Believe it or not, Top Chef‘s time in Kentucky is about to come to an end. This week, the chefs take one last lap around the Bluegrass before heading to an exotic location for the finale. To the recap!
Quickfire Challenge: Oh yeah, the gardens!
In case those not so subtle shots of the gardens outside the mansion in the past few episodes weren’t indication enough, the chef’s homegrown veggies are the center of this week’s Quickfire Challenge. Tom wakes the chefs up and tells them to come outside. As they stumble around sleepily, I marvel at the fact that they’re all still asleep at 7:50 a.m. That elimination challenge must have kept them up pretty late.
Once in the gardens, Tom introduces Ouita Michel, a Bluegrass culinary pioneer who owns several restaurants in the region, including the Holly Hill Inn in Midway. Not surprisingly, Kentucky girl Sara geeks out a little. Tom also announces that the Last Chance Kitchen winner will be rejoining the competition. (Oh yeah, Last Chance Kitchen!) After beating out Eddie with a fantastic Hidden Valley Ranch dish, Michelle is back, and I don’t think we should forget that her grandmother was a shaman for the most dangerous cartel in Mexico. She’s got sneaky staying power, y’all.
I digress. If you haven’t guessed it by now, the Quickfire Challenge is to harvest the vegetables from their gardens and make a garden-focused dish. The winner will get $10,000. Some chefs (Sara, Kelsey) have taken better care of their gardens than others (Eric), giving them more to work with. After some mild drama (Kelsey burns her hand, Michelle can’t get all of her veggies on the plate), Justin’s radish salad wins.
As Justin is basking in the glow of his $10,000 win, we find out that only five of the six remaining chefs will move on to the finals, which will be held in…Macau, China! Also known as, the Las Vegas of Asia. Or, that place they went in Skyfall. Sucks that one of these chefs has to miss out on that.
Elimination Challenge: Honor thy Mentor
The chefs head to Keeneland, specifically the Sales Pavilion. They’re greeted by Padma and Ouita, who give them their task. For their final meal in Kentucky, the chefs will make a dish inspired by their own “pedigree,” (GET IT, LIKE HORSES) meaning they will make a thank you dish to their culinary mentor, who will join the judges for dinner at the Brown Hotel in Louisville. They’ll have $500 to use for ingredients, but there’s a twist! They’ll get to bid on specialty items, like fish, ham, steak, and vegetables in addition to what they buy at Whole Foods. This whole auction bit is pretty lame, honestly, but at least the Keeneland auctioneer gets some screen time.
Once all the ingredients are in hand, it’s back to Louisville. Here is each chef’s dish and the judges’ reaction…
Mentor: Kim Alter
Dish: Slow roasted salmon, crispy skin, grain porridge with burnt citrus and bone marrow broth
Michelle’s mentor is a badass lady, so she wants to honor her with a feminine but badass dish. I’m not really sure what that means, but the judges seemed to really like her salmon in bone marrow broth. (And her mentor DID seem like a badass.)
Mentor: Gavin Kaysen
Dish: Gumbo with crab, roux two ways and garnished with caviar
Kelsey’s dish honors the time her mentor asked her to make her favorite meal from home, which led to Kelsey running in the bathroom to call her mom for her gumbo recipe. Her two different types of roux look amazing, but she has to use canned crab meat, meaning there are shells to pick out; unfortunately, she doesn’t find all of them. Adrienne’s mentor has crab shells in his dish. No win for you, Kelsey.
Mentor: Chris Coombs
Dish: Spiced duck breast with seared foie gras, spring vegetables and garden herbs
Adrienne’s mentor uses a ton of spices in his cooking, so it’s a little embarrassing when the judges say her spiced duck kind of bland. Also, he brags about her plating skills to everyone at the table only for her to bring out a sloppy plate. D’oh!
Mentor: JD Fratzke
Dish: Yellowtail two ways: sashimi style and miso-cured
Justin decides to do yellowtail two different ways, but pulls a Pitino and finishes too fast, which forces him to put his plates under a heat lamp. As a result, his food isn’t nearly as good. I do love Tom’s line of, “Every time someone does something two ways, I wish they did it one way.” There’s a lot of truth to that.
Mentor: Brian Voltaggio
Dish: Waakye with wheat berries, barley and quinoa cooked in sorghum leaves and plantain puree
Eric makes another West African dish, Waakye, but deconstructs it as his mentor would. Per usual, the judges appreciate him introducing new foods, but Tom says the dish is too heavy and needs something fresh.
Mentor: David Posey
Dish: Olive oil poached sea bass, Iberico ham broth, soy beans, black eyed peas and baby lima beans
Sara got a whole leg of Iberico ham for $80 at the auction, so she’s already ahead of the game. She makes sea bass with ham broth in honor of her mentor, and as he says, she knocked it out of the park. The entire table loves it, including Ouita, who gets a little emotional over a Kentucky girl faring well in the challenge.
How fitting is it that a Kentucky girl wins the final challenge in Kentucky? Sara’s sea bass in ham broth was far and away the best dish of the night, so she gets the victory, $10,000, and a spot in the finals in Macau. She can leave the Bluegrass knowing she did her state proud. Just don’t use any waffle mix overseas, Sara.
Eric, Kelsey, and Michelle also move through to the finals, leaving Justin and Adrienne in the bottom two. Justin’s time management screws him over and he’s eliminated. At least he won the $10,000 Quickfire. That’s enough to go to Macau and have someone cook for you.
Next week: Macau, baby. Get ready to be grossed out by weird Chinese street food!
Fan Favorite Vote: Want to help a fellow Kentuckian out (or someone else you really like on the show)? You can vote for your favorite chef to win $10,000 on Bravo’s website.
Bye, Bye Bluegrass: All in all, I think Top Chef: Kentucky did a great job showcasing the state. Kudos to Bravo for avoiding stereotypes and shining a light on the Bluegrass’ best attractions, like the Bourbon Trail, Churchill Downs, Lake Cumberland, Keeneland, and of course, Rupp Arena. It was also great to see so many local chefs involved, such as Ouita Michel and Ed Lee. Thoughts?