Every Southern cook has been there: On hot days, it’s damned hard to get a light and flaky pie crust. And if the “Top Chef” cheftestants can’t take the Kentucky heat, they will have to get out of the kitchen.
And that’s pretty much what happened on the second episode, with last week’s victor, Natalie Maronski of Philadelphia, tripped up by a lemon curd pie that just ... wasn’t.
It was actually her second big fail of the episode. The week started off fun, with a surprise video drop-in with a very pregnant Gail Simmons, who is usually there to to judge alongside host Padma Lakshmi. The chefs were asked to create dishes to satisfy Gail’s pregnancy cravings for red meat, spicy and Middle Eastern food, pasta ... “really, I just want it all, so in essence nothing’s changed, just this,” Gail said, cradling her tum.
Turns out several of the chefs can really relate to this: Eric Adjepong of Washington, D.C., says his wife is expecting and Kelsey Barnard Clark of Dothan, Ala., has a 10-month-old at home. In fact, Kelsey teared up just talking about her baby boy, earning her a hug from Padma.
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Other chefs clearly had no clue: Pablo Lamon of Miami Beach, Fla., says he’s going to fix curried beets with spiced couscous because “that’s definitely what I would eat if I was pregnant” earning him a look from the Kentucky contestant, chef Sara Bradley of Paduah’s Freight House. Sara’s eyebrows say Pablo is clearly insane.
And it went downhill from there. Pablo’s coucous is a wet mushy mess, Natalie’s farro didn’t get done either. “It’s toothsome,” Padma said. (I always thought “toothsome” was a good thing until that moment.)
The dishes that Padma and guest judge Nilou Motamed, international food and travel editor chose to take to Gail came from David Viana of Asbury Park, N.J., (ribeye steak with corn chermoula and harissa red wine reduction) and Brandon Rosen of San Mateo, Calif. (Korean barbecue bulgogi bowl with sushi rice and Brussels sprout kimchi.)
You remember David and Brandon: In the last episode, David landed in the top three despite forgetting the flour for his gnocchi but his “umami bomb” soup wowed head judge Tom Colicchio. The only impression Brandon made in the first episode was as a big jerk. Now they were head to head for the elimination challenge.
And what an elimination challenge it turned out to be!
The chefs headed to Maker’s Mark Distillery in Loretto to get seriously schooled on bourbon. And while they are there, Star Hill Provisions chef Newman Miller serves them a menu of Kentucky favorites: burgoo made with four meats; sausage and biscuits; mutton barbecue with black sauce; fried catfish; benedictine sandwiches; frog legs; bananas croquettes; rabbit and dumplings; soup beans; transparent pie; spoon bread and hoe cakes.
Only Brian Young of Boston seems to realize that they are Hansel and Gretel in Padma’s bourbon fairy tale. After they divide in Red and Black teams (Maker’s Mark colors) they are tasked with preparing their own takes on those Kentucky classics.
This is right in Sara’s rickhouse, as she is constantly telling everyone. Biscuits? Her’s are 100 percent. Burgoo? She’s got a great vegetarian version. Benedictine? Made it in her sleep. She could do it all great and isn’t shy about saying so. Gets a bit annoying, but undoubtedly true.
Nini Nguyen of Brooklyn (remember Nini, her Derby dish gave Brandon his comeuppance?) finally calls Sara on it: What are going to make? Sara picked soup beans, which sounds on the face of it like the most pedestrian choice possible. Her challenge is to veer from her regular version, to bring something different to the plate.
Between Sara pulling and Nini pushing, their Red team makes it to the table with stellar results. All the judges are in love with their dishes: Nini’s spoonbread with shrimp etouffee sauce “should be new Kentucky thing,” Tom says. Sara’s soup beans with ham and chow chow “stole the show,” he says.
The Black team is “lamb”-strung from the start: Eddie Konrad of Philadelphia has to go with a more expensive cut of lamb for his barbecue and that ends up using more than a third of the team’s entire Whole Foods budget. (In fact, they end up discarding carts and carts of food and seasonings they need for their dishes, which Whole Foods stockers had to love.) From that moment on, they never recover.
Eddie (now dubbed “Eddie Money” by his somewhat sore teammates) produces divine lamb but almost everything else is a big fail.
Tom loves it but “it’s frankly the only thing on this table that is actually seasoned,” he says.
Nilou calls Brandon’s dumplings “an atrocity.” He lost the immunity challenge to David but Brandon didn’t need it.
In the end it was Natalie’s not-so-lemon-y curd thingies that were deemed the worst dish of the evening.
And Nini’s spoonbread was dubbed “haunting” by Nilou (which apparently is a good thing), winning a $10,000 prize for best dish.
Still biggest jerk: Brandon, who was quick to out the Whole Foods run to the judges as the problem.
Keep your eye on:
▪ Nini, who is now cooking with gas, might be bossy enough to mow down whoever gets in her way.
▪ Eddie, who admitted he had a lot to do with his teammate’s failure, could have won best dish if he’d been on the other team.
▪ David, who won the immunity challenge, had the second-best lamb of the night.
▪ And Adrienne Wright of Boston, who wowed with her fried catfish, really pulling up after last week’s tortellini failure.
Coming next week: It’s Christmas ... in June! But the chefs will play along and make desserts for French chef Eric Ripert.
The show airs on Bravo, Thursday at 9 p.m. Eastern, 8 p.m. Central time.