Top Chef Power Rankings
By David Mumpower
December 18, 2013

Brian, what is your bookie threatening to take from you?

There is almost but not quite a change at the top of this week’s Power Rankings. The player I have ranked second has come on so strong over the last couple of episodes that I toyed with the notion of slotting them at the top. Then, I looked at the overall win totals of the first place contest again and decided that such a move would be too early. Another episode of excellence could change my opinion, overall results be damned.

1) Nina

From the way the judges spoke during the home cooking challenge, I expected Nina to finish in the top group yet again. When this did not transpire, I immediately determined to drop her from the top of the power rankings. After nearly a week of reflection, I changed my mind. The reason why is simple. Nobody else has anywhere near the number of top group appearances and victories as Nina. The fact that she has not won recently is irrelevant. If Mike Trout went 0 for 20 at the plate, I wouldn’t stop thinking he was the best player in baseball, just that he was on a cold streak. And Nina isn’t even on a cold streak. She has been unlucky in that she had the best dish on her team during Restaurant Wars and then delivered a wonderful plate of food last week. She still stands out among a very good group of contestants.

2) Nicholas

A few episodes ago, Nick was almost eliminated from Top Chef without making a mistake as a player. While that may seem like forever ago now, Nick was stricken with strep throat. The fact that he has not only survived but thrived after such an unfortunate turn of events speaks volumes about his talent as well as his drive. Before he ever presented a dish last week, he had already won over the judges with his passionate display of familial love. In consecutive weeks, Nick has won a challenge as the driving force of Restaurant Wars and then emerged victorious with a heartfelt plate of food that surpassed eight other great dishes. Nick is surging at the right time.

3) Carlos

I am also bumping Carlos up this week for similar reasons to Nick. If we give the talented Mexican chef a pass for Restaurant Wars – and I believe we should – Carlos’ five most recent results are two wins, two finishes in the top group and one in the middle. He has started to find the perfect blend for his style of cooking that satisfies the judges.

4) Carrie

The 4-6 range of the power rankings consists of three women whom I believe are all capable of winning this season. Now that the wheat has been largely separated from the chaff, the difference between the remaining contestants is smaller than in previous seasons. As such, the path to victory is much more open. I have slotted Carrie here because I have believed throughout the season that she is a good, solid chef who rarely makes mistakes. The facts support this notion. There are two remaining players who have never finished in the bottom group. Oddly, Nina is not one of them. Carrie is. While she has “only” two wins to show for her consistency, she is unmistakably the most reliable chef this season. That’s a good trait to possess as the numbers dwindle.

5) Shirley

In case you were wondering who the other chef is, Shirley is the answer. She also has one more win on her resume with Carrie. Shirley has claimed the top spot in a pair of Quickfire challenges and one elimination challenge. I guess you are probably wondering why I didn’t rank Shirley above Carrie. The explanation is that Carrie has finished in the top group of Elimination challenges four other times in addition to her victory while Shirley has only managed one. Both are solid, and I see the difference between them as insignificant to the point of non-existent.

6) Stephanie

The same could be said of Stephanie as well. No, her track record isn’t as strong as those of Shirley and Carrie. Frankly, it isn’t even close. What Stephanie has done over the past four Elimination challenges surpasses both of them, though. The funniest player this season has finished in the top group in three out of the last four challenges, winning once. Yes, she did finish in the bottom group on the other occasion but she was in no danger of going home. Louis, who finished last, and Justin were the two in jeopardy while Stephanie was named because a third person had to be in that group. Padma even stated point blank that everyone’s food in that challenge was delicious. And that means Stephanie has delivered wonderful food for four consecutive challenges. I always mention Carla Hall in these examples because she is the blueprint for how a chef can ascend in the second half of the season once they start trusting their instincts as a chef. Stephanie has shown signs of doing exactly that.

7) Justin

Justin was the 1A to Nina’s 1 for the first half of the season. He is a great example that some players struggle to maintain their success over an entire season. Since the seventh episode, Justin has completely collapsed, narrowly avoiding elimination three straight weeks. To put that performance in perspective, consider that only two chefs have ever won Top Chef after finishing on the bottom in consecutive Elimination challenges at some point during a season. They are Hosea during Season 5 and Kevin during Season 7. Kevin is also the only previous winner to finish in the bottom group more than three times overall during a season. In other words, Justin has gone from being a strong contender to being a statistical improbability in only three episodes.

8) Brian

Brian earned a lot of fans last week with a gripping description of his father’s strokes. As Brian fought back tears, he relayed the horrors of the man losing his ability to speak to his children. It was one of the most human moments in the history of Top Chef. I am confident that the judges felt guilty after watching that monologue because they criticized him for using the wrong cut of beef. The one he had chosen was employed to honor his father. Brian has finished on the bottom three times as opposed to being in the top group only once. Based on performance, he is unquestionably the “weakest” remaining chef. Anybody who believes in fairytale endings, however, can envision a finale wherein Brian serves the winning dish not only to the judges but also his dad. Make it happen, Brian.

9) Louis

As predicted, the one on one format suits Louis than the group dynamic. He is too polite and kind an individual to impose his will upon virtual strangers. When the kitchen competition is reduced to him versus a single opponent, Louis morphs into the Michelin star winning chef who has proven formidable. There is still a lot of work ahead of him, as he would have to beat another six or seven chefs to earn a spot back on Top Chef. I consider that accomplishment wildly unlikely, but I am still impressed by what he has achieved thus far in Last Chance Kitchen.