Top Chef: Episode 4.4 Predictions
There are still a lot of personalities and cooking styles to get to know with the remaining 13 chefs on Top Chef 4, but it's starting to get a little bit clearer as to how each one could potentially fare in the competition.

Some chefs have had a high point or two, but otherwise seem to be struggling. Others seem to be going strong, but could this lead to overconfidence and excessive ambition in the kitchen? Here are some thoughts as to where the chefs currently stand and what could happen in this episode.

The preview shows Richard Blais, Dale Talde, and Andrew D'Ambrosi working together (pretty cordially, it appears) to create a smoky effect for a salmon dish. They first try to use Richard's whizz-bang smoker gizmo, but when it doesn't work, they instead set a block of wood on fire and hold the salmon over that. Brilliant? Or incredibly risky? Or both?

So far, these three are, I think, looking to be among the best at creatively conceptualizing a strong dish. (I would also add Stephanie and possibly Mark to that list, but they don't appear to be on that team in the preview.) This episode is going to focus on food and movies, and the chefs have to create a dish, it appears, inspired by favorite films. The creativity of these five chefs could really stand them in good stead, but will risky smoke maneuver of Andrew, Dale and Richard be more Icarus than Wright Brothers?

Reality shows depend on surprise, so when someone has been seeming to perform poorly, it's really no guarantee they're on their way out next episode. But if there is one candidate for it, it would be Nikki Cascone.

Granted, she could just be seriously lacking in catering skills, but she also faltered in the very first Quickfire. She seems to have a real problem with adjusting for adverse reactions. Her first Quickfire was working with deep dish pizza, something she admitted she wasn't familiar with, preferring thin-crust New York style. Hers turned out to be a big thick pile of crust. She was also aware prior to the Block Party that her mac and cheese might not work, but she couldn't improvise and creative solution. Chefs don't have to know everything, but if you know you have a weakness, you should be able to use your experience and expertise to shore it up.

After her skirt steak debacle in the Quickfire, Lisa Fernandes seemed mysteriously absent last episode. I thought it was just me: I didn't take a single note on her. But when I Rated the Plate on Bravo's website, she didn't have a single dish for the previous episode. Miguel “Chunk le Funk” Morales from Top Chef 1 taught us all the perils of trying to slide under the radar for too long, with Tom Colicchio offering up the first damning “This is not Top Sous Chef” lecture. Will she start rising to the occasion in this one?

Spike Mendelsohn has been cooking pretty well, but lord does he like to complain. It wasn't just last episode (he whined in the Quickfire and at Elimination); he also a little kvetchy about his issues with the meat from the second episode's farmers market Quickfire Challenge. It's natural to get frustrated, but the fact that he pulls an attitude – especially since he seems less than willing to recognize his own responsibility in situations – doesn't bode well. I think he'll make it further in the competition, but he's on a bad path if he doesn't get over the sense of entitlement.

Ryan Scott also seems to be one at risk. He was unfamiliar with Chicken Piccata, and didn't think to use mayonnaise (or at least come up with a better solution) for his Waldorf Salad. He has created dishes that got praise, but if he's lacking in some basic cooking knowledge, I don't know how long he can stick it out with the judges looking for every weakness.

Manuel Trevino has been cooking Mexican since he was a kid, and is currently working in a fine dining version of a Mexican restaurant. Yet he couldn't make a fine dining Mexican dish good enough to impress Rick Bayless. Padma Lakshmi said herself in her video blog this is a bad sign. Did she just give us a clue or was she throwing us off the scent? So far, I'm not seeing the strongest performance from him.

As to the couple: Zoi Antonitsas really faltered last episode, and she's featured in commercials looking stricken. Would Bravo make it so obvious? Unlikely; I think this means she might be safe. Her partner Jennifer Biesty seems like a relatively solid performer so far, so I can't really see her going home based on prior episodes. We'll have to see if she falters in this episode of Top Chef 4.

And last but not least, Antonia Lofaso is a little under the radar herself, but seems to be a solid performer in general, so I think she's still in the game for at least a little while on Top Chef 4.

- Leslie Seaton, BuddyTV Staff Columnist

(Image courtesy of Bravo)