[Ed. Note: This recap contains spoilers for the episode that aired tonight. If you didn’t watch live, consider yourself warned.]
Finally, the Top Chef: Kentucky episode we’ve all been waiting for! This week, the chefs cook for John Calipari, the judges, and a group of fans at Rupp Arena, which Kentucky girl Sara calls the dream of a lifetime. Will it become a nightmare over a box of waffle mix? To the recap!
Quickfire Challenge: Fort Knox of Bouillon Cubes
I’m guessing Fort Knox didn’t make the cut of attractions the show will visit because it’s (sort of) featured in this week’s Quickfire Challenge. Bullion is what you call gold or silver in bulk, so the chefs must solve riddles to open a vault of — wait for it — bouillon cubes. The bouillon cubes will be the only seasonings they’re allowed to use to make a dish for Padma and this week’s guest judge, Ed Lee, a Top Chef alum, James Beard Award nominee, and head chef at 610 Magnolia in Louisville. He’s a pretty big deal on the Bluegrass foodie scene, or, as Kelsey calls him, a “Kentucky King.”
The chefs quickly solve the riddles to open the case of bouillon cubes (although Adrienne guessing lettuce as another word for money has me seriously questioning her intelligence) and get to work. While they cook, we find out that Sara’s mother used bouillon cubes and hot water as a cold remedy (gross) and Eric did his thesis on bouillon cubes (weird). These emotional ties help both land in the top three along with Eddie, but Eddie’s Vegetable Caponata gets the win, which will give him an “incredible advantage” in the elimination challenge.
Spoilers for the Elimination Challenge through the jump…
This week, the chefs will split into two teams to cook three courses for a crowd of fans at Rupp Arena. The teams will consist of three chefs each (“3-on-3”) and compete for the highest number of points. There are seven chefs left, so Eddie’s “incredible advantage” ends up being immunity. Instead of competing, he gets to sit on the sidelines this week, a prize so big he actually smiles, which ends up looking creepy. CONGRATS, EDDIE.
The chefs choose sides, splitting into the “Blue Team” and the “White Team” (oh, how I love a theme!). They’ll have 15 minutes to plan their menus, a $2,000 budget at Whole Foods, and three hours to prep and cook at Rupp before service begins. Here are the teams and each chef’s dish:
- Michelle: Sweet and Sour ribs
- Sara: BBN Chicken and waffles with coleslaw
- Kelsey: Kentucky Proud dumplings
- Eric: Tamarind glazed chicken drumettes with herbed confetti
- Adrienne: Chicken and waffles with bourbon maple syrup
- Justin: Juicy Lucy sliders
The central storyline of the episode introduces itself in the baking aisle at Whole Foods. Both Sara and Adrienne are making chicken and waffles, so naturally, they need similar ingredients. While Adrienne is searching for the right flour, Sara goes for the pancake and waffle mix in hopes of saving time. Adrienne notices, and you better believe this will come up again later. In other Whole Foods developments, Justin decides to do his sliders without buns because he can’t find the type of bun he likes. Bold strategy, Cotton.
The chefs arrive at Rupp, and it’s fun to see Kentucky girl Sara geek out like we all would. Adorably, the producers give her some blue and white pom poms and she does a CATS chant.
But, she’s not the only basketball fan. As Tom and Ed Lee make the rounds, we find out that Michelle’s husband is a big Warriors fan and made sure she knew what a big deal Kentucky Basketball is and Eric’s father was a Knicks fan, so he grew up on the sport and respects the “lore and legacy” of the program. After some goading from Tom, Adrienne lets it slip that the other team is using waffle mix — DUN-DUN-DUN! Let the games begin.
Fans start to fill into Rupp, which is decked out like a game day, with the P.A. announcer, mascot, cheerleaders, etc. John Calipari is introduced to wild applause and joins the judges at the table, which also includes Ed Lee and Food & Wine Editor-in-Chief Hunter Lewis. Padma even has her hair in cornrows because basketball, y’all. The chefs run out of the tunnel and have 30 minutes to finish their food and begin service.
Round 1: Kelsey’s dumplings (Blue) vs. Adrienne’s Chicken & Waffles (White)
Sara’s chicken isn’t ready so we don’t get the chicken and waffle showdown we were dreaming of. Instead, Kelsey’s dumplings go up to bat vs. Adrienne’s chicken and waffles. Calipari — ever the foodie — asks what happens if he likes them both, but the Blue Team wins this round 4-2 to take a 1-0 lead.
Round 2: Sara’s Chicken & Waffles (Blue) vs. Eric’s Tamarind Glazed Drumettes (White)
Sara wisely names her dish “BBN Chicken & Waffles,” earning big cheers from the crowd, but the fun is quickly squelched when Tom brings up the box mix. Justin from the White Team starts leading the crowd in a “HOMEMADE” chant and you can see the panic in her eyes. As she tells the camera later, “Being called out and heckled on the floor of Rupp Arena is horrible.” Cal tells the chefs he liked both of their dishes and Eric’s wings had a “great kick.” Hey, there’s Kenny Walker! He calls the wings “spicy sweet.” The White Team sweeps this round 6-0 to even it up.
Round 3: Michelle’s Sweet and Sour Ribs (Blue) vs. Justin’s Juicy Lucy sliders (White)
Justin’s gamble to not use buns pays off because his burgers are delicious anyways, featuring pimento cheese, mustard BBQ sauce, bourbon onions, and duck fat braised pork belly. Meanwhile, Michelle’s ribs just don’t have enough char on them. The White Team sweeps another round 6-0 to win the challenge 2-1.
As the crowd leaves, the chefs retreat to the visitors’ locker room. Sara is in full meltdown mode, lashing out at Adrienne and the White Team for “playing dirty.” Just as things are getting really tense — f-bombs! — they bring everyone back out for Judges Table.
The White Team won, so they go first, and it’s really down to Eric’s tamarind wings vs. Justin’s Juicy Lucys for the win. Both get a lot of praise, but Eric’s method of frenching the chicken drumettes earns him the victory. As Ed Lee puts it, Eric “showed us technique and elevated it to a level where it was mind-boggling.” All three team members will receive $5,000 courtesy of VisitLex.com.
The Blue Team steps up and man, it’s a lot. Kelsey’s dumplings won her round so she’s safe from elimination. Sara says being able to cook on the Rupp Arena court was a dream come true and the experience was “overwhelming,” the latter of which probably refers to the drama backstage. The judges tell her her waffles were too soft, but her fried chicken was better than Adrienne’s. Meanwhile, Michelle’s ribs were just too soggy. As Tom puts it, what’s worse, soggy waffles or soggy ribs?
While the judges deliberate, Sara resumes her meltdown backstage. After crying about how the White Team taunted her, she finally admits that she messed up, which I think is what she’s most upset about if we’re being real here. It’s totally understandable. Before they go back out to the court, Michelle makes everyone hug it out even though Sara grumbles that she doesn’t really feel like it, y’all. Been there.
Sara is NOT a happy chef—and her fellow cheftestants have some explaining to do. ?
— Bravo's Top Chef (@BravoTopChef) February 7, 2019
Back on the court, the judges stun us all by announcing that it’s Michelle who will go home instead of Sara. The same Michelle who just won last week’s elimination challenge. WOW.
Eric’s chicken looked great, Rupp Arena looked great, the waffle mix drama was great, but I think we can all agree that the most impressive part of this episode was that John Calipari said maybe only 25 words on camera (I counted). That has to be some kind of record.
Next week: Kentucky Fried Chicken challenge! And honoring Muhammad Ali through food, whatever that means.