After a relatively harmonious season premiere, the cheftestepants of Top Chef Kentucky find themselves cooking through a more difficult set of circumstances in the second episode. This installment of Bravo’s long-running culinary competition contains a memorable blunder at Whole Foods, an insightful conversation about the African roots of Southern cuisine, several tense moments in a very hot kitchen, and a surprising second round elimination. Here’s what happened in Top Chef land this week:
Tom’s garden surprise
The gang wakes up in the sprawling Top Chef Kentucky mansion to find that Tom Colicchio has arranged for small plots of soil to be sectioned off for each of the contestants in the garden. In a note addressed to the chefs, Tom writes, “I thought it would be fun to plant your own garden.” The chefs spend the morning putting already-grown plants into the soil, while talking about their gardening skills, or lack thereof. As it turns out, San Francisco chef Michelle says that her grandma was “a shaman for the most violent tribe in Mexico,” who grew all sorts of herbs, while Twin Cities star Justin remarks that he’s gardened a bit before but didn’t “know how legal it was.”
Quickfire: Gail Simmons pregnancy edition
Once the garden time is over, the crew heads to the whiskey barrel-lined Top Chef bunker, where Padma Lakshmi tells them about their new Quickfire challenge: cook a meal to satisfy the cravings of pregnant Top Chef judge Gail Simmons, who’s hundreds of miles away in New York City. Gail greets them via a video message where she relays that she’s “literally days away” from giving birth and has been craving “a lot of red meat, spicy food, Middle Eastern food, Asian food too, lots of pasta.” Gail’s surrogate judge, Nilou Motamed, will taste the dishes along with Padma, and the former Food & Wine editor will then ferry the ingredients back up to New York City where she and Simmons will cook the recipes and determine the winner. It’s all a bit complicated, and it feels like the possible set-up for the launch of a Top Chef meal kit that has yet to materialize.
While the clock is running, Jersey David reveals to his fellow chefs that he has a “not creepy crush” on Gail, although it looks like they don’t quite believe him. Meanwhile, Miami Pablo casually tells the gang that he doesn’t plan to have children anytime soon and he “didn’t get anyone pregnant yet, so that’s a good thing.” During the Quickfire prep, we also learn that Kelsey is the only mom in the group, and she actually just gave birth to her daughter 10 months ago, so she remembers what these pregnancy cravings are like.
Most of the chefs make some variation of steak with vegetables, and Nilou ultimately declares that “the short amount of time maybe got the best of them.” Still, she gives props to David’s spicy steak with corn, and Brandon’s Korean BBQ bulgogi bowl with Brussels sprouts kimchi. As soon as the challenge is over, Nilou takes the two giant Top Chef-branded boxes with the ingredients for those dishes and exits the culinary bunker — she’s on her way to Gail’s apartment in New York City, of course.
A boozy afternoon at the distillery
Once the Quickfire is wrapped up, Padma informs the cheftestepants that they are going to be spending the afternoon at the Maker’s Mark distillery in Loretto, Kentucky. The gang is greeted by Rob Samuels, the grandson of the bourbon company’s founder, who sends them on a visit to the factory that involves dipping the bottles in wax and sampling the sour mash in giant fermentation vats. After the tour winds down, the crew is treated to a blow-out lunch from Newman Miller, the executive chef of Star Hill Provisions and chef in-residence at Maker’s Mark. Miller’s menu includes burgoo (a stew that traditionally includes more than four meats), fried catfish, sausage with biscuits, mutton with black barbecue sauce, benedictine (a tea sandwich spread), crispy frog legs, banana croquettes, rabbit & dumplings, soup beans, spoonbread, “transparent pie,” and hoecakes.
The chefs are on cloud nine eating all of these Kentucky specialties, and washing it all down with bourbon-based cocktails. But right as their enjoyment of the meal appears to be at its peak, Padma comes strolling across the lawn and tells them that now they have to “make their own mark on Kentucky cuisine” by breaking off into teams and preparing their own versions of this meal for around 50 dinner guests at the distillery. The teams will have $1,500 to spend at Whole Foods, and the chef who cooks the best dish of the night will get $10,000.
Eric, a chef who runs a Washington D.C. pop-up serving Ghanian cuisine, volunteers to make the baked bananas, saying, “Traditionally, the gabon has, like, oranges.” Brandon asks, “Is that going too far outside what a Southern banana dessert is?” To which Kelsey replies, “I’m going to say this, and I don’t mean to sound this racist, but everything he’s doing is from Africa, which is the South.” The action then cuts to Eric in a studio revealing a bit about his culinary background. “The first time I had a baked banana gabon was actually in Ghana,” he remarks. “A lot of Southern food has a West African Influence. There’s so much history and deep culture, so I’m really excited to kind of match those two together.” The menu planning conversation ends on a positive note, and everyone seems fired up and ready to cook the Kentucky feast.
In another corner of the distillery, the red team, meanwhile, is not having such an easy time settling on an action plan, partially because Sara, who’s from Kentucky, keeps suggesting that she could make most of the dishes herself. “What do you want to do?” Nini asks her, bluntly. “Because you could make all of it.”
The world’s worst trip to Whole Foods
The chefs then head to Whole Foods, where Eddie makes a mistake that will haunt him for the rest of the episode (and perhaps the rest of this season). The Philadelphia chef is in charge of the lamb dish for tonight’s feast, but the butcher is out of lamb loins, so he instead orders pricey lamb racks. Although he initially intended his portion of the meal to cost “$250 or $300,” the meat winds up costing $540. The expensive lamb forces the other chefs to sacrifice some of their ingredients to keep the tab under $1,500. Natalie notably offers to put back some of the lemons for her pie. “If we fail today, it’s mostly my fault,” Eddie remarks on the car ride back from the store. “I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure my team wins today.”
Meltdowns in the Maker’s Mark kitchen
Back at the distillery, the chefs are presented with another challenge: cooking outdoors in 90 degree heat with 97 percent humidity. As the black team keeps cooking through the sweltering conditions, a few other things go wrong: the pan of roasted corn for Justin’s hoecakes falls on the floor, Eric realizes he doesn’t have all the oranges he needs for his marmalade, and Natalie’s Chantilly cream melts in the heat.
After presenting the dishes to the judges, Tom complains that there was not enough curd in Natalie’s pie. It seems that Eddie’s costly lamb and Eric’s banana dessert are the only dishes the judges actually really like. Meanwhile, the red team’s Southern feast is a much bigger hit, with special praise directed at Nini’s etouffee spoonbread.
The curd that sinks the black team
As they await their judgement in a barrel-filled corner of the Top Chef culinary compound, the members of the black team decide that Eddie has earned the nickname “Eddie Money” because he likes to spend their cash at Whole Foods.
Ultimately, the judges determine that the red team is the winner, with a great menu bolstered by David’s lamb, Adrienne’s slaw, Sara’s chow-chow, and Kevin’s “banana corn dog.” But Nini had the best dish of the night — that New Orleans-inspired spoonbread — and she is the recipient of the $10,000 prize. The judges also reveal that David won the Quickfire, with his Gail-approved steak and corn dish.
During their dressing-down at the judges’ table, Tom critiques Pablo’s under-seasoned stew, and Natalie’s not-curdy-enough pie. Although he had one of the most successful dishes of the night, Eddie explains that his teammates had to make sacrifices because of his lamb fiasco. It’s a nice gesture, but ultimately this admission doesn’t change the judges’ minds. Tom, Padma, Nilou, and Newman decide that it’s time for Natalie, the winner of a challenge in the last episode, to pack her knives and go. Her curd was a disappointment, but the pie crust was also not where it should’ve been. Natalie thanks all of the judges and remarks, “When life gives you lemons, ask for more.”