Top Chef New Orleans Power Rankings
By David Mumpower
January 8, 2014

She's a better cook than you *and* your grandmother. Combined.

The herd has been thinned to half a dozen players plus the current champion of Last Chance Kitchen. As I mentioned in the most recent Top Chef Recap, the perceived difference between the remaining contestants is as slim as I can ever recall. Yes, the player at the top of the board has differentiated herself a bit and yet she hasn’t actually won in half a dozen episodes. The people slotted between second and sixth place are virtually indistinguishable. For that matter, the most recent player eliminated, Carrie, would still be in the upper portion of my board if she had survived the last vote. The player I have ranked last in the winner’s bracket is arguably the hottest contestant at the moment. In other words, I would be shocked if you agreed 100% with the order this week.

1) Nina
The other cheftestants still view her as the biggest threat. All other things being equal – and they basically are – that is reason enough to keep her in first place. I do worry that she finished in the bottom group during the college challenge. And I was astounded when I researched the statement above, realizing she had not won anything since her dominant performance during episode six. She is not even the chef who has won the most challenges this season. That honor belongs to…

2) Shirley
Yes, it’s true. Shirley has doubled her win total over the past two episodes, bringing her grand total to four. Nina has three while everyone else remaining in the Winner’s Bracket is tied with two. If that doesn’t tell you how competitive this season has been, nothing else will. Carrie also had three but…well, you know. Shirley is being universally praised not just for her cooking but also her attitude. Did you know that food served with a smile tastes better? Padma believes it’s true.

3) Stephanie
Seriously, I have no idea who to slot between third and fifth place. Stephanie finished in the bottom group during the college challenge as well, yet she did not seem to be in any real danger of elimination. Then, she turned around and won a hard fought challenge last week wherein everyone else presented delicious food according to the judges. Some wins mean more. If everyone is cooking their best and Stephanie wins, she deserves more notice. Meanwhile, the others in consideration for third place were on the bottom last week. It wouldn’t make sense to slot them here even if I believe the person in fourth place is getting a winner’s edit.

4) Nicholas
The winner’s edit is actually up for debate this season because I have been jokingly referring to Stephanie as The Narrator for a while now. I believe the editing team has done this because Stephanie has a girl next door quality combined with tremendous wit. Nicholas is getting the family man edit that served Joshua well during season 10. That is the good news. The bad news is that Nick has narrowly avoided elimination at least twice thus far and arguably a third time. People with this many near misses rarely wind up as Top Chef Champion.

5) Carlos
Most of what I said about Nick applies to Carlos as well, only less honorably since the Chicagoan has not acquitted himself well recently. I actually expected Carlos to be eliminated last week, presuming that Carrie would receive a mulligan during her first appearance in the bottom group. When that didn’t happen, I had to evaluate whether Carlos was the worst remaining player. My opinion is that Carlos has demonstrated a bit more ability to become Top Chef. Having said that, I will not be surprised if Carlos is the next one voted out. He seems to be experiencing a crisis of confidence lately.

6) Brian
If Hip Tang were the deciding factor this season, Brian would already be enjoying his coronation as Top Chef champion. Alas, Doctor John’s powers only extend so far, even in New Orleans. Brian finished in the top group during the two most recent Elimination challenges. He could be peaking at the right time. What I cannot ignore is that he finished in the bottom group in half of the previous six Elimination challenges. The recent hot streak does not negate his overall performance, which is middling. What I will note with regards to Brian is that his pattern is similar to the one Mike Isabella demonstrated during Top Chef All-Stars, and Mike almost won that season.

7) Louis
I had speculated even prior to Louis’ elimination that Last Chance Kitchen may be more his speed. Even to me, however, his dominance has been startling. Louis has defeated several exceptional chefs such as Justin, Carrie and Sara. In the process, Louis’ odds of returning to the competition have increased from virtually nil to 25%. Tom informed him after the most recent victory that three more wins will be enough for Louis to earn another chance at the Top Chef championship. He still would face the same disadvantages that led to his original elimination, but Louis will be cooking with exponentially more confidence if he does return. He is not a threat yet but two more victories would change the calculus.