And then there were 10.
After the brutal Restaurant Wars episodes of “Top Chef” Kentucky, which sent both Nini and Pablo to pack their knives, there are 10 contestants left.
Here’s where I think they stand after four elimination challenges and heading into Thursday’s episode.
▪ Number 10: Brian. Yeah, I know he won best dish with his tricky chicken ballotine appetizers AND smoothly guided North East’s front-of-house work (no mean feat) to a win on Restaurant Wars in the last episode. But otherwise, he’s bombed. He’s been in the bottom three twice and his dumpling at the Maker’s Mark challenge was called “a deformed beignet.” He’s a meat guy who can’t do anything else. It just won’t be enough.
▪ No. 9: Brandon. His bad chicken and dumplings landed him in the bottom three at Maker’s Mark. He hasn’t won any challenges although he was second to David for immunity in the second episode. His desserts on the Christmas episode and at Restaurant Wars were lame or weird. And he comes off smirky and superior without any clear reason why.
▪ No. 8: Justin. His southern/soul food style gets good marks from the judges but he has only cracked the top three with a team win for immunity in the first challenge with Sara and Pablo. In the Christmas episode, neither his kimchi meatloaf nor his fruit and cheese dessert went over well. He hasn’t landed in the bottom either but his Restaurant Wars temper tantrum left a sour taste in the mouths of many. He’s going to need to do something special to be more than the guy who threw Nini under the bus.
▪ No. 7: Adrienne. I think she deserves better than this but she’s also been in the bottom three on a challenge. However, her slaw won raves in the Maker’s Mark challenge and she ran the North East kitchen like a total pro. She could move way up with a good showing in the next challenge. But it’s going to take more than slaw.
▪ No. 6: Eric. I actually think he’s a bit of a sleeper who could pop a big win. His West African-flavored dishes have been getting attention but he’s still middle of the pack with little to distinguish himself so far, either good or bad. He was on the winning North East team but his dish (the scallops/pork couscous) was the one the judges liked the least.
▪ No. 5: Kelsey. She was in the top five in the first challenge, with fancy deviled eggs. Her asparagus with ham cubes was one of the last favorite dishes on the present swap but that wasn’t entirely her fault since she ended up a terrible box thanks to Brian (see above.) She had one of the top three desserts at the Christmas dinner and her dessert for Restaurant Wars was beautiful. But she doesn’t seem to do well with much BUT desserts. That won’t take her to the top.
▪ No. 4: Michelle. Middle-of-the-pack non-entity until winning the immunity challenge for Restaurant Wars. That should have been a breakout moment, but she was far too quiet to guide the Thistle team in the kitchen. Still, she could still distinguish herself in the next challenge.
▪ No. 3: Sara. I know you’re going to think I’m favoring the Kentucky chef. But hear me out: her team won the first immunity challenge and her team won at Maker’s Mark, where her take on country ham and chow chow nearly stole the show, the judges said. She’s been good but a bit uneven; her gift swap dish drew praise from Padma but her Christmas dessert of biscuits fell short when it really shouldn’t have. She was a bit long-winded as working front-of-house for Thistle in Restaurant Wars but so what? Her green tomato gazpacho was tasty but too gingery. Still, she’s stalking the top and has the inside edge.
▪ No. 2: Eddie. That’s right, “Eddie Money,” the chef who keeps messing up but comes up smelling like a rose. He blew his team’s budget at Whole Foods during the Maker’s Mark challenge but his lamb was delish. His gift box swap dish of weird carrot curry was too muddled but he made up for it big time. And, unlike some, he can do meat and sweets: In the Christmas dessert challenge, his shortcake with strawberries and fennel was in the top three. Eddie was on the winning team at Restaurant Wars, where his New York strip drew praise even if his bass crudo appetizer didn’t. Just one more big screw up and Eddie might take the lead.
▪ No. 1: David. He has consistently done well, beginning with his “umami bomb” soup save in the first challenge; winning two immunity challenges in a row, including with leek “noodles” in the present swap on the Christmas episode; and Padma praised his “little shot glass of fun” dessert for the Christmas dessert challenge. However, he was on the disastrous Third Coast team for Restaurant Wars and his snapper was bland, so there is room for someone to leap ahead.
▪ And here comes the “Top Chef” twist. In this Thursday’s episode, the chefs will find themselves either helping Nini find redemption or bringing in a nightmare, Brother Luck from season 15.
If you’ve been watching “Last Chance Kitchen” on Bravotv.com, then you know it is down to these two and whoever wins the “mini Restaurant Wars” challenge will be back on “Top Chef.”
And either one could take it all. Before her fall from grace in Restaurant Wars, Nini won best dish twice, once with a dessert and once with a spoonbread with a “haunting” shrimp etouffee. Brother Luck nearly won last season and looks like a ringer.
And there are still so many great challenges coming, including at Rupp Arena, Lake Cumberland, Nashville and the Muhammad Ali Center.
Tune in at 8 p.m. Thursday on Bravo to find out who will join the other 10 as they whip together party food for a Prohibition-era Flappers and Dapper Dans party at the Seelbach Hotel in Louisville.