PLEASE READ BEFORE COMMENTING!!!
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 8, 2012

Top Chef - S9E13 Power Rankings

Running a little late this week! Between Top Chef and powering through eight posts about China over two weeks, I needed to take a few days. But let's squeeze in some rankings before the new episode tonight.

Can we just stop and take score right now? The four remaining chefs are my preseason 1, 2, 5 and dark horse 7. The return and survival of Bev or Grayson would make that look a lot less impressive :-)

That could have been a lot worse. On a lot of fronts. Since I made such a big deal about it, I feel like Pee-wee had his moments, but there's definitely something odd about seeing such a grossly exaggerated character in a non-exaggerated context. It goes from good weird to weird weird. I suspect everybody missed the funniest bit, though... the look on his face for a split second during the "judges looking sternly straight ahead" shot at the beginning of Judges' Table. Priceless.

Anyway, we got a nice, straightforward quickfire (not to mention a scintillating cameo by Mr. Breakfast -- pancake table, front and center), thematic but with plenty of room for creativity. The elimination was the one that rightfully gave everybody hives, and the fact that it wasn't a total disaster is as much a matter of blind luck as it ia a testament to the remaining chefs. The fact that everybody has to pretend this isn't all carefully laid out ahead of time is really stupid. As I've said before, all it does is undermine the show's credibility. And there's no reason for it. It wouldn't have been any less interesting if they'd just been forthcoming about how the challenge was set up. In any case, even though the actual structure of the challenge was far safer than the purported structure of the challenge, there's so much that could have gone wrong, so many stupid ways somebody could have been eliminated that had absolutely nothing to do with food, that we're fortunate it turned out as well as it did, I think.

One thing I will stand up for, however... I suspect one of the driving ideas behind this challenge, liks some others this season, was to really get the chefs out and into the city, interacting with their surroundings. I mentioned it earlier in the season, and thing is something I think they've always needed to do more of, and I love to see them doing it... just perhaps not quite like this.

Okay, hopefully it isn't too obvious at this point that I'm totally phoning this week in. On with the rankings.

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.

Wins
Top
Bottom
1 Paul Quickfires
2
3
4
Last Week: 1 Eliminations
4
5
1

Surprise... another solid week from Paul. His pancake recipe was mostly straightforward, with a little MG twist. I'm a little curious what tossing the batter in an iSi canister accomplishes... a little aeration to keep them light? I'd be curious to know if it achieves a significantly different texture than just pouring in the batter, or the move was simply one of convenience. The champagne dippin' dots (can we use that name now that they're dead and buried?) were simply champagne and agave blended up with liquid nitrogen to turn it into little frozen spheres. A simple but clever recipe, and I wonder how it stacked up against the others. His elimination dish looked fantastic as always -- red curry gastrique, yes -- and Gail notes in her blog that what kept him out of the winner's circle was balance. Everyone, Paul included, agreed that it was a touch on the sweet side. So Paul continues to cruise. Which is just how we like it.

2 Sarah Quickfires
0
4
1
Last Week: 2 Eliminations
2
4
5

This is the third week in a row that Sarah's ended up on the bottom with what it sounds like was essentially a very good dish, just not quite as good as some others. Though underseasoning is flirting with disaster, to be sure. Love the look of that salad, and there's nothing that doesn't sound awesome about chicken skin vinaigrette. Two chefs did a vinaigrette based on crispy rendered animal fat, and note that one chef did something a little different and interesting, while the other went to a grossly overplayed (if delicious) version. Just one of the reasons Sarah's still hanging in there at number two and Grayson's gone. But all of a sudden, there's somebody breathing down Sarah's neck... aaaaaaand it's not who I would have guessed a few weeks ago.

3 Lindsay Quickfires
2
3
0
Last Week: 4 Eliminations
2
5
1

I'm still not sold on her, nor can I explain what the heck her style is, exactly (that can be a problem in the finals), but she's kind of forced my hand. However she's doing it, Lindsay's on a roll. That's five consecutive top elimination finishes, and she finally has a solid, solo elimination win to call her own. Her recipe is surprisingly straightforward, some braised beef cheeks with a little tomato rice, zucchini, greens and goat cheese, with the addition of some celery and carrot pickles for punch. But she apparently nailed it. I still don't see the kind of food that I expect will win this thing, but there comes a point where you have to recognize and respect when somebody is routinely banging out good dishes, and since the midpoint of the season, that's Lindsay.

4 Edward Quickfires
1
2
2
Last Week: 3 Eliminations
1
4
5

Ed's making this kind of easy, though. For the most part, I still feel like Ed's peaks have been more noteworthy. I like the look of his elimination dish, and as simple as his quickfire was, I love the idea of serving only the crispy edges of the pancakes. But this is now two weeks in a row that Ed's flirted with disaster. If he makes it to the finals, I suspect he'll be sharp when he returns. But man, he's teetering on the brink of oopsing himself out of a trip to Vancouver.

5 Grayson Quickfires
2
3
3
Last Week: 5 Eliminations
1
5
4

Along with everybody else, I hate to see Grayson go. But you all know that in my opinion, this is the basement finally catching up to her. And her elimination dish was a great example of the problems that have dogged her all season. She made an odd choice to "go healthy" without actually going healthy, and though it didn't receive a huge amount of attention on camera, Gail's blog suggests they were really bothered by the fact that her recipe was at total odds with her concept. If you're going to try to do a lower-fat dish, after removing the beautiful chicken fat, why on earth would you turn around and smother it with bacon? There's just an odd disconnect there. Plus, we have more Flintstones portions, and though it went unsaid, I suspect there's a certain amount of feeling that a spinach and gorgonzola boneless skinless chicken breast just isn't enough interest to overcome some flaws. Again, I think this is what Tom was trying to get at with her last week. But this is largely speculation. In any case, maybe she's gone, maybe she's right back in it... we'll see!

WARNING : MINOR EPISODE FOURTEEN SPOILERS AHEAD

Not so much with the spoilers this week, because the elves sure didn't reveal much in the previews this week. We'll find out if it's Bev or Grayson and then... who knows? Incidentally, I wouldn't read anything at all into the clip of a weepy Paul. That plays like classic elven misdirection. Unless it's the double head fake. But though I know there are many who disagree, I'm of the opinion that trying to decipher the "hints" is an exercise in futility. I'm happy waiting to see what happens. Gail notes in her blog, however, that episode fourteen is season nine's Ellis Island, so fingers crossed, maybe we'll have a nice coda for the regular season.

Sorry again for the delay, folks... discuss!

Comments

One thing I will stand up for, however... I suspect one of the driving ideas behind this challenge, liks some others this season, was to really get the chefs out and into the city, interacting with their surroundings.

So do it like the New York Season (Season 5) did (or even Las Vegas): you have a challenge where the chefs have to go to various locations for inspiration.

In NY, the first challenge involved pairs of chefs being assigned to a different location in the city (Chinatown, Little Italy, etc.) and then having to cook in the style of that area.

Vegas had a similar thing, but with each chef going to a different casino.

My boyfriend has been experimenting with our iSi seltzer siphon lately, and so far the biggest use isn't to carbonate non-water liquids but to quick-infuse herbs/etc. (ginger, five-spice mix, whatever) into vodka/gin/whiskey. It works shockingly well.

This week's top four are in the order of your pre-season top 1-16 - Paul (1), Sarah (2), Lindsay (5) and Ed (7). Not too shabby.

I am sure that the Last Housewife's crowd thought the entire elimination romp was entirely unplanned.

I think that no matter who returns tonight (and I hope it is Bev), the top 5 will be cooking. LCK has eliminated the "what if's".

And Dom, I am glad you realized the weird weird of Paul Reubens. Hopefully, next year, if they are in Gotham City, Adam West wont show up as Batman in an episode.

Garik... I didn't mean to suggest that it's something they haven't done at all before. But when the show got big, they really scaled it back. The two examples you mention are the type that had become grand exceptions. Despite the international market challenge, the vast consensus here, at least, was that they'd grossly underutilized NYC. I feel like they've really made an effort this season to showcase the locations more than they have in a long time, and while the cynical interpretation would be that it's little more than Texas Tourist Board money at work, it really does add an element to the show that I've missed since the early seasons.

No speculation on where Grayson or Beverly would fall coming up for next week? I think I would put Beverly between Sarah and Lindsay -- I see more potential for greatness in her than Linsday, and I think that Ed's recent struggles should keep him below Bev with all the momentum she'd have coming off a triple LCK win. But Sarah's food has looked solid all season and I think she has earned the #2 spot.

However, I think I'd put Grayson right where she is now with that red slash through her face: in the basement. I think she has a refreshingly awesome personality, but her food is not so exciting and she wouldn't really have a chance at winning the finale.

"I suspect there's a certain amount of feeling that a spinach and gorgonzola boneless skinless chicken breast just isn't enough interest to overcome some flaws. Again, I think this is what Tom was trying to get at with her last week. But this is largely speculation."

Yes, I agree that a chicken breast stuffed with bacon, cheese and spinach is about as novel as a cupcake shop. But, I think my complaint from last week was that Tom seemed to be implying that chicken salad wasn't redeemable, which you and I agreed last week isn't really the case. I still think Tom has a mental block against anything being a "chicken salad" and being worthy, but that's not completely clear.

So, for this week, clearly a stuffed chicken breast is redeemable, no? Realistically, it's a technique, more than an actual dish. A blank slate of things to do. But she did a 101 version (just like last week too). Therein lies Grayson's problem: generally quality cooking but not sufficient ideas. Eventually that will catch up with you. She has my fan favorite vote, for what that is worth (nothing).

Would love to see a screen grab of the look on Pee Wee's face at JT that you reference...anyone?

I find it interesting that Paul has been in the bottom for Quickfires more than all the remaining chefs combined, but also has a solid record of tops/wins. I wonder if he's purposely taking more risks with the QF challenges since elimination isn't on the line, but the rewards can be high (cash money or advantages in the EC). Not a bad strategy if so.

Regarding having the moving kitchen spots this season, I wondered if they lost their sponsorship for kitchen equipment, as I don't think we see closeups of the brands anymore ...

Call me cynical..

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