Two chefs may be packing their knives, but one could be back in the competition next week.

By Korsha Wilson
January 03, 2019
Nini greets the judges at Third Coast.
Michael Hickey/Bravo

When we last left the chefs they were getting ready to open their restaurants as part of Top Chef's trademark Restaurant Wars challenge, where they have to conceptualize and open a restaurant in two days in — for the first time — three teams of four. This week’s show starts off with the timers going off and hungry guests descending onto each restaurant ready to be seated at their tables. It’s go time and the chefs are stressed as they put the final touches on their dishes and get ready for service with the threat of a double elimination hanging over their heads.

Brian and the North East team are frantically running around, trying to get ready for the first push. Adrienne is the expeditor and takes on the role of getting the kitchen organized and communicating with Brian about the front of the house. Sara is rocking the front of the house for Thistle while Pablo, Brandon, and Michelle run back of the house with Michelle as executive chef. Michelle offered to step into the role because she has immunity this week, but is having a tough time getting her voice heard. Michelle tastes all the components but doesn’t get to taste a completed dish which is a huge risk. During service, Sara is working well with the front of the house team. “There was no yelling in our kitchen, no freaking out,” she says.

Sara trains the Thistle front of house team.
Michael Hickey/Bravo

It’s a different story at Third Coast, where Justin is filling the executive chef role while David and Kelsey work as line cooks. “Our plan was to have 80 to 90 oysters pre-shucked and ready to go for service,” Justin says. They don’t have any shucked because Kelsey had to help Nini with front of house training before service, so Kelsey has to shuck oysters to order for their broiled oyster dish. To make things worse, the servers don’t know the dishes on the menu and Nini seems flustered by the questions guests are asking at the tables. During service, Kelsey realizes that Nini’s cocoa nib sorbet isn’t completely frozen so the team makes the decision to send out her dessert minus the ice cream... without asking her. Nini notices some of the plates without her sorbet and goes back into the kitchen to address Kelsey. “To see my dessert not come out, I feel very betrayed,” Nini says.

The judges dined at each restaurant with the episode's guest judges Nina Compton, Karen Akunowicz and Caroline Styne. Here are the dishes each chef worked on, and how dinner went for their respective restaurants:

The judges await their first meal of Restaurant Wars at North East.
Michael Hickey/Bravo

North East Restaurant

Adrienne, Eric, Eddie, Brian

First Course Dishes
Chicken ballotine with sunchoke puree, sunflower seeds, and apple. (Brian)
Striped bass crudo with corn dashi, corn puree, and shaved celery. (Eddie)

Second Course Dishes
New York strip with braised cabbage and merlot jus. (Eddie)
Pork and scallop with couscous and carrot. (Eric)

Third Course Dishes
Marsala roasted peach, yogurt mousse, hazelnut crumble, fresh peaches and mint. (Adrienne)
Jasper Hill Farm Harbison cheese with basil focaccia and blackberry. (Adrienne)

Brian is in control of the dining room “I think they’ve done a good job of spacing things out,” Padma says. The judges appreciate the “calming” muted colors of the dining room and the “clear focus” of the menu. Tom comments that he doesn’t see a lot of food coming out of the kitchen so Brian tells the kitchen to hurry when putting out the judges' first course. Tom says the ballotine is “perfectly cooked” while Nina says Eddie’s crudo is “one note.” On the second course, Nilou and Padma both make pained faces at Eric’s salty pork on the scallop dish, but praise Eddie’s potato puree and perfectly cooked steak. Desserts are a home run for Adrienne, with Caroline saying the peaches had “the perfect texture” and Tom appreciating the Jasper Hill Harbison cheese course because it’s his “favorite cheese in the world.”

Thistle Restaurant

Michelle, Pablo, Brandon, Sara

First Course Dishes
Green tomato gazpacho with sourdough crutons, cucumbers, and ginger. (Sara)
Sweet pea agnolotti with roasted shiitakes, toasted hazelnuts, manchego, and ricotta. (Michelle)

Second Course Dishes
Seared scallops with sunchoke, apple puree, and lime. (Pablo)
Kombu-braised shortribs with artichoke, asparagus, fava beans, and carrot. (Pablo)

Third Course Dishes
Soy milk custard with strawberries, cardamom, almond streusel, and lemon verbena. (Brandon)
Goat cheese roulade with corn, blueberries, and candy corn. (Brandon)

The judges seem to love the earthy design of Thistle as well as the vegetable-forward menu. Sara’s gazpacho gets mixed reviews with Nina saying the candied ginger “doesn’t make sense in the dish.” Michelle’s pasta gets raves with Karen saying “it’s really well done” and Tom saying “everything was really well balanced”. Pablo’s second courses are a miss. “The scallops are well prepared and then the whole rest of the dish falls apart,” Nilou says. Padma jokes that the shortribs are so rubbery that they’d bounce if thrown off the top of a building. Yikes. Brandon’s desserts seem to just barely miss the mark with Nina praising the custard's “perfect texture and temperature” and Karen saying the corn on the goat cheese roulade “doesn’t make sense.”

Third Coast Restaurant

Justin, David, Kelsey, Nini

First Course Dishes
Crawfish bisque with trinity, lemon zest, and scallion. (Justin)
Charbroiled Chesapeake Bay oysters with compound butter. (Team)

Second Course Dishes
Red snapper Pontchartrain with corn and crab salad, fried green tomatoes, and salsa verde. (Team)
Creole spiced duck with cabbage. (David)

Third Course Dishes
Buttermilk pannacotta with blackberries and buttermilk biscuit. (Kelsey)
“Chocolate” cocoa nib sorbet, chocolate crumble, and chocolate ganache. (Nini)

The judges want to focus on Third Coast’s food but the disorganized service in the front of house and line of diners waiting for their tables is very distracting. Padma asks Nini how long people have been waiting for a table and she says she has to “try to squeeze them in.” Oof. The first courses come out staggered because Kelsey has to shuck the oysters to order delaying that dish by about four minutes, a choice that the judges definitely notice. Justin’s bisque tastes “more like vegetables” than crawfish and is too thick, according to Tom and the oysters are very acidic. Second courses are a hit, with Tom praising the salsa verde and David’s “well-executed” duck that’s tasty but doesn’t pack enough of a punch of Creole spices. Desserts come out and everyone is in love with Kelsey’s “tangy” buttermilk pannacotta. Padma says it’s “one of the most beautiful desserts” she’s ever seen on the show. Nini’s Chocolate dessert feels like “a collection of things” that’s not “a composed dessert” according to Nina. Overall the meal feels disjointed and doesn’t hit the mark of a Gulf Coast-inspired experience. “This team seemed to be the most unified and happy to work together,” Caroline says. “And I kind of feel like these dishes and appetizers have nothing to do with each other.”

Judges’ Table

“Out of 16 seasons this is probably the most difficult Restaurant Wars,” Tom says to the cheftestants later at Judges’ Table. Although there was no runaway favorite there were some standout dishes and restaurant experiences. Caroline was really impressed by North East and the training that front of house team had. Food-wise, the ballotine and Adrienne’s desserts were some of the best dishes of the day. The judge’s enjoyed Thistle, but Pablo’s entrees were a low point and the service was a little too involved. “I was probably nervous,” Sara admits. “Tom, I gotta lot of respect for you but there were a lot of power ladies at the table!” That’s totally fair. Michelle’s agnolotti bowled over Caroline who says it’s “a restaurant quality dish that would go on a menu and never come off”. The judges try to get to the bottom of Third Coast’s lengthy wait times which caused a lot of friction between Nini and Justin. Kelsey tries to diffuse the situation saying the front of the house crew “was difficult.” Most of the food at Third Coast was also a miss, with the judges only liking David’s duck, David and Justin’s fish dish, and Kelsey’s pannacotta. 

The winning team? North East with Brian being named the challenge winner thanks to his cooking and "carrying the team over the finish line” with his focus on hospitality. Everyone on the team gets $10,000, too, which is a great way to end Restaurant Wars. On the chopping block are the chefs from Thistle and Third Coast. “Clearly Restaurant Wars is hard,” Tom says. “The chefs that succeed are more organized and nimble enough on their feet to make changes. You guys didn’t make those changes.”

And the eliminated chefs are Pablo because his entrees sank his whole team and are "the reason that they’re in the bottom” and Nini due to her front of the house training which “had a snowball effect” and led to her team’s demise.

Pablo and Nini are sent packing for one last shot at redemption in "Last Chance Kitchen."
Michael Hickey/Bravo

With Nini getting the boot, this is the second time this season that someone has gone home the week after a win, meaning season 16 is really anyone’s game. That includes both Pablo and Nini, as next week one of them could beat season 15's Brother Luck and 16's Natalie in Last Chance Kitchen to re-enter the competition!

Episode 6 of ‘Top Chef’ in Kentucky airs Thursday, January 10 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Bravo. ‘Last Chance Kitchen’ streams immediately following the show at BravoTV.com/Last-Chance-Kitchen. Find additional interviews, chef bios, and more at BravoTV.com/TopChef.

Food & Wine editor Adam Campbell-Schmitt was on-set in Kentucky for this season's Restaurant Wars. Read that story here.

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