'Top Chef' Kentucky Recap: Episode 10 — 'Hoop Dreams'
The chefs are still in Music City, a.k.a. Nashville, where Michelle is taking in her win for her musically-inspired dish in memory of her late father. She says the process of the challenge has allowed her to see herself and heal. “I’m finding I’m a lot stronger than I thought,” she says. It’s been really great to watch Michelle open up as the competition goes on. The chefs head back to Kentucky and the Top Chef kitchen where they find Padma Lakshmi standing next to chef, author, and Top Chef alum Edward Lee! Lee is one of the most well-known chefs from Kentucky with three well-regarded restaurants in the area. But the chefs aren't just there to admire Ed — they’re about to embark on a Fort Knox-inspired Quickfire.
The chefs will have to unlock a trove of bouillon (dehydrated stock) cubes meant to mimic the actual gold bullion in Fort Knox (clever homophone usage there, Top Chef producers!). They’ll have to use clues to find pantry ingredients that are marked with numbers which make up the combination to unlock the box. Then they’ll have to use the bouillon cubes (and nothing else) to season their dishes. Oh, and they’ll only have 35 minutes to do all of it.
Time starts and the chefs huddle around a table to decipher their money-related clues. It only takes the crew about five minutes to open up the safe and get cooking. “For me, the biggest difficulty in this is gauging the saltiness of these cubes,” Justin says. Eddie is going to make a dish using yellow and gold colored ingredients to mimic the color of actual gold which isn't just smart, it's a play on his "Eddie Money" nickname. Eric might be the best equipped for this challenge since he did a thesis on bouillon and how it’s used in West African and Southeast Asian households. “I’m a nerd when it comes to all that,” he laughs.
After time is called, Padma and Ed make their way around the chefs' stations tasting the finished dishes. “I thought some of you used too much bouillon and some of you, not enough,” Ed says at the end of it. On the bottom are Michelle’s fried smelts for not being creative enough and Justin’s dish which was inedibly salty. Sara’s monkfish, Eddie’s scallops and Eric’s eggplant steeped in bouillon are Ed’s favorites. The winner? Eddie’s gold-inspired scallop dish. He gets bragging rights and gets to sit the next Elimination Challenge out. Seriously. “Not only do you get immunity but you don’t have to cook,” Padma says as everyone’s jaws are on the floor.
The remaining chefs will be playing a three-on-three game of pickup in a basketball-inspired challenge at Lexington's Rupp Arena, home of the University of Kentucky's basketball team. On the Blue Team we have Kelsey, Sara, and Michelle and the White Team will be Adrienne, Eric, and Justin. Each team will have to make three courses of food to serve head-to-head, one course at a time. The judges will vote on which dish is the best and the team with the most points wins. They’ll have 15 minutes to menu plan and then three hours at the arena to prep and cook, plus they’ll get some help from previously eliminaed cheftestants.
Padma starts the clock and the chefs get started menu planning. The White Team is going for a menu of crowd pleasers like wings and sliders. “The biggest thing with arena food is that it has to be extremely flavorful,” Justin says. They're betting it's wise to stick to well-known dishes that sports fans would want to eat while watching a game. Adrienne is going for fried chicken and waffles. Eric is making a fried chicken drumette with tamarind sauce. Justin is making juicy Lucy sliders but can’t find buns at Whole Foods so he’s going to serve them open-faced. On the Blue Team, Kelsey is making dumplings which aren't traditionally American stadium food, but she’s optimistic that they’re good enough to stand out. Michelle wants to do ribs which is a risky move since she only has three hours to make them. Sara is also making fried chicken and waffles and makes the decision to buy pre-made waffle mix. “It’s a step in saving time so why not,” she says.
The next day the chefs get started making their dishes. Tom and Ed visit the kitchen and find out that both teams are making chicken and waffles. Adrienne lets it slip that she saw Sara buying boxed waffle mix, prompting some chiding from Tom and Ed towards the other team. As the clock winds down, things start to go off the rails when the Blue Team’s fryer stops working and Michelle realizes that the ribs aren’t as charred as she’d like them. “We’re just going to have to cook them to order,” an exasperated Sara says.
Here’s how things played out on the court with guest judges University of Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari and Food & Wine Editor-in-Chief Hunter Lewis.
Kelsey — “Kentucky Proud Dumpling” with pistou and ponzu
Adrienne — Chicken and waffles with bourbon maple syrup and pickled watermelon rind
Coach Calipari loves both dishes. “This is a tough one, these are both really terrific,” Tom says. The first round goes to the Blue Team with Kelsey’s “delicate” dumplings and standout sauces. The Blue Team has one point and the White Team is still at zero.
Sara — “Big Blue Nation” chicken and waffles
Eric — Tamarind glazed drumette with herb confetti
Sara’s dish name gets the crowd going but Tom quickly brings up that he heard the waffles on the Blue Team were boxed. Uh-oh. The White Team starts the crowd on a chant of "homemade" while Kentucky native Sara looks on, noticeably pissed. “Getting called out on the floor of Rupp arena is terrible for me,” she says. Tom praises her chicken but says the waffles are kind of soft. John loves the flavor of Eric’s wing. The judges unanimously pick the White Team. Now the teams are tied with a point each as they head into the final round.
Justin — “Juicy Lucy” with pimento cheese, bbq sauce, bourbon onions and duck fat braised pork belly
Michelle — Sweet and sour ribs with “thunder and lightning” cucumbers with peach and Calabrian chili sauce
The judges seem split on the two dishes with everyone praising the creativity and execution on both. “There was nothing wrong with the burger,” Hunter says. “The sauce is so deep and flavorful,” Tom says of Michelle’s ribs. The judge’s pick Justin’s burger meaning the White Team wins!
Afterward, in the locker room, Sara is feeling some kinda way about being called out about her boxed waffle mix and tells Adrienne and Justin as much. “I got heckled because someone threw me under the bus,” Sara says. “I didn’t know we were playing like that.” The good vibes and family atmosphere between the cheftestants this season might be over.
Tom is really happy the teams both made dishes that were gameday appropriate. He commends Eric on his decision to french (also sometimes called a lollipop) the bones of his chicken wings, exposing the tendons to the fryer oil and making the whole thing easier to eat. Padma praises Justin’s burger because it was the perfect blend of all of the condiments you want on a good burger. In the end, the winner is Eric! Each chef will also receive $5000 dollars to sweeten the taste of victory even more so.
The Blue Team has to face the judges and Sara is still emotional about cooking at Rupp Arena. “This is like a lifetime dream,” she says through tears. Tom says that while her chicken was great, the waffle was soggy and bland dragging down the whole dish. Graham thought the pickles on Michelle’s rib dish didn’t shine and the ribs were a little wet. Kelsey, as the only person on the team who won her round, seems to be safe when Ed Lee says her dumpling skills reminded him of his Korean grandmother’s. That’s high praise.
Back in the locker room, Sara is still feeling upset about the taunting during the competition. “I thought y’all were supposed to be my people,” she says. “I’m so sorry your feelings are hurt,” Adrienne says. But things still seem tense even as Michelle initiates a group hug in an attempt to smooth things over.
At the judges' table once again, it’s clear that it’ll be Sara or Michelle going home. “When you do something that everyone has done before, you have to nail it,” Graham says of Michelle uncharred ribs. Sara’s soggy waffle is still upsetting Tom. In a surprise upset, it’s Michelle who goes home for not honoring the fundamentals of classic ribs.
Michelle is yet another victim of season 16's topsy-turvy "winner one week, gone the next" rollercoaster. Can she find her way back into the competition in Last Chance Kitchen?
Next week, the remaining chefs face a Colonel Sanders-themed Quickfire with chef (and former KFC employee) Art Smith, before an Elimination Challenge dedicated to the life and career of Louisville's own Muhammad Ali.