'Top Chef' Kentucky Recap: Episode 9 — 'Music City USA'
A song-inspired challenge has the chefs cooking from the heart and (finally) singing their own tune.
And then there were eight. Jumping right back in from last week's episode of Top Chef, Kelsey is riding high off of her challenge win but knows more challenges are just around the corner. “Top eight feels great but you can never let your guard down when you’re in this competition,” she says.
The chefs say goodbye to their houseboats on Lake Cumberland in Kentucky and head to Nashville, Tennessee the epicenter of country music. Adrienne is still feeling sick but is trying to push through as the group makes the road trip. After a quick pit stop for chicken fingers, the group arrives at the iconic Grand Ole Opry, the home of country music. Padma Lakshmi is standing on stage with four tables and a makeshift pantry behind her, meaning it’s time for a country-themed Quickfire!
The chefs have 30 minutes to use “an up and coming country music star’s rider” to create a dish. The chefs have the unknown country star’s preferred options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner so they have plenty of options to make a dish. Eric, David, and Kelsey all get breakfast riders that say the star loves eggs, oatmeal, and meat so there’s a mad dash for the eggs. David grabs the whole container of eggs to make an omelet which seems like a smart move. Both Kelsey and Eric ask David for some of his eggs but he can only spare a few to Kelsey meaning Eric has to pivot to oatmeal. Michelle grabs the lunch rider which gives her a ton of options for making a dish including salads, sandwiches, and soups. “I feel like there’s a lot of flexibility,” she says. Adrienne picks the dinner rider which asks for a red meat options, but she's still feeling sick which is making it hard to cook.
Time’s up and the mystery country star is announced. It’s Hunter Hayes and Kelsey (the resident country music fan) proceeds to lose her mind and fangirl hard. “I’ve been listening to him since I was fourteen years old,” she says. Hunter and Padma eat through the chef’s dishes and Hunter seems really impressed by what the chefs have managed to put together. “This is going to spoil me from going on the road,” he jokes. On the bottom are: David because his classic French omelet and radish salad was “overwhelming,” Eddie’s chicken salad because it was “one note,” and Kelsey’s shakshuka because it was too “acidic.” On top is Eric’s oatmeal which had “a little bit of sweet,” Sara’s cauliflower salad which “balanced savory and sweet” and Adrienne’s filet mignon with corn and roasted red pepper sauce because it featured elements that Hayes would be “craving” when he finally sits down to dinner after a performance. The winner? Adrienne! It’s her first solo challenge win and super impressive since she was sick the whole time she was cooking. “I am so glad I got out of bed today. I lucked out for this challenge,” she says. Adrienne barely has time to soak in her win before Padma says that it’s time this week’s music-inspired elimination challenge.
The chefs have to make a dish inspired by a personal music memory. “Music plays such a big role in all of our lives. A song comes on the radio and it can take your right back to your first kiss, your wedding,” Padma says. The chefs will have two hours today and two hours tomorrow to cook and prep their dishes before serving them at Sky overlooking downtown Nashville. They’ll be cooking for some pretty dope guests: Kings of Leon frontman Caleb Followill, model Lily Aldridge, and chefs Jonathan Waxman and Sean Brock. No pressure. Here's what each chef chose as their song and dish:
Edmund “Eddie” Konrad
Song: “Love You Madly” by Cake
Dish: Red snapper with edamame puree, puffed rice, charred green onions and bacon relish
Eddie is using his wedding song as the inspiration for his dish which is adorable. “I don’t want to let my wife down,” he says. He also says that he hasn’t made the dish (which was an attempt to get his wife to like red snapper) in about ten years which seems like a risky move. The judges are confused by the dish because it’s “lacking texture and acidity.” Tom doesn’t understand the inclusion of puffed rice.
Kelsey Barnard Clark
Song: “Sunday Kind of Love” by Etta James
Dish: Chicken pot pie
Kelsey is making her husband’s “last meal,” a deconstructed chicken pot pie that looks really beautiful when she plates it. The elements of a great pot pie like chicken, vegetables, and crust have been plated around the circumference and the gravy is poured over the elements tableside which looks like a really cool way to serve a well-known dish. “Everything is salty today,” Tom says in an exasperated tone. Kelsey also added salt to the plate before serving which Graham Elliot says is like “a margarita rim” and not in a pleasant way.
Song: “Michelle” by The Beatles
Dish: Red snapper with corn, fava ragout, citrus vinaigrette and fennel onion puree
Michelle is using The Beatles as her inspiration and the memory of her father who took his own life when she was a teenager. “The smell of corn really reminds me of my father,” she says to the judges when describing her dish as she shares her story. Tom thinks she did a fantastic job with the dish and Sean would like to hire her which is a pretty big compliment. “This is probably the best dish we’ve had all season,” Tom adds.
Song: “Purple Rain” by Prince
Dish: New York strip with braised red cabbage, beet gnocchi, purple pearl onions
Justin is playing up his Minnesota roots with a dish dedicated to the late Prince Rogers Nelson. He’s cooking gnocchi in beet juice and finishing the plate with a port wine sauce so everything is a nice shade of purple. Things seem to be going well and then Justin realizes as time’s up that he forgot one plate. Uh oh. He’s going to be one plate short for the judges and he’s not eligible to win. The judges agree that the dish is really good adding insult to injury.
Song: “Jambalaya” by Hank Williams
Dish: Grouper with sassafras bone sauce, braised greens and pumpkin pesto
Sara is making her dad’s favorite dish, gumbo. “Gumbo’s not gorgeous but my dad would be very proud of me,” she says. “I think this is some of the best food we’ve seen from Sara so far,” Graham says. “It really worked well,” Jonathan adds.
Song: “Big Poppa” by The Notorious B.I.G.
Dish: Ribeye steak, eggs, parmesan cheese sauce, concord grape jus
Eric is using the classic “t-bone steak, cheese eggs and Welch’s grape” line by Notorious B.I.G. as his inspiration. “To a lot of kids that grew up in New York City a lot of the things that Biggie Smalls talks about is inspiring,” he says. He’s making a grape jus using beef trimmings which sounds like a really intricate and precarious sauce that could be too intense if not balanced properly. The judges love the parmesan cheese sauce and Sean Brock says the dish immediately “put him in a good mood.” Tom knocks the cook on the steak which is a bit overdone to him.
Song: “Morning View” by Incubus
Dish: Pork and clams with morels, clam salad, crispy potatoes and pork tenderloin
David is using his time on the coast of Portugal and an entire album as the inspiration for his dish. The usually calm and affable chef is looking stressed for the first time in the competition. Whole Foods didn’t have octopus so he switches to clams which take forever to steam open during his prep time. As he’s plating he realizes that his sauce has over reduced and he tries to fix it by adding butter at the last second “to mask some of the saltiness.” Padma definitely notices. “The biggest problem I had with David’s dish is that it was really salty,” she says. Caleb says the mushrooms reminded him of prunes before making a crack at the expense of the “older men” at the table. Yikes.
Song: “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
Dish: Fruits de mer with summer vegetables and corn nage
Adrienne uses her New England upbringing as her inspiration for her dish which could go really well or be a spectacularly fateful song choice. The judges seem split on whether they like the dish or not. “There’s things that I really like about it and there’s things that I’m like meh about,” Jonathan says. Caleb thinks Adrienne missed a prime opportunity to use Nicki Minaj in the name of the dish.
Tom seems impressed overall with the chefs' creativity. Justin, Michelle, and Sara have the judges favorite dishes for the challenge. Justin is shocked he’s in the top since he forgot one of his plates. Tom commends him on making a dish that was seasoned perfectly and balanced. Graham thinks Michelle really got to the heart of the challenge and she feels like she really learned something about herself and her cooking. “I wouldn’t change one thing,” Tom says. “What I loved about your dish was that it looked so simple but it was so complex,” Tom says about Sara’s dish. The winner? Michelle and her dish that tugged on the judge’s heartstrings.
“Being on Top Chef is all about cooking from the heart and the dish that I made was all about who I am,” Michelle says.
On the bottom are Eddie, Kelsey, and David which is shocking because they’ve been frontrunners in this competition. Eddie seems disappointed in himself and how the judges are describing the “mushy texture” of the entire dish. David’s clams and pork were way too salty which he seems to accept and Kelsey is surprised to hear about the dish being too salty.
“What’s the worse sin: lack of passion or oversaltiness?” Jonathan asks. It’s a great question. The answer is oversaltiness and David is asked to pack his knives and go.
“This competition has been an incredible journey and I’m really proud of what I put out,” he says. David will be heading to Last Chance Kitchen for a chance to get back into the competition.
And next week, the remaining chefs go three-on-three (where's the seventh chef?) in a basketball-style throwdown at the University of Kentucky's Rupp Arena where the trash talking takes a toll on the some of the chefs' relationships.