'Top Chef' Kentucky Recap: Episode 8 — 'Whatever Floats Your Boat'
The chefs are catching their collective breaths in the stock room after Brandon is sent home for a lackluster steak dish during the ‘carne’ challenge (check out the recap here), where everyone seemed to miss the mark. “This is the worst day I think any of us has had since being on Top Chef,” Kelsey says as we relive the verbal bashing the cheftestants received from Tom Colicchio at Judges' Table last week. As the chefs are talking, Padma Lakshmi comes in and announces they’ll be driving two and a half hours to the houseboat capital of the world: Lake Cumberland in central Kentucky.
Padma says the chefs are going to be “taking a break” but I don’t buy it. Sara is stoked. “This is my jam, I grew up on the lake,” she says excitedly before sharing that Kentucky has more shoreline than the state of Florida. Padma then informs them that they'll be split into two teams and are going to be throwing houseboat parties for 100 guests. The guests will vote for their favorite boat and the winning team will be safe from elimination. Eddie gets to pick his team since he won last week. After much thought, he goes with Adrienne, Michelle, David, and Brian. Eric, Sara, Kelsey, and Justin are on the other team. Adrienne is confused as to why Eddie picked five chefs without knowing if the kitchen is big enough for that many people. “Five chefs is not an advantage,” she says smartly.
The next morning the teams start planning. The Green Team (Eric, Kelsey, Sara, and Justin) is taking Tom’s words of advice of “be yourself” to heart and planning a menu of simple food that they would love to eat themselves on a summer houseboat party. They’re going to do an all-seafood menu complete with jello shots which may not show a ton of technique but does seem fun. The Blue Team (Eddie, Adrienne, Brian, David, and Michelle) is going tiki(-ish) with porchetta as their centerpiece. Brian is taking on the main dish because he wants to prove to the judges that he can cook meat after landing in the bottom last week for a poorly executed steak dish.
With that, the chefs are off to Whole Foods where they have 30 minutes and $1500 to spend on their menus. The Green Team manages to throw a few decorations into their cart which seems like a great idea since the challenge is to throw a great party. Justin shares that he not only owns a boat, he’s also thrown a few houseboat parties or two in his day so he should do pretty well. Sara also shares that she throws fun parties “by taking off [her] shirt and running around” which is definitely a way to stand out in an Elimination Challenge.
With their supplies in tow, the chefs are off to the shore of Lake Cumberland where they’re greeted by Captain Lee and Captain Sandy of Below Deck. Guest judge Emeril Lagasse makes an appearance with Tom during prep to see how the chefs are doing.
Here’s how the prep and parties went down on the lake:
The Green Team
Eric, Kelsey, Sara, and Justin
Oysters with cocktail sauce, lemon juice, hot sauce, horseradish, and pickled watermelon rind. (Kelsey)
Watermelon salad with tequila-marinated shrimp and basil crutons. (Justin)
Shrimp roll with trinity, herbs, Meyer lemon zest on a brioche roll. (Sara)
Beer battered fried walleye with West Indies escabeche sauce. (Eric)
Key Lime Crunch cereal with white chocolate, coconut, banana, and key lime. (Kelsey)
“Jiggle juice” shot with peach, mint tea, and bourbon. (Whole team)
The Green team is doing well and everyone seems to be executing their prep on time. Justin nearly loses his eyebrows checking the gas grill on the roof of the houseboat where he’ll be grilling items to order. Sara and Justin collaborate on a batch of “jiggle juice” jello shots with tons of Maker’s Mark which is just about the funnest drink name ever. As the party gets going the next morning, Eric is having trouble maintaining the temperature on the fryer that he’s using for his fish dish but improvises by going to the kitchen downstairs to fry. Overall the judges seem happy as they walk around the party, but Padma can’t take all the ‘jiggle’ in the jiggle juice. “Too much booze,” Sara innocently asks after seeing Padma make a pained face. Tom says the Green Team’s boat has “a lot of energy” which is always a good sign.
The Blue Team
Eddie, Adrienne, Brian, David, and Michelle
Seafood dumpling with scallops, black bass, caramelized onions, and spiced coconut broth. (David)
South Pacific style porchetta with papaya, peanut, and cilantro salad. (Brian)
Grilled salmon tacos, corn salad, chipotle aioli and red cabbage slaw with chimichurri. (Adrienne)
Poached shrimp with herb aioli, prosciutto, and fresh horseradish. (Eddie)
Potato chip crusted bass with onion dip sauce. (Michelle)
Prep seems to be going well for the Blue Team until the power goes out on the houseboat throwing the chefs into a frenzy because their menu is so prep-intensive. “We need to start cooking so many different things for so many different dishes,” the perpetually panicked Eddie says. Luckily there are a couple of induction burners and a countertop convection oven that they can work with until the electricity gets sorted out. To make matters worse, Adrienne is feeling sick and doesn’t think she’ll be able to serve her dish at the party. The team takes the reigns on her dish so she can rest. Thankfully the power comes back on in the morning so the chefs can continue to cook. During the party, the crowd seems a lot mellower than the Green team and one partygoer even says the vibe is “subdued and down.” Yikes.
Overall Tom is happy with the food that came from both teams. “Both teams did a great job,” he says before adding that everything was delicious. Emeril commends the chefs on cooking from their hearts. The winning team? The Green Team! The judges loved Justin’s watermelon dish and picked up on the cross-utilization of the rind on Kelsey’s oysters, which she managed to serve cold despite the heat. They also thought Eric’s adaptability with his fish and Sara’s simplicity with her shrimp roll were stellar. But there can only be one winner. The prize goes to Kelsey for presenting not only a great oyster dish but also a bag of “puppy chow” for guests to take home. She’s excited to win at this point especially since it was a win for making food she knows well. “The fact that I won for literally being myself, I couldn’t ask for anything better than that,” she says.
The Blue Team only got 21 votes for their party so they’re on the bottom. The judges seem split on the dishes and their execution. Tom enjoyed Michelle’s crunchy fish but thought it was cold while Emeril had a hot piece that was “perfect.” Padma thought Eddie’s shrimp was a little bland while Nilou found it to be pedestrian, tasting like something she would make slapdash from a cocktail party spread. They commend him on presenting Adrienne’s dish for her and say that it tasted better than his own dish. The judges agree that David’s seafood dumpling was delicious but not appropriate for a hot day on a boat. Brian’s porchetta missed the mark because it was brined, making it too similar to ham. In the end, it’s Brian that’s asked to pack his knives and go.
But wait! Padma then tells the chefs to get some sleep because they’ll be headed to Nashville in the morning for their next challenge. Music City, here we come!