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‘Top Chef’ Kentucky: Second half of Restaurant Wars looks so bad it’s good

Chef Nini Nguyen, standing, has twice had the best dish of the elimination challenge. But can she handle front-of-the-house duties on Restaurant Wars facing Padma Lakshmi, Nilou Motamed, Tom Colicchio and the other judges? Find out Thursday at 8 p.m.
Chef Nini Nguyen, standing, has twice had the best dish of the elimination challenge. But can she handle front-of-the-house duties on Restaurant Wars facing Padma Lakshmi, Nilou Motamed, Tom Colicchio and the other judges? Find out Thursday at 8 p.m. Michael Hickey/Bravo

On “Top Chef” Kentucky’s cliffhanger last week, chefs were heading for what looked like major breakdowns on the Restaurant Wars episode. Thursday night, beginning at the new time of 8 p.m., we find out who crumbles under the pressure.

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Will it be Nini, leaving her Third Coast team hanging on the front-of-house training while she finishes up her chocolate dessert?

Brian, whose chicken appetizer might or might not be ready as he reads his encyclopedic instructions to the North East wait staff?

Or Pablo, deep in the weeds at Thistle where he is supposed to cook both entrees?

Or someone else entirely?

And remember, two chefs will go home, according to the surprise announcement by head judge Tom Colicchio at the end of last week’s episode. Michelle, who is executive chef of Thistle, has immunity.

Here’s what to look for:

For locals, recognizable faces. Lots of people in the Lexington, Louisville and Kentucky food scene and Frankfort government were there as “guests” at Restaurant Wars. Including me.

I saw my pediatricians, the head of my son’s elementary school PTA, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, Kentucky Tourism Commissioner Kristen Branscum, West Sixth Brewery’s Ben and Becca Self, Country Boy Brewing’s Daniel Harrison, chef Ouita Michel and many more. I think I spotted Louisville radio host Terry Meiners in the background in a teaser clip, too.

Last minute glitches. When I arrived at the holding tent at Lundy’s Catering in Lexington where the episode was shot, “Top Chef” worker bees were still hot-gluing menus together for the restaurants and paint was still drying on the walls. So this was a bit of a hot mess. And that’s outside the kitchen.

Curveballs. We say in a teaser for this episode that Tom wonders where the food is and host Padma Lakshmi spits out something, uh, icky. So it doesn’t go smoothly for somebody. Also, I was encouraged to ask for something off the menu; specifically, a vegetarian option at Thistle. Will they show that? I don’t know yet. But I can tell you what I had was pretty good and that Sara took it right in stride.

Here are the three concepts, teams and menus:

Third Coast, with Nini (who has won two elimination challenges so far), David (who won two previous immunity challenges), Kelsey and Justin: 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).

Thistle, with Kentucky chef Sara, Pablo, Brandon and Michelle, who has immunity: 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).

North East, with Adrienne, Brian, Eddie and Eric: Appetizer of chicken ballotine (Brian) or striped bass crudo from Eddie; entree of New York strip steak 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).

“Top Chef” airs on Bravo at 8 p.m., a new time, beginning Jan. 3.

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