Season 16 of Bravo’s hit show Top Chef premieres at 9 p.m. tonight, with a cast of 15 chefs from around the country. This season has a Kentucky theme, so a hot brown cook-off seems likely, and don’t be surprised if bourbon find its way into a few of the challenges, too.
As always, Padma Lakshmi is the host of the show, and Tom Colicchio and Graham Elliot are back at the judges’ table. Regular judge Gail Simmons will be in a few of the episodes, although she stepped away for maternity leave during part of the filming of this season so former Food & Wine editor-in-chief Nilou Motamed will fill her seat. Top Chef: Kentucky will also feature guest judge appearances from chef Eric Ripert, Kings of Leon frontman Caleb Followill, boxer Laila Ali, and actor/writer/director Lena Waithe.
Here’s everything you need to know about the chefs competing this time around:
Sara Bradley (Paducah, Kentucky): Bradley is the chef/owner of Freight House, a farm-to-table destination in her hometown of Paducah, Kentucky. After graduating from Johnson & Wales, Bradley spent time working in Michelin-starred kitchens under big-name chefs John Fraser and Paul Kahan in New York City and Chicago, before returning home to open a restaurant featuring modern Southern cuisine.
Eric Adjepong (Washington, D.C.): Adjepong does not work in a restaurant kitchen, instead running a catering and personal chef company called Pinch & Plate. A first-generation Ghanaian who grew up in New York City, the chef previously helped with the opening of D.C.’s Kith/Kin (operated by Top Chef alum Kwame Onwuachi), and he now uses his business to introduce Beltway diners to West African cuisine.
Kelsey Barnard Clark (Dothan, Alabama): In the small town of Dothan, Alabama, the so-called “peanut capital of the world,” Kelsey Barnard Clark serves Southern fare that is dressed up thanks to her big-city resume. Clark graduated from the Culinary Institute of America and gained professional experience in New York City under Gavin Kaysen at Cafe Boulud and John Frazer at Dovetail, before returning to her hometown to open KBC in 2008.
Edmund “Eddie” Konrad (Philadelphia): One of two Philadelphia-based chefs competing this season, Eddie Konrad may have a leg up on the Top Chef competition thanks to some advice from his employer — he works as a sous chef under Season 11 winner Nicholas Elmi at French-American standout Laurel. Konrad, who specializes in French and Italian cookery, obtained a culinary degree from Johnson & Wales, and his resume includes stops in lauded kitchens such as New York City’s Del Posto and Philly’s Le Bec Fin
Pablo Lamon (Miami Beach): Lamon, a native of Buenos Aires, Argentina, brings global experience to this season of Top Chef, having working at the award-winning Palacio Duhau Hyatt hotel in his home city before cooking for wealthy ocean enthusiasts on luxury cruise lines. Lamon has worked under celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Top Chef: Season 13 winner Jeremy Ford in Miami, and he is now chef de cuisine at 27 Restaurant & Bar, where his food is inspired by the Mediterranean, Latin America, and Europe.
Natalie Maronski (Philadelphia): Maronski is one of two Philadelphia-based contestants this season, taking a break from her day job of launching an experiential dining venture called Underground Concepts in a “nationally historic and iconic Philadelphia landmark.” Maronski’s military family changed addresses often in her childhood — she spent time growing up in Indonesia, Malaysia, Hawaii, and Virginia — and the highlight of her resume is 10 years with celebrity chef José Garces, cooking a variety of cuisines at multiple restaurants.
Michelle Minori (San Francisco): Minori plies her trade at Barzotto, a fast-casual pasta bar in San Francisco, where she serves Italian-influenced California cuisines. A graduate of San Francisco’s Le Cordon Bleu cooking school, Minori previously worked at Michelin-starred Bay Area restaurants Aqua, Acquerello, and La Folie. The chef has also run the kitchen at Flour + Water in San Francisco and overseen pasta and bread operations at Faith & Flower in Los Angeles.
Nini Nguyen (Brooklyn, New York City): Originally hailing from New Orleans, Nini Nguyen is the culinary director of the Brooklyn education center Cook Space. Before joining the school, Nguyen worked on the pastry station at Sucre and Coquette in New Orleans, and at Manhattan’s celebrated Eleven Madison Park. “I like to hone in on my heritage — I am Vietnamese and French-trained, and Vietnamese food has a lot of French influence in it,” Nguyen recently told AMNY.
Brandon Rosen (San Mateo, California): Rosen got his start in the food world working in his family’s Detroit-area chocolate factory. After high school, he moved to New York City to work at Alain Ducasse at the Essex House and at Eleven Madison Park, before decamping to Yountville, California to join the French Laundry team. Later, Rosen helped his colleague Corey Lee open Benu in San Francisco, and then he accepted a position running the kitchen at Richard Reddington’s Redd in Yountville. After five years at Redd, Rosen is now working as a private chef in Silicon Valley.
Kevin Scharpf (Dubuque, Iowa): Midwestern chef Kevin Scharpf cut his teeth in the kitchen at Daniel in New York City, Elizabeth in Chicago, and Spoon and Stable in Minneapolis before landing in his home state where he now runs the three-year-old farm-to-table restaurant Brazen Open Kitchen & Bar. Scharpf recently told the Des Moines Register that it’s “great to have the opportunity to represent Iowa and the growing culinary scene that’s happening here.”
Caitlin Steininger (Cincinnati, Ohio): Steininger currently runs a restaurant with her sister Kelly Trush in Wyoming, Ohio called Cooking with Caitlin. The sisters are also planning to open a new smoked meat restaurant nearby called Station + Family BBQ. Steininger has been watching Top Chef since its first season, when she was just a culinary student. “I didn’t want to apply until I thought I could win it,” she told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “Having the restaurant really made me feel like I could do it.”
Justin Sutherland (St. Paul, Minnesota): Sutherland is the executive chef at the nose-to-tail restaurant Handsome Hog in St. Paul, and the seafood restaurant the Pearl and the Thief in nearby Stillwater. Earlier this year, Sutherland won an episode of Iron Chef, and he recently took over culinary operations for the Madison Restaurant Group, which includes Twin Cities hot spots Eagle Street Grill, Fitzgerald’s, Public Kitchen and Bar, OxCart Alehouse, and Gray Duck.
David Viana (Old Bridge, New Jersey): Parole officer-turned chef David Viana spent time in the kitchens of Eleven Madison Park and Centro Vinoteca in Manhattan before heading back home to New Jersey to open the tasting counter restaurant Heirloom Kitchen. “I grew up in this industry, and I have always worked hard, but watching Bravo’s Top Chef over the last twelve 12 years has truly been motivation and inspiration to push myself even further — to be the best chef I can be,” Viana recently told the Asbury Park Press. “So to actually be on the show is a dream come true.”
Adrienne Wright (Boston): As a young chef, Connecticut native Adrienne Wright worked in kitchens around the Northeast before landing at Michael Schlow’s Radius in Boston. After serving as sous chef for nearly three years at that restaurant, Wright moved to Chris Coomb’s restaurant Deuxave in 2011. She’s been part of Coomb’s restaurant group ever since and now oversees the kitchens at Deuxave, Dbar, and two locations of Boston Chops.
Brian Young (Boston): Before becoming the chef de cuisine at Cultivar in Boston, Brian Young worked at nearby hotspots Harvest and Citizen Public House & Oyster Bar. Although Young and his fellow Top Chef competitor Adrienne Wright both work in Boston, they’d never met each other before shooting the show. “We have respect for one another, because even though we didn’t know each other, we were familiar with what the other does in the community of restaurants and our body of work,” Young recently told Boston Magazine. “So it was nice to be able to have somebody to relate to and cook next to who I knew I could trust.”
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