Last week, Top Chef introduced its contestants to Kentucky with a trip to Churchill Downs and a Kentucky Derby party-themed challenge. This week, the chefs visited another recognizable Kentucky landmark, Maker’s Mark, where they tried their hand at some of the Bluegrass’ most famous dishes. To the recap!
Quickfire: Feed Pregnant Gail
First things first: Gail Simmons is super pregnant so she can’t be a judge this season; however, she’s still making the chefs cook for her, which I admire. This week’s Quickfire Challenge is to make Gail a dish to satisfy her pregnancy cravings, which include red meat, spicy food, Middle Eastern food, Asian food, and lots of pasta. Predictably, most people make steak and David’s ribeye with corn wins out after his ingredients are flown up to New York and Gail and her friend make the dish themselves. I get that Gail can’t fly because she’s in her third trimester, but this seemed like a lot of work for a Quickfire. Anyways, David gets immunity and Gail gets to eat.
Elimination Challenge: Burgoo, hoecakes, mutton, oh my!
After the Quickfire, Padma informs the chefs that they’re going to Maker’s Mark, which everyone freaks out about because bourbon. On the way to Loretto, Kentucky girl Sara brags about her piece in Garden & Gun (who wouldn’t?) and Eddie looks stressed out, which is a harbinger of things to come. Once at Maker’s, Rob Samuels leads them on a tour, where they get to hand dip bottles off the line, not at the dipping station at the gift shop like the rest of us plebeians.
After the tour, they meet Newman Miller, Executive Chef of Star Hill Provisions and Chef-In-Residence at Maker’s Mark, who treats them to a feast of Kentucky’s most iconic dishes: burgoo, catfish, mutton, benedictine spread, frog legs, banana croquettes, spoonbread, soup beans, hoecakes, etc. Just as everyone is getting full and happy off the food and booze, here comes Padma with a butcher’s block. Party’s over, y’all!
If you didn’t see this coming, the Elimination Challenge is for the chefs to put their own spin on Kentucky classics. The 14 chefs are divided into teams of two, with each responsible for a dish for a family-style meal for 48 guests. Each team gets $1,500 to spend on ingredients and two and a half hours to prep and cook. The chef with the best dish from the winning team gets $10,000, while the chef with the worst dish from the losing team goes home.
Naturally, Kentucky girl Sara is feeling some pressure because if she can’t get Kentucky dishes right, that would be totally embarrassing; unfortunately, that anxiety causes her to come off as super cocky, prompting Nini to get a little snippy. I’m rooting for Sara, but listening to her go on and on about how she could nail each dish was pretty annoying. You go, Nini.
At Whole Foods, the drama begins. Eddie spends $500 on lamb instead of the $250 the team budgeted for it, which forces the rest of the Black Team to sacrifice ingredients for their dishes to come out under $1,500. By the time they get it sorted out, there are multiple carts full of discarded items. As Kelsey says, shoutout to the people who have to restock all that.
Back at Maker’s Mark, it is HOT outside, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t take a little bit of glee from watching people not from the South deal with heat and humidity. Combine that with the Black Team having to make do with limited ingredients (THANKS, EDDIE) and you’ve got a cranky bunch. Brian struggles to figure out how to operate a pressure cooker or a food processor, which I’d argue that, as a chef, he should probably know how to do. Not only does Natalie not have enough lemons to make a good lemon curd pie (THANKS EDDIE), the heat has melted it into a gross, pudding-like blob.
While the chefs scramble to finish, Padma, Tom, the judges, and guests relax on the lawn at Maker’s Mark. The Black Team brings their food out first and the judges seem to like Eddie’s lamb, which Tom notes is the only thing that was properly seasoned. Probably because he spent so much on it the other chefs couldn’t afford seasonings? Justin hoecakes are a hit, as is Eric’s banana desert, which Greg Davis, the random Maker’s Mark Ambassador at the tables, literally giggled over. (Correction: I’ve since learned that Davis is the former master distiller at Maker’s, but now works at Jim Beam, so he’s not just a random Maker’s Ambassador. Cheers, Greg!) Meanwhile, Pablo’s burgoo was greasy, Brandon’s chicken and dumplings were “an atrocity,” and Natalie’s lemon curd pie was bland. THANKS EDDIE.
It’s immediately clear that the Red Team’s going to win. Tom says Nini’s New Orleans inspired spoonbread with shrimp étouffée sauce “should be a new Kentucky thing” and writer and bourbon critic Fred Minnick says Sara’s burnt cabbage with soup beans and country ham chow “tastes like Kentucky to me.” Well done, Sara. When random Maker’s Mark Ambassador Greg finds out Sara is from Paducah, he exclaims, “No wonder I liked it so much!” International food and travel editor Nilou Motamed said David’s lamb with black BBQ sauce tasted like a “bourbon on a plate,” which I believe is a good thing.
Anyways, the Red Team wins and the Black Team loses, which sends Eddie into a spiral of shame. He admits to the judges that he spent too much on his lamb, forcing everyone to sacrifice on their dishes. Because the judges liked his lamb so much, he’s safe. Natalie, last week’s winner, is going home for her bland lemon curd blob. From winner to loser in just one week! This is a harsh world, this Top Chef.
Nini ends up winning the $10,000 for her spoonbread étouffée. Sorry, Kentucky girl Sara. At least you’ve got that Garden & Gun writeup.
My Old Kentucky Home Takes
— Once again, the Bluegrass State looks beautiful on camera, Maker’s Mark especially. I’ve always joked that, of all the distilleries, Maker’s feels most like Bourbon Disneyland, and one of the chefs, Michelle, agrees, saying as they walk onto the grounds, “It smells like malt and yeast and sweet corn. It feels like we’re in a bourbon fairytale.”
— Speaking of Michelle, did you catch her saying her grandmother was a shaman for the most violent tribe in Mexico? That revelation came out while the chefs were planting vegetables on the plots of land Tom assigned to them outside their mansion. Nobody mess with Michelle.
— Speaking of that mansion, shoutout to BlueKel on Twitter for finding it on Zillow. The six-bed, ten-bath, 20,000-square foot house is nestled on 21 acres in Prospect and is called “The Avish” (you know a house is fancy if it has its own name). In April, it sold for $2.7 million. I wonder what the owners could get for it now that it’s being featured on Top Chef.
Next week: Christmas at the mansion featuring Eric Ripert! Nini says she’s gonna murder someone. Oh, how fun!