. She's not offensive to look at, which is the best thing I can really say about her at this point. (Sad, I know.) I can barely tolerate hearing her speak/whine, and her ADD in the ellimination challenges is maddening. Give her 20 minutes in a quickfire and she's golden. Give her 3 hours to make a meal and she's lost. If she went home tonight I would be very happy in the finals, no matter who ended up winning.

I think I'm with Amuse Biatch and I really like Hootie. Yeah, she was miserable early on, maybe nerves, maybe getting used to the challenges, whatever. Classic training and a "homey" style, that's also heavy on the Tom scale. So, I could see her being a force in the end.

11 hours to go....

If you are going to NOLA then for sure Emirl is a part of it. They have said as much in the press releases. That's all they have noted.

Let me just say don't google new orleans top chef right now. However the finale is in commander's palace. Wish i hadn't done that. sigh.

I like the point anon's making about homey, rustic food. I love it. At the same time, I like some refinement to plating. Jamie Oliver was mentioned. Jamie Oliver is rustic food all the way, but I think there's a difference between the he plates and how Emeril slops food on a dish. Maybe that's just one of my pet peeves. Sorry if I'm droning on about that.

I don't know if I agree that Carla was miserable early on. She was a middle-of-the-roader, if anything. There were only a couple of times where I remember looking at Carla's performance and thinking, "Blech." I can't say the same for Fabio. I still can't get those oaty eggplant rolls out of my mind.

Again, Leah is a mystery to me. I like the point Triple-A alex that Leah downplays her food and then scores (usually in the Quickfires). I can't help but think it's a mixture of insecurity and immaturity. That whole pouty thing is enough to drive me insane. (On an aside: Shame on the honry Bravo editors for delivering a down-shirt shot of Leah--while making her bed--in the previews. :-) )

Oh, I like elise's comment about day-of rankings. As much as I incessantly come to the site, I do find it a charge to get my day started with the rankings. (Though it doesn't help with my concentration at work.)

Hard to find a bad restaurant in NO. Ask the locals when you go.

Just based on the editing choices, I'd say that Leah is going home tonight. The storylines have been established for heaing down to New Orleans.

They've set up a rivalry between Stefan and Hosea (though like they used to say about the Yankees-Red Sox, can you say that a hammer and nail have a rivalry)? They've set up Carla as the classically trained French cuisine dark horse who could kill in New Orleans. And Fabio keeps coming back to how much this means for his family. Leah's story? It's all about quitting and no longer being interested in the competition.

I can totally see how Stefan may lose it (and I'm probably wrong). For the past couple of weeks when Stefan has had advantages he has chosen what he thinks is the easiest challenges. This may be smart in a competitive sense but maybe not in a long range sense. The judges are not supposed to look at past competitions but can it totally escape Tom's notice that in the Super Bowl EC he chose the person that all perceived as the weakest challenger and then the next week the easiest dish (as Blais called it, "a culinary school dish").

I know that I'm wrong but somehow my money is on Carla.

@Mann of Sandd

I currently go to college in New Orleans, so I can't quite give you a native's perspective but I can tell you which restaurants I favor. I definitely wasn't impressed with Emeril's Delmonico. Commander's was a bit of a let down but that could have been because all the hype raised my expectations to astronomical proportions. My favorite restaurant hands-down is Lilette. It's a French-Italian bistro on Magazine St. The potato gnocci and the Alaskan Crab Claws in pomegranate butter are fantastic. On the other hand, my boyfriend (a native) thinks August, Besh's restaurant, is the best in the city.
I hope I helped. Just let me know if you need some less pricey establishments.

As a heads up, you probably will have trouble getting reservations this weekend (valentine's day and all). Make sure to check out some parades if you can. Good luck and enjoy the city!

p.s Just to keep my post relevant to Top Chef, I don't understand why they didn't do a Top Chef New Orleans! It would have been perfect. I guess they may have been concerned about the possibility of another hurricane disrupting their filming. I still feel gypped.

Dom - I love you. What did I do to kill time before I discovered your blog?

Mann of Sandd - I live in Baton Rouge so I'm only familiar with a smidgen of the gazillion great restaurants in NOLA. Ask people who work at your hotel where they like to go to eat. My two suggestions: Coop's Place on Decatur and Bennachin on Royal.

Coop's Place looks like a hole in the wall but they serve some of the BEST Cajun style food ever. I highly recommend their jambalaya (rabbit and sausage or the Supreme version with the addition of crawfish and shrimp) and their Cajun fried chicken.

Bennachin is an African restaurant and not only is their food delicious but you can see the African styles reflected in the Cajun food you find around the rest of the city.

Also - it IS Mardi Gras season. So pick up some King Cake from a local bakery, try and catch a parade, and be sure to be safe!

I like Stefan and Carla's chances.

Lidia is an amazing chef. I ate at Becco - one of the best meals in my life. Her recipes are so wonderful; her food makes me happy. She appreciates good Italian food, so if Fabio rocks out a great plate, he'll be moving on.

While Hosea is definitely consistent, he isn't exciting. It's hard for me to root for someone like him when I'm just blah about his dishes. And Leah? Go home already.

Terrific comments as always, Dom.

We've always agreed on Leah, I think. I too wanna see her gone on a personal level, but at the same time, I wanna see her at her best, and I think we'll get that in the finals. Assuming she doesn't wash out tonight (40/40/20 odds bet. her, Fabio and other, I'd say).

I can see both sides of the Jamie .vs Dale T. issue. On the one hand, Jamie was maybe the only real competition left for Stefan. On the other, there are no Lisas or Spikes this year. I thought they were both equally terrible (for the show at large, they were both fair eliminations), and maybe both worse than Tre's elimination, since by the end of S3, you had 3 extremely talented chefs going head-to-head(-to-head).


Dom, wonderful as always.

Commentors, I love reading your insightful, intelligent thoughts as well.

Interesting that we're talking about the differences/similarities between Dale T. and Jamie's eliminations. Before last week's episode, after reading Dom's review of Absinthe, I was going to post that if Jamie were eliminated, I would be more upset than I was when Dale left (and I was pretty dang upset). But I didn't bother to post because I didn't think she'd be going :-(

Dale might have shown more talent in his season than Jamie's shown in hers - but, in terms of perspective, Jamie is one of the only competitors of this season to show something I want to see more of. At least when Dale left, as someone already mentioned, we still had some excellent players. The only thing that softens the blow for me is that Jamie looked to have deserved this elimination. But a case can still be made that, worst dish of the night or not, Lisa made more mistakes that night than Dale :-(

If Jamie had been on last season and had left at this stage in the game, I would have been disappointed because I like her. I'd like to see what she would do in the final challenge and I pegged her early on to go all the way. Having her leave at this stage in THIS season is just more devastating for the rest of the competition IMO.

Leah. Ugh. Personally, I can't stand her. The whiney, pouty, immature, girly thing is awful. Just awful. BUT, when she's not pulling that crap, she still has shown some of the more refined dishes of the season.

Fabio. Ugh. Personally, I like him. BUT, I just don't see what some others are seeing. Sure, there's often an element on the plate that is wonderful, but as a whole, he really hasn't shown much. Even when he won for the olives. He won for the olives. It was otherwise carpaccio. I love carpaccio, don't get me wrong....but.

And I have to agree with aaalex - this has been a very watchable season. I haven't been bored. And I can't wait to see what's next!

Thanks for letting me ramble :-)

It was pointed out to me that on Stefan's web site he claims Certified Master Chef status. After reading abut that exam (in the Ruhlman book) I'd say Top Chef should be a breeze for him.

And I hate to admit it, but I too enjoy reading the rankings on Wednesday. I think, if I *knew* they'd be on Wednesday, I could better handle the wait. It's the obsessively checking in starting first thing Monday only to be disappointed that kills me. LOL

So, Dom, if you want to move to Wednesdays, I'm in.

(And I'm sure the approval of a reader who's only posted 2 previous comments makes all the difference in your decision making process)


I appreciate the editors' efforts (and challenge) to create excitement for the finale by playing up the Hosea/Stefan "rivalry" and turning Hootie into a Cinderella Story in the making. But if anyone but Stefan actually wins the title of Top Chef this year, would any of the people on this board be satisfied? Personally, as much as I've enjoyed watching this season, I'm counting on a satisfying ending where the right person wins--and in this case, unlike the past couple of seasons, there's only one legitimate candidate based on everyone's performance thus far.

@Mann of Sandd:

You might want to check out John Besh's August.

Good rankings, Dom. It will be interesting to see who falls by the wayside tonight.

I also happened to like the comment Richard Blais made toward the end of his Bravo blog post on this episode. Enough so, that I used it as the opening quote for my own observations:


For Mann: I liked Bayona in New Orleans, might look at web site to see if its up your alley.

As for Carla, she may just be meeting the expectations of her audience? As a caterer she was meeting certain requirements, and now maybe she is simply remembering how to live up to the expectations of more sophisticated pallettes. Prolly someone already said this but just my two cents :)

About the Hosea/Stefan "rivalry"....on his blog, David Dust aptly (and funnily) compared it to Wile E. Coyote vs. Roadrunner...

Mann: consider Jacques-Imo's -- fun place and outrageously good food. A more modern twist on many cajun/creole classics.

For more traditional cajun/creole fare, try Mother's for lunch.

Emeril's restaurants are fine -- I've had a very good meal at Emeril's -- but frankly, not mind blowing when you consider the price tag, and you can visit his outposts in other cities and get the same thing.

The only thing I might quibble with (ten paces, turn, quibble) it's the basement rankings. If I were to be offered a job by both Leah and Fabio I'm not confident that I'd take the Leah job. While I agree that her food seems to have hit the mark more often than Fabio. Leah's attitude isn't just lazy, it's poisonous. If the two of them were given the same opportunities to start a restaurant I'd bet Fabio's would be around in a year and Leah's wouldn't. I admit that this competition is grueling, but is it really more grueling than running a business day to day, keeping the lights on, balancing your family, meeting payroll, purveyors, inspections, the knowledge that you're directly responsible for the livelihoods of the many people who work for you? Based solely on food made and served in a vacuum, I guess leah ranks above fabio, but all things considered, I'd trust Fabio running a kitchen more than leah.

My New Orleans restaurant recommendation: The Bistro at Maison de Ville. Tiny little place, amazing food.

Mann of Sandd

Haven't been to New Orleans in several years (pre-Katrina so not sure what is still there) but some of my favorites are Petunia's (little converted house type restaurant that serves authentic cajun and creole dishes - my fave being shrimp creole). We ate a Brennan's, a NO landmark and I was very pleased. In the Garden District is Jaques Imos which was wonderful too. Of course, if I ever get back I want to try August..I love John Besh. The menus at Emeril's places never really grabbed me. Always ask the locals for suggestions. The guys who ran the B&B we stayed at always had great picks. And remember to stop by Pat O'Brien's for a Hurricane.

Folks, thanks SO MUCH for the recommendations. My day at work tomorrow is now booked, as I'll be frantically looking at menus (and commenting on tonight's episode, natch)

*scribble scribble* taking notes on all the recommendations for spots in New Orleans.

@ ally. I think you are making assumptions about the sophistication of Carla's clients--and clients of caterers generally. Or at least lumping caterers into one basket. From what I've seen on Stefan and Carla on the show (and even on their websites), both do "high-end" catering; not the mass-quantity food generally associated with caterers. If anything, maybe the presence of Stefan and Carla will cause people to think twice about the quality of food you could expect to get from some caterers.

and Pascal's Manale, the originator of barbequed shrimp.

I second Bayona, The Bistro, and Mother's. If you want something more off the beaten path (especially during Mardi Gras), I also recommend Cafe Degas (near City Park), Andrea's (in Metairie), and my favorite old hangout, Franky & Johnny's. You may not think about Chinese in New Orleans, but if you do, Five Happiness is the best.

This is by far my favorite Top Chef blog. It's the only one I've read that does such a great analysis. Every other blog just posts pictures or videos from the Bravo site or just gives another recap.

Thanks for your analysis, Dom and that of all your commenters.

Assumptions? Guilty!

I was just basing that on the type of food she was offering until the last two episodes. My bad.

Ok, I like your thorough analyses normally, but this is getting ridiculous. Jamie wasn't THAT good.

I'm a chef in San Francisco, but from the East Coast. I know Absinthe very well. It's an ok restaurant, but nothing particularly interesting, and completely overpriced. In New York, it would fail miserably.

I agree that she should have beat out Fabio and Hosea, and maybe Leah and Carla, but her comment about Ripert was perfectly in context. And it was misinformed, and it wasn't about fussiness. She likes big, dumb, bold flavors, and doesn't get refinement. The world isn't any worse without her food on TV.

"I'm a chef in San Francisco, but from the East Coast. I know Absinthe very well. It's an ok restaurant, but nothing particularly interesting, and completely overpriced. In New York, it would fail miserably.

I agree that she should have beat out Fabio and Hosea, and maybe Leah and Carla, but her comment about Ripert was perfectly in context. And it was misinformed, and it wasn't about fussiness. She likes big, dumb, bold flavors, and doesn't get refinement. The world isn't any worse without her food on TV."

Respectfully, JF, I don't believe I said Jamie's elimination was a national tragedy. I believe I said she was the chef who most excited me out of the current Top Chef crop, that I had a really enjoyable meal there, and that I expect she'll be one of the non-winners about whom we continue to hear things.

uh oh...little worried for Stefan right now...


I was thinking the same thing..anyway - yeah Fabio...injured and winning anyway..and Carla! awesome girl..they all underestimate her and who knew she was also a model?!

Either the editors are vicious cruel people, or the judges did some major bailout work.

Hi Guys, it's Fabio, i just want to thank you cause is very funny and entertaining to read the blog, is amazing of how people that has never been in the kitchen ( or the most of you at least as a profession ) feels so comfortable to judge plate just by see them in tv, dont get me wrong, i dont cook fancy food and i will never do,and i agree to the fact that my plate dont look like a paint ( for those things museum are better than restaurant ) but my restaurant, Cafe Firenze, in the last 6 months of 2008 has done 38% more than the last 6 months of 2007 and in this time of economy when all your fancy restaurant with fancy plating are closing down, i'm stronger than ever and ill open 2 more comfort italian food restauarnt with average plating skills in 2009, how wonderfull is that ??? I had a chance to have a wonderfull breakfast with Colicchio couple of days back and he told me that most of the 3/4 stars restaurant in Vegas are losing their ass off.... i guess fancy plating and small bites are not really helpfull .... good luck with this website, very entertaining and very funny to read..... you guys give a good laugh all the time.

Thanks to everybody for the support anyway and keep up with the good work on the website.... i'll see you in New Orleans.

Love you Fabio

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