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‘Top Chef Kentucky’ Recap: A Beef Challenge That Goes Off the Rails

The chefs are asked to prepare hot brown for Lena Waithe, and beef for Dario Cecchini and Nancy Silverton

Left to right: Justin Sutherland, Eric Adjepong, Michelle Minori, Kelsey Barnard, Brian Young, Dario Cecchini.
David Moir/Bravo

The new, meat-centric episode of Top Chef Kentucky features the biggest collective culinary collapse of the season so far — and the chefs get a drubbing from the judges during the elimination round. Here’s how it all goes down:

Upon arriving at the Top Chef manor after last week’s elimination, the cheftestepants are thrilled that Brother Luck, the Last Chance Kitchen winner from a previous season of the show, got the axe and will not be moving forward in the competition. “We will protect this house!” Jason yells after walking into the living room. “Brother’s no longer here, and it feels normal again,” Eric observes. The chefs toast the banishment of Brother Luck with plastic cups full of Champagne. Meanwhile, Eddie decides to FaceTime with his wife and toddler-age son, who he misses dearly. “He’s not even two years old yet and he’s eaten foie gras, caviar — everything,” Eddie explains.

When the crew walks into the Top Chef Kentucky culinary bunker for the next Quickfire challenge, they are greeted by host Padma Lakshmi and actor/writer/producer Lena Waithe. “Lena’s a huge fan of the show, so please don’t change that,” Padma tells the chefs. Waithe explains that she travels a lot for work and always tries to find something good to eat after filming wraps up. “Usually the food is hearty, and I go to cities where they don’t count calories,” she remarks.

Left to right:Brandon Rosen, Eddie Konrad, Eric Adjepong, Kelsey Barnard, Adrienne Wright, Brian Young, Justin Sutherland, Michelle Minori, Padma Lakshmi.
David Moir/Bravo

This week’s challenge involves preparing a reinterpretation of the hot brown, a classic Kentucky dish. Justin is clearly pumped, since he actually serves versions of this dish at two of his restaurants in the Twin Cities. Sara is also very confident about her skills, telling the camera, “I came prepared with a million ideas for hot browns — I know I make a better hot brown than Justin.” The chefs can do whatever they want, so long as their dish has turkey and sauce, and it’s served in a skillet. Before running into the kitchen, they all sample hot browns from Louisville institution the Brown Hotel, where the dish was invented.

Most of the chefs seem fired up during the challenge, even the ones who have never cooked or consumed hot brown before today. The one exception, however, is self-professed hot brown master Sara, who foolishly decides to make a Scotch egg version of the dish. Her sausage-and-egg creation turns out undercooked, and can’t be served to all the judges. After tasting the dishes, Lena and Padma single out Brian’s Nashville hot chicken-inspired riff on hot brown and Kelsey’s croque madame hybrid to be the duds of this round. But they love Justin’s hearty version of the dish, Eddie’s hot brown-inspired salad, and Adrienne’s turkey tender creation. Ultimately, the judges determine that Justin’s is the best of the bunch, with Waithe telling the chef, “It’s like you knew me.”

Lena Waithe and Padma Lakshmi
David Moir/Bravo

At the end of the Quickfire, Padma says, “And now it’s time to break things down for our next challenge — literally.” Out walks Los Angeles legend Nancy Silverton, who explains that the next challenge is all about locally-sourced ingredients, including beef. The chefs are presented with a knife block, and they pull knives with cuts of beef written on the blades, to indicate which parts of beef they will cook for the next challenge. And, as a special surprise, the gang learns that the local beef will be carved by none other than famous Italian butcher Dario Cecchini.

Following a trip to Whole Foods, the chefs head to Louisville hotspot Decca, where Dario is on the patio, breaking down a massive side of beef. “He’s a maestro, like, when you see a concert pianist, they make it look so easy, and that’s what it’s like watching Dario,” David says. They all take turns saying Dario’s favorite word, “carne,” and then grab their cuts of beef and head back to the kitchen to prepare for dinner.

Left to right: Nancy Silverton, Tom Colicchio, and Brandon Rosen
David Moir/Bravo

While prepping for the elimination challenge, Nancy and Tom Colicchio pay a visit to the kitchen and are surprised to learn that Brandon and David are both making beef tartare. “Sounds like a missed opportunity to me,” Tom tells Brandon, as the chef prepares his NY strip. “Roasting that baby whole would’ve been fantastic.” It’s too late to turn back now, so Brandon continues with his tartare preparation, using xanthan gum to thicken up his meat mush. Meanwhile, several of the other chefs appear to be struggling with their dishes, including Sara, who decided to turn her beef flap into sausage.

The judges’ guests for dinner at Decca this evening include the restaurant’s owner Annie Petry, Foxhollow Farms proprietor Maggie Keith, and Dario’s wife Kim Cecchini. Graham Elliot is also there to help judge, as usual. As soon as the plates start coming out, it’s apparent that the chefs had a really hard time with this challenge. “I don’t know how you could cook a meat this poorly,” Tom says after trying Brian’s charred ribeye with raspberry-infused bordelaise. “Over-seared, and then raw.” After sampling Brandon’s slimy tartare, Nancy remarks that she’s not a fan “because I don’t like tartare to taste like ground hamburger meat.” The judges also seem perplexed by Eric’s beef tongue mouse, and Sara’s tiny sausage composition. At the table, Dario explains that he wanted “less frou-frou, and more soul” from the chefs.

Left to right: Padma Lakshmi, Graham Elliot, Sara Bradley, Brian Young, Nancy Silverton.
David Moir/Bravo

Back at the barrel-lined bunker, the judges note that the best dishes of the night were Justin’s flank steak, Adrienne’s “black & blue” NY strip, and Eddie’s brisket-stuffed riff on Polish golumpki. That last dish was the surprise favorite of the night, and Eddie wins his first elimination challenge.

On the other end of the culinary spectrum, the judges single out Brandon’s tartare, Sara’s sausage, and Brian’s ribeye as the worst dishes of the night. “I’m going to give everybody a little piece of advice here,” Tom tells the bottom three. “Be yourself. That’s when you cook the best, when you’re yourself. Not when you’re trying to mimic someone else, trying to do little tasting portions, because you think they’re pretty.“ Sara starts crying when they critique her sausage, but the most savage words are reserved for Brandon’s tartare. “This is about beef, so why did you use xanthan gum?” Tom asks. “What the hell? Why would you do that?”

Using that xanthan gum was the fatal flaw of the night, and Brandon is asked to pack his knives and go. On his way out the door, Tom throws one more dig at Brandon for emphasis, saying, “It was really hard to get past that xanthan gum and that slime, but we’ll see you in Last Chance Kitchen.”

“Going home for such a stupid mistake is extremely disappointing,” Brandon says after exiting the bunker. “I expected with my experience and abilities that I would go a lot further in this competition, but you’re not going to win every day — not every service is successful.” The chef also remarks that the competition “reinvigorated all the passion” he had for cooking. Of course, there’s always a chance that this Silicon Valley private chef could re-enter the competition, Brother Luck-style, through Last Chance Kitchen.