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Top Chef Kentucky Recap: KFC and Muhammad Ali

Photo by David Moir/Bravo

After cooking for John Calipari and the BBN at Rupp Arena last week, Top Chef: Kentucky tackles two more of the state’s icons: Kentucky Fried Chicken and Muhammad Ali. To the recap!

The episode opens on the six remaining chefs in the Rupp Arena visitor’s locker room, where Sara is still reeling from the waffle mix drama. She apologizes to Adrienne for lashing out, explaining how much Rupp Arena means to her because her grandfather used to bring her to Kentucky games growing up. I hear that. Thankfully, they bury the hatchet and everyone moves on. The chefs drive back to Louisville, and the camera pans over their gardens at the mansion. Remember those? You know they’ll come up again.

Quickfire Challenge

Back in the kitchen, the chefs are greeted by Padma and Art Smith, an award-winning chef who loves fried chicken so much he copied Colonel Sanders’ facial hair. For the Quickfire Challenge, chefs are tasked with creating their own blend of herbs and spices ala Kentucky Fried Chicken, but the twist is, they can only use herbs and spices they can identify while blindfolded. Sara and Kelsey are the only two chefs who are even remotely good at this, identifying twelve and eleven spices, respectively. Eric gets seven and Adrienne, Eddie, and Justin six. Justin couldn’t even get salt right. I’m not a chef, but how is that even possible?

So, Sara has a huge advantage and ends up winning, in large part because everyone else undercooks or overcooks their chicken. Congrats, Sara! You don’t get immunity, but you do get $5,000, which should buy plenty of tickets to Kentucky games. Also, now I want fried chicken.

Elimination Challenge

This week’s elimination challenge shines a spotlight on The Greatest Kentuckian: Muhammad Ali. The chefs are asked to make a dish inspired by one of Muhammad Ali’s fights as part of a six-course meal for a charity gala. They’ll have 30 minutes to menu plan, $550 to spend at Whole Foods, three hours to prep and cook, and an additional two hours to cook at the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville. This week’s guest judge? Laila Ali, Ali’s daughter. That’s pretty awesome, and everyone fangirls a little bit.

The chefs have to decide who is doing which course/famous fight, and Sara initially balks at taking the Fight at Freedom Hall because it means she’ll have to make another Kentucky-centric dish. She makes two of the other chefs draw for it and she ends up with it again, so, you know, tough titties. Little does she know this will end up being a blessing in disguise.

Here’s each dish and the fight it’s inspired by:

First course: Sara

Fight: The Fight at Freedom Hall
Dish: Salmon with “Thunder and Lightning” pickled tomato and cucumber salad

After she gets over being a Kentucky girl forced to cook another Kentucky dish, Sara comes up with a great plan. To honor Ali’s “lightning” fast movements, she does a “Thunder and Lightning” salad based on the Eastern Kentucky tradition of running out to the garden when a storm is about to hit to gather tomatoes and cucumbers before the storm knocks them off the vine. She pairs the salad with salmon and a beet sauce and the judges really like it.

Second course: Justin

Fight: Liston Two
Dish: Saffron and seafood soup with clams, mussels, and scallops

This fight took place in Maine so immediately Justin wanted to use seafood. Hilariously, Tom points out that Liston is nowhere near the coast, but the judges seem to respond well to the soup, which Padma calls “luscious and light.”

Third course: Eddie

Fight: The Fight of the Century
Dish: Chicken, collard greens, red wine jus and toasted hazelnuts

Because this fight took place in New York, Eddie wants to use Hudson Valley duck, but Whole Foods doesn’t have any fresh, so he settles for chicken. Chicken is the most boring food on the planet, so, as you might expect, this doesn’t go over well with the judges, who expected more “sizzle.” WHY NOT DO A NY STRIP, EDDIE?

Fourth course: Eric

Fight: Rumble in the Jungle
Dish: Fufu (plantain and cassava dumplings) with Congolese red sauce

Eric’s heritage, specifically a trip he took to Ghana, helps him tremendously in this challenge. To honor Ali’s fight in Africa, Eric makes fufu, a traditional African dish. The food is a staple in West Africa, but Eric elevates it with a Congolese red sauce, a brilliant move that the judges love. Not only has he shown them a dish most haven’t tried, he took something humble and made it shine. Not unlike Ali, amirite???

Fifth course: Adrienne

Fight: Thrilla in Manila
Dish: Braised short rib with mango and herb salad

Adrienne jumps at the chance to do this course because she’s familiar with Vietnamese cooking and the Philippines aren’t far from there, right? While checking in on the chefs with Tom, Food & Wine’s Nilou Motamed points out that Filipino cooking is much more similar to Spanish cooking than Vietnamese cooking, but Adrienne sticks to her plan. The judges like how spicy her short ribs are and Laila says the salad is a “pow to the face” (in a good way), but Tom scoffs at the fact that she used bottled hot sauce.

Sixth course: Kelsey

Fight: Fight in New Orleans
Dish: “Unanimous” bread pudding with corn

The only baker left, Kelsey takes the dessert, making a bread pudding with corn three ways. Coincidentally, bread pudding was one of Ali’s favorite desserts, which works in Kelsey’s favor, but the judges feel her caramel corn was too crunchy.

Judges Table

While the judges praise all of the chefs for a job well done, it’s Eric and Sara who end up in the top two. The judges love Sara’s “Thunder and Lightning” salmon salad, which was the perfect way to start the meal, but Eric’s fufu wins because it was so unique and shines a light on African cuisine. Eric is emotional over the win, which is well-deserved.

The remaining four chefs are in the bottom, and, as Padma warns, the judges have to get nitpicky. Adrienne used bottled hot sauce, Justin’s soup was lukewarm, Kelsey’s caramel corn was too crunchy. Because Eddie’s chicken was boring, he’s sent home, a decision I’m 100 percent behind. Honoring Muhammad Ali with a piece of bland chicken. Please. GOODBYE EDDIE.

Next week: Tom wakes the chefs up and they get to see what a Keeneland auction is all about.

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Article written by Mrs. Tyler Thompson

No, I will not make you a sandwich, but you can follow me on Twitter @MrsTylerKSR or email me.

1 Comment for Top Chef Kentucky Recap: KFC and Muhammad Ali



  1. J. Did
    6:43 pm February 15, 2019 Permalink

    Having been raised in a family with many relatives – back in the 70’s – when any family or friends would visit we depended on a Bucket or two of KFC and my mother’s incredible bacon-topped baked-bean dish. We didn’t need any of the other inferior offerings. John Y Brown paid the Colonel sadly nothing – used him like Charmin – and drove the chain down the drain. Not unlike an MBA grad; but JYB didn’t have one. He had instincts – which worked only for the governorship and business fool. But 30 years ago, I became an huge believer in Chick-Fil-A. Love the food, the brand, and the founder (RIP). Have read several of Truett Cathy’s books. What a great man and restaurant.