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‘Top Chef’ Kentucky: Restaurant Wars comes to Lexington. Battle lines are drawn.

From Christmas to chaos: After a Christmas dinner challenge last week, chef Justin Sutherland leads the Third Coast team in Restaurant Wars and things get testy.
From Christmas to chaos: After a Christmas dinner challenge last week, chef Justin Sutherland leads the Third Coast team in Restaurant Wars and things get testy. Michael Hickey/Bravo

The chefs on “Top Chef” think Kentucky’s temperatures have been hot, but they haven’t seen anything yet: This week, it’s Restaurant Wars, and there are some big twists.

Usually, the Restaurant Wars contest pits one team of chefs against another to see which team can pull together and open a restaurant in 48 hours. This year, host Padma Lakshmi tells the remaining 12 chefs: the challenge comes early and there are three teams instead of two.

The teams have to come up with three courses, each with two options, to serve 100 people in three hours.

The chefs learn after their immunity challenge — which was to produce an amuse bouche — that the dish they chose to present is what determines their teams for Restaurant Wars challenge.

That sets up what looks like a dream team of Nini (who has won two elimination challenges so far), David (who won two previous immunity challenges), Kelsey and Justin. They go with a Gulf Coast/Southern seafood menu and the name Third Coast for their restaurant.

Their menu: Appetizer of char-grilled oysters (prepared by the team) or crawfish bisque (Justin); entree of Creole-spiced duck and cabbage (David) or red snapper Pontchartrain (David and Justin); dessert of blackberry buttermilk biscuit with panna cotta (Kelsey) or chocolate, featuring cocoa nib sorbet (Nini.)

Kentucky chef Sara is teamed with Pablo, Brandon and Michelle, who wins immunity in the amuse bouche challenge with her halibut ceviche with compressed watermelon and salsa water. At Sara’s urging, they go vegetable-forward on their menu and the name Thistle.

Their menu: Appetizer of green tomato gazpacho (Sara) or sweet pea agnolotti (Michelle); entree of scollops with sunchoke and apple (Pablo) or short rib with artichoke and asparagus (also Pablo); dessert of soy milk custard with strawberries or goat cream roulade with blueberries for dessert (both Brandon.)

That leaves Adrienne, Brian, Eddie and Eric, a couple of whom have been bumping against the bottom. They decide to go with a seafood/fall meat menu and the name North East.

Their menu: Appetizer of chicken ballotine (Brian) or striped bass crudo from Eddie; entree of NY Strip with cabbage and cauliflower (Eddie) or scallop, pork, couscous and carrot (Eric); dessert of Madeira-poached peaches or Harbison cheese with fennel & blackberry (both from Adrienne.)

After the teams are set, they get down to menu planning and come to Lexington. Bluegrass natives will enjoy catching local spots like the Kentucky Theater and the Whole Foods at The Summit (see anyone you know among the shoppers?) in cameos.

But don’t look for the restaurant where they do battle, because it doesn’t exist.

“Top Chef” came to Lexington’s Lundy’s Catering for this challenge, and the space is a warehouse. Teams had to arrange everything from the kitchen to hostess station in this completely clean slate.

As they get down to business, it becomes clear that not everybody has the skill set for the tasks they’ve been given. Suddenly, Nini, who had been great flying solo, looks like she’s falling down on the job in her front-of-the-house role for Third Coast.

Brian, who is working front of the house and doing a very complicated chicken ballotine appetizer for North East, also looks to be in over his head, but that’s less of a surprise.

Pablo, who is doing both entrees for Thistle, also is “in the weeds” as service time nears.

Each team looks behind and the tables aren’t set up and the paint isn’t dry. Meanwhile, the servers still have to be briefed on what to tell the 100 guests panting outside.

And then head judge Tom Colicchio shows ups with his last minute bombshell: “Opening’s tough, but I do have to make one announcement: Tonight’s elimination is a double elimination. Two chefs are going home.”

It’s chaos and a cliffhanger!

Tune in Thursday at 8 p.m. on Bravo to see what happens next in this two-part episode.

Teasers: Padma spits out something at Thistle and Tom wonders where the food is.

Behind the scenes Adrienne gets loud, Michelle isn’t loud enough and Nini’s team is about to explode.

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