The latest episode of Top Chef Kentucky tells the tale of two boats: one staffed by a bunch of fun-loving chefs, and the other full of stressed-out perfectionists. It’s no surprise which team wins the boat party challenge, but it’s interesting to see how it all play out over two drama-filled days on the water.
At the start of the episode, the cheftestepants are still licking their wounds from the brutal judgement of the beef challenge. “We all got ripped to pieces like troubled teens in the schoolyard,” Kelsey remarks. As the weary chefs are rehashing the steak fiasco, Padma walks in to deliver some news. “I really think you guys could all use a break,” the host says. “Pack your bags, because we’re hitting the road, because we’re going to Lake Cumberland — the houseboat capital of the world.” Kentucky native Sara is clearly thrilled by the news, telling her cohorts that Lake Cumberland is, in fact, “super dope.” For the next challenge — the only one this episode, because there’s no Quickfire — the chefs will break up into two teams and prepare dishes for dueling boat parties. The crew with the most votes at the end of the party will be safe from elimination.
Since Nervous Eddie won the last challenge, he gets to pick his team, a task that he describes as “my least favorite advantage.” He picks four of the strongest and most professional chefs left in the competition: Adrienne, Michelle, David, and Brian. “I just started saying names,” Eddie says. By picking those four for his team, that leaves Justin, Kelsey, Eric, and Sara to form their own team.
Since Kelsey does a lot of party catering, she feels confidant that her group (the green team) can ace this challenge. “This is what I do for a living, people,” she remarks. Meanwhile, on the other crew (the blue team), Michelle observes, “Honestly if this challenge is about a party, our team is a little bit out of our element, because our team is a little bit more reserved and mature than the other team, but all of our chefs are really strong.”
On the way to Whole Foods, Justin talks some smack about the blue team. “I’m actually really glad I’m not on the other team,” he says. “Eddie’s stressed beyond belief. Brian’s gonna overthink something. One thing I can do is throw a party.” Justin, we learn, is very familiar with throwing parties on boats, because he grew up in Minnesota, AKA the “land of 10,000 lakes.” Sara is also a self-professed party maestro, telling the gang, “I’ve thrown real good parties in my day — most of the time it just involves me taking my shirt off and running around.”
When the chefs arrive at Lake Cumberland, they are greeted by Lee Rosbach and Sandy Yawn, two captains from Below Deck, another Bravo reality show. The captains show the chefs around the party boats, which are both equipped with smallish home kitchens as well as hot tubs. Brian immediately senses that the kitchen set-up is going to be problematic for them if they have to prepare five dishes for a hundred guests. Shortly after the blue team begins prepping for the party, the power goes out and they have to call upon some fix-it guys to get everything back up and running. But it’s a much different scene on the green team’s boat, where Kelsey is shucking oysters, Justin is slicing up watermelon, and Sara is making batches of “jiggle juice,” a combination of “Maker’s Mark bourbon, peach-mint tea, and gelatin.”
During prep for the big party, Tom Colicchio and Emeril Lagasse board the boats to check in with the chefs, and both teams are surprised to see Mr. Bam! himself in their galley kitchens. After several hours of cooking, Adrienne tells her teammates that she’s not feeling well and needs to lay down, so Eddie volunteers to take over her salmon taco prep. Meanwhile, Brian is struggling with his porchetta, which needs to be roasted, but the oven still isn’t working. Over on the green team’s boat, Eric tells his teammates that his dad — who passed away in 2005 — was a cab driver in New York City who famously returned a suitcase full of $10,000 that a passenger left, earning him the keys to the city. The chef still thinks of him as a role model.
After cooking into the wee small hours of the morning, the chefs take short naps and resume party prep the next day. Despite the fact that Michelle thinks it’s a dumb idea, Brian decides to set up his porchetta carving station in the hot tub. In another corner of the boat, Eddie is serving both his shrimp lollipops and Adrienne’s salmon tacos, while Michelle is frying up her riff on fish and chips, and David is dishing out Asian-inspired seafood dumplings.
Over on the green team’s boat, Sara is serving shrimp rolls, Eric is frying walleye, Justin is plating watermelon salad, and Kelsey is handing out Alabama oysters. In what would prove to be a smart move, the green team also batched some little baggies of Key lime crunch — or “puppy chow” — as party favors. Although Padma wrinkles her nose after taking a sip of the jiggle juice, it’s pretty clear that both the judges and guests are having a better time at the green team’s party, even if the blue team has some stronger dishes.
“Overall, both teams did a great job,” Tom tells the teams at the judges’ table, atop one of the boats. “You made food that was appropriate for a party, that was delicious, it was all important to each of you, and it showed.” Emeril was also a fan of the food at the party, telling that gang, “You guys cooked what you wanted to do from your heart, so congratulations.”
After asking Adrienne to leave the upper deck — the chef is ineligible for elimination this round, because she was sick — the judges reveal that the green team got the most votes from guests, and therefore won the competition. The judges liked all of the dishes, but Kelsey’s oysters with watermelon mignonette get singled out as the best dish of the evening. “I am feeling ecstatic,” Kelsey says. “This is my first win, and I don’t anticipate it to be my last.”
As for the blue team, Tom explains that “some of the food just missed the mark.” Padma thought Eddie’s prosciutto-wrapped shrimp was kind of bland. Though the flavor and texture of Michelle’s fish were on-point, Tom didn’t like that his portion was cold. And while David’s seafood dumplings were tasty, they didn’t seem like the right fit for a cocktail party. But the biggest dud of the night, in the judges’ eyes at least, was Brian’s brined porchetta, which tasted like a honey-baked ham. Because of this transgression, the judges decide that it’s time for Brian to pack his knives and go. “That pork just wasn’t cooked properly,” Tom says to Brian. “See you at Last Chance Kitchen.”
“It’s a hard thing to have to walk out with your head held high, and it’s definitely been an emotional ride,” Brian says. “I’ve taken this competition really seriously, and I take my food really seriously. I tried to push the boundaries. I’m proud of the way I competed.”