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‘Top Chef Kentucky’ Recap: A Chinese New Year Showdown in Macau

Bravo’s hit culinary competition heads overseas for the finals

Left to right:Adrienne Wright, Sara Bradley, Graham Elliot, Kelsey Barnard, and Michelle Minori.
Carmo Correia/Bravo

In the latest episode of Top Chef Kentucky, the action switches from the Bluegrass State to Macau, where the five remaining contestants compete in the finals — with a few surprise guests as their helpers.

At the start of the episode, the five remaining cheftestepants are clearly excited to have made it all the way to the finals. The stakes are perhaps highest for Michelle, who got eliminated earlier in the competition and then reentered the game via Last Chance Kitchen. “I fought my way back for a reason — I’m ready to kick some ass,” she says. Meanwhile, Eric is proud of the fact he’s been able to get to the finals by cooking West African-influenced food every step of the way. Adrienne remarks that this is the part of the competition where she needs to “start showcasing as a top performer.” Kelsey feels like people have underestimated her in the past, but now she says she’s “here to win big.” And Sara tells the camera, “I’m not going to be cocky about it, but yeah, I think I can beat them.”

After arriving at the fancy MGM Macau hotel, the five chefs give each other hugs and crack open a bottle of Champagne. In the morning, judge Graham Elliot, who owns a restaurant in Macau, arrives to take them on a tour of his favorite local markets. With umbrellas in hand, the chefs inspect various fruits, vegetables, and types of seafood at the market. “I’m soaking up every single thing he’s saying, because I’m either going to use it down the road, or I’m going to use it in the next 15 minutes for the Quickfire,” Kelsey says. And true to her prophecy, once the chefs arrive on the roof of the market, they are greeted by Padma Lakshmi — it’s Quickfire time.

For this challenge, the chefs must create a dish inspired by local market ingredients. Each of them will get to use one cut of the fish that they picked up with Graham as their protein, but they will need to find the rest of the ingredients down in the market. They have 45 minutes, total, to gather their ingredients and cook.

Despite the language barrier, the chefs mostly manage to find what they need in the market. Sara reveals that she actually tried to learn Cantonese before the trip, and Kelsey ends up befriending one vendor who enthusiastically helps her out with a bunch of ingredients, including a bag of mystery bag of white powder that turns out to be cornstarch — perfect for her fried gum fish dish. Although a few chefs struggle with their proteins, all of them manage to finish their dishes on time.

Graham loves Adrienne’s clam ceviche with watermelon, but thinks that Sara’s bowl of raw scallops with apples and water chestnuts is too soupy. Padma likes the flavor, but not the texture, of Eric’s snails with black bean sauce. And Kelsey’s fried gum fish and Michelle’s cuttlefish noodles with Chinese beans both get high marks from the judges. Graham tells the final five, “The person that wins the Quickfire obviously is the one that really embraced the challenge, and that person is Michelle.” A winner of several previous Quickfires, the San Francisco chef is thrilled by this victory. “It feels amazing to hit the ground running, and show the judges that I’m inspired by the things around me,” Michelle says.

Left to right: Brandon Rosen, Brian Young, David Viana, Eddie Konrad, Justin Sutherland, Michelle Minori, Eric Adjepong, Kelsey Barnard, Sara Bradley, and Adrienne Wright.
Carmo Correia/Bravo

After the Quickfire, Padma introduces Jowett Yu, the chef/proprietor of Hong Kong’s popular restaurant Ho Lee Fook. He will be one of the judges for a Chinese New Year-themed elimination challenge, where the chefs will have to cook a meal for 200 guests. After telling the chefs that they’re going to get “a little help” with this challenge, Padma then summons five eliminated Top Chef contestants — David, Justin, Brian, Brandon, and Eddie — onto the roof. Each of them are holding trays of ingredients adorned with fortune signs.

Since Michelle won the Quickfire, she not only gets to pick who will be her sous chef, but also the order in which the other chefs will get to pick their helpers. The match-ups are: Michelle and David; Adrienne and Brian; Sara and Eddie; Kelsey and Brandon; Eric and Justin. “There’s one more thing,” Padma tells the crew. “Since this is the Year of the Pig, it’s only right that you use pig as your main protein.” The chefs have 30 minutes to shop down at the market, and they will get four hours to cook for the event the next day.

After menu planning with their sous chefs, the final five contestants are treated to a surprise dinner at Five Foot Road, a ritzy restaurant in their hotel. During the meal, Sara reveals that she is going to be making a version of shrimp and grits using cauliflower instead of cornmeal, a move that sounds highly suspect to Adrienne. (As you may recall, they have an old rivalry, of sorts, dating back to the Rupp Arena challenge.) Meanwhile, Kelsey is frustrated to learn that Adrienne is planning to cook a pork belly dish with Brian the meat maestro, since she wanted to put slices of that protein on top of her pea dish.

During prep for the meal the next day, Eric tells Justin that he wants to “bring a little bit of Caribbean flavor to Macau flavor” with his curry. Kelsey is worried that she’s overcooked her peas. And Adrienne and Eddie run into some issues with their sticky rice bites. “There’s a lot of little projects that I wish we had time to finish in the back kitchen, so we are just cutting rice cakes and broccoli florets kind of to order,” she explains.

Left to right: Adrienne Wright, Padma Lakshmi, Jowett Yu.
Carmo Correia/Bravo

Service at the party goes relatively smoothly, although the judges dole out a bit more criticism than usual during this elimination round tasting. After sampling Eric’s curry, Padma tells the chef, “You’re a bit timid with the chiles — I mean, this is the area of the world that can really handle chiles.” Jowett asks Eric, “Do you think maybe some rice or something would be good to soak up something like this?” The chef explains that he thought about that, but wanted to “stay true to everything this challenge asked for.” Later in the evening, after taking a bite of Adrienne’s sticky rice, Padma tells the chef, “Well If you were trying to burn my palate, you succeeded.” She thought the dish was served too hot. Despite these remarks, it seems that the judges generally like what the chefs have put together.

“All you chefs picked up right where you left off,” Tom tells the gang at the judges’ table. “Food was really clean, really delicious, and also I like that most of you at least weaved your own tradition into the Chinese New Year tradition as well.” Graham adds, “It was great to see you guys get dropped into another part of the world and another culture, and infuse your own stories into the food.” The judges think there were two clear standout dishes from this challenge: Michelle’s pork lettuce wrap with a cold noodle salad, and Kelsey’s pea with mushroom broth and Portuguese sausage.

Because she used local ingredients that she was not familiar with in a dish that was both satisfying and soulful, Kelsey wins this round. “This is a very real surreal moment,” she says. “Being on the top for the Quickfire and then winning this challenge is exactly the pace I want to set. I definitely have a new confidence since coming to Macau — I feel like I could win the whole thing.”

Left to right: Adrienne Wright, Kelsey Barnard, Sara Bradley, Michelle Minori, Eric Adjepong.
Carmo Correia/Bravo

With the winner of this challenge announced, it’s time to move onto the bottom three dishes. While Tom liked Eric’s curry, Padma had some issues with this dish. “There was a lack of clarity to it,” she remarks. “It felt a little muddy. I couldn’t pick out the different spices or ingredients.” After hearing this feedback, Eric defend his dish choice. “Respectfully, I disagree,” he says. “You can have curries from anywhere, and when you can’t specifically pinpoint what you’re eating in a curry but it’s at least good to you, that to me is a good curry, because everybody and their mother makes a curry.” Tom jokes that his mother never made curry, and Padma responds, “It’s not that I have to be able to pick out every ingredient, but I want some complexity to that curry, and I think that’s what that curry needed.”

Tom liked Sara’s prawns but thought her cauliflower grits were lacking... something. Padma, on the other hand, found her broth to be a bit too salty. Meanwhile, Graham had problems with the composition of Adrienne’s sticky rice and pork dish. “Adrienne, to go and have the one bite for an event where you’re cooking for 200, it might make sense, but I think for the spirit of what Chinese New Year is, it was off the mark for that,” the judge says. Tom liked the dish more than Graham, but thought the ingredients didn’t really come together.

“We’re here celebrating Chinese New Year, and it kind of reminds me that all celebrations no matter what culture, it really revolves around food,” Tom tells the crew. “When you invite people into your home and you cook for them, it’s about as generous as it can be, and there was just one dish that just left us wanting for a little bit more.” And that dish was Adrienne’s sticky rice with pork. It’s time for the New England chef to pack her knives and go.

“This isn’t how I wanted finals to go for me, but there’s not much I regret about this cook today,” Adrienne says on her way out the door. “My future is really up in the air. I would love to go home to Goshen, Connecticut and be able to raise a family there, open a restaurant, and thrive in this community that’s meant so much to me. I don’t quite know exactly where I’m going to head yet, but I’m really excited about all the possibilities.”

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