Just as the season premiere foretold, Top Chef: World All-Stars has been excellent. By gathering champions and finalists from Top Chef franchises around the globe, the show has avoided cannon fodder contestants who never get their fish perfectly cooked. Instead, it’s delivered episodes where at least half the dishes seem worthy of the win, and most of the time, even the losing plates look pretty good. In the pub food challenge, Dale MacKay and May Thongthong’s Scotch egg seemed delicious, but it got bounced for not being crispy enough. In the holiday favorites episode, it wasn’t that Begoña Rodrigo’s peanut-sauce-and-leftovers concoction was bad, per se. It’s that it wasn’t ready for the cover of a food magazine like Amar Santana’s mouthwatering lamb shank.
Still, chefs have to get sent home, and as the season progresses, each elimination will target someone brilliant. Now that we’ve seen six episodes — along with the results from the first installment of Last Chance Kitchen — it’s time to make tough predictions about who’s making it to the end of this all-star race. Here’s an evaluation of the remaining players, ranked by the likelihood that they’ll go all the way.
Though he started the season as a confident rogue, making sassy comments and plating excellent food, Tom’s been on a sharp decline. First came his refusal to make a British biscuit because he simply didn’t feel like it. Then came his terrible cake in the holiday favorites challenge. And then came the villain edit: In the picnic challenge, he not only pressured his teammates to let him spend most of their budget, but also wasted his expensive ingredients on a fussy “cioppino salad.” His bad attitude and poor choices are going to keep dragging him down.
Sara is incredibly cool, with a low-key confidence that serves her well. That said, her high point this season was the mound of broccolini, meat, and cheese she put in the picnic basket. It looked delicious, but it also resembled something on the buffet at an upscale airport club. She needs to take bigger swings.
Nicole has the swagger of someone who’s used to running a kitchen, and because she pushed her team to follow her lead in the football stadium tournament, they won the first round and escaped elimination. But while her managerial skills make her stand out during prep sequences, her food is never that memorable. Even her winning dish in the picnic challenge was just a salmon salad. Though she’ll probably thrive if she expedites in Restaurant Wars, her food should be more memorable than her leadership.
It’s true that he hasn’t been on the bottom, but after winning the first episode, Charbel hasn’t had a standout dish in weeks. And while he talks a big game about being young and brilliant, he’s been relying on fairly predictable Mediterranean staples. WIth Ali Ghzawi doing more surprising things with the same type of cuisine, Charbel could start looking weak by comparison.
Chef Gabri is excellent TV. From his flirty comments to his friendship romance with Begoña to the tasteful pearl necklace he wears in his testimonials, he brings impish energy to every episode, or else he breaks everyone’s hearts by talking about his tough relationship with his father. It would be great to see him in the finale, if only because he’d be so much fun. However, his plates always teeter on the edge of disaster. When he succeeds — like with his extravagant mole in the rice challenge — he’s thrilling, but his inconsistency is going to catch up with him.
Let other chefs scurry around doing too much. Dale won the season’s first round of Last Chance Kitchen because he knew when to pull back, focusing on simple items in a British high tea instead of attempting pastries he couldn’t possibly complete in the allotted time. Then, after he earned immunity for the picnic challenge, he made straightforward deviled eggs so he could have time left over to help his teammates. That kind of strategizing is crucial to winning the show.
That lamb shank may be his only winning dish, but consider that Amar’s malt vinegar-infused fries saved his team from elimination in the pub challenge. And even though his team lost the picnic challenge, his flan got some of the best comments of the day. His consistency will keep him in the game. Besides, Amar’s in such a good mood all the time that he may be able to stay calm as the pressure builds.
Ali’s subtlety is his trump card. In the holiday challenge he elevated a mezze platter by adding pomegranate molasses. In the picnic episode, his muhammara lettuce wrap had the judges rhapsodizing about his elegant use of texture and temperature. Meanwhile, he seems thoughtful and kind, frequently praising the people in his life who inspire him. Maybe that love translates to his food.
Victoire is proof of the indomitable human spirit. This is a woman who left the politically untenable conditions in her Congolese homeland, moved to Italy with nothing, and worked her way up to a successful culinary career. She speaks over half a dozen languages, and she essentially learned English to be on this show. That is astonishing, and it’s no wonder the other contestants love her. But more importantly, Victoire keeps giving the judges excellent food. Her madesu (a Congolese bean stew) elicited awestruck praise, as did her foie-gras-as-finger-food concoction. Anyone who keeps the judges gasping will go far.
Buddha’s one of the best contestants ever to appear on Top Chef. He not only dreams up imaginative dishes, but also executes them at a high level, like when he deconstructed a fish pie or refashioned a banoffee pie into a tiny banana. While he was bratty about landing in the bottom for his salmon salad in the holiday challenge, that was a minor speed bump. He’s almost certain to make the finale, and he’s a serious threat to win.
Top Chef: World All-Stars airs Thursdays at 9:00 PM on Bravo. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.
Mark Blankenship has been writing about arts and culture for twenty years, with bylines in The New York Times, Variety, Vulture, Fortune, and many others. You can hear him on the pop music podcast Mark and Sarah Talk About Songs.