I don’t know about anybody else, but the latest episode of “Top Chef” Kentucky had me needing a drink.
The elimination challenge was set at the Seelbach Hotel’s rathskeller, with the ultimate Prohibition-era cocktail party. The chefs have to put together “decadent” canapes inspired by certain cocktails.
But what really makes me need a stiff one: the whiplash.
When the episode opens, Brian is still aglow from his huge Restaurant Wars win.
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Then the chefs arrive on the “Top Chef” set to find out they have been divided into teams to assist two chefs on “Last Chance Kitchen” who just happen to be Nini, their colleague ousted after Restaurant Wars, and THE Brother Luck from season 15. One will make the show.
Under their breath, the chefs make it clear they want Nini to win this challenge, which is a mini Restaurant Wars. The two chefs are presenting three dishes each: Nini is doing “Delta,” Mekong meets Louisiana, and Brother is doing “Sun Blossom,” Southwest meets Japanese.
The first dishes they present are ones they revised from “Last Chance Kitchen,” hosted by head judge Tom Colicchio. Nini does po’boy-style fried shrimp with fish sauce chili glaze and Brother does a tempura jalapeno popper with soy and sesame pickled cucumber and carrot. Everybody loves Nini’s shrimp except Tom, who says it’s dry.
Nini makes a lemongrass pork chop with Thai corn and tomato salad for the second dish; Brother goes with a cumin-dusted scallop, yuzu guacamole, toasted nori and kumquat gastrique. Tom says Nini’s pork lacks flavor but loves Brother’s scallop.
For the final dish, Nini presents tapioca pudding with “bananas fostered” bananas, coconut foam, toasted coconut and peanuts while Brother presents seared tuna with pico de gallo with cherry, apple, tomato, cilantro with beurre blanc and bonito flakes. Tom says this dessert “really marries the sides of your concepts together.”
But it isn’t enough: Tom gives the nod to Brother Luck, who is now in the “Top Chef” Kentucky competition. And the rest of them are shook!
Goodbye to Nini all over again. They label Brother the “stranger in our house.”
It isn’t all bad news: Brother’s team gets first pick of which of six cocktails they want to use as inspiration for the elimination challenge, which host Padma Lakshmi outlines this way: “Take a popular drink and create a decadent canape inspired by the cocktail.”
Remember that, because it is important.
Brother goes first, picks the Southside Fizz, which is made from gin, lemon juice, club soda, mint and simple syrup, saying he can play off the mint and the lime.
The rest of his team select their cocktails, and then Nini’s sad team get theirs. After a frantic trip to Whole Foods, they get down to it.
As Justin puts it, the trick is to get everything into “one perfect bite.” As for Brother Luck, Justin says, “he’s here to beat us.”
The chefs get three hours to prep in the “Top Chef” kitchen and then an hour the next day at the Seelbach, where a crowd of 100 will be showing up thirsty and hungry.
And some chefs appear to have set themselves up for failure.
What is Eddie doing with the constantly boiling over cream? What makes Eric think he can shuck 150 oysters in time? What the heck is Brian thinking with the gnocchi and sausage?
Sara, meanwhile, seems confident her puree play on “The Last Word” will be delicious. Kelsey says she’s going delicate and feminine with a scallop for her “12-Mile Limit.” Brother’s doing a banh mi twist.
When showtime comes, Padma, Tom, judge Graham Elliot and guest judge chef/restaurateur Ken Oringer join a crowd in flapper dresses and suits. Then the dishes roll in.
Eddie’s bourbon-cured salmon is judged a nice play on the “Old Fashioned,” while Brandon’s duck and artichoke croquette needs salt.
Brother’s dish is a ball of heat that “had nothing to do with the cocktail,” Tom says. Uh oh. That’s pretty much what lost him a shot last year, too.
Meanwhile, Brian’s throwing everything in the fryer and Michelle is worried her canape looks like “s*@t.”
The judges find Michelle’s “Whiskey Sour” liver mousse puff ball soggy. And Brian’s gnocchi and sausage was greasy and yet dry.
But Kelsey’s scallop is a hit: The right flavors and the right look.
Eric manages to get his oysters shucked and his dish made, which is good because the judges love it. Justin’s duck a l’orange with duck liver mousse also get high marks as a good take on the Old Fashioned.
Then Sara brings in her purees, which seems like “a great dip,” Elliot says, but nobody else is enthused.
David and Adrienne bring in their plays on the “Gin Rickey:” one is a shrimp tartare, the other shrimp and avocado toast. The cold shrimp is a hit, but the judges say Adrienne’s is oily.
The three dishes that stand out: Those from Kelsey, Eric and Eddie, who ended up using the boiled-down butter solids from all that cream to add richness to his salmon. And Padma praises Kelsey’s “delicate” scallop ceviche.
In the end, it’s those oysters that give Eric his first solo win. Graham says the dish represents not only the flavor profile but the story of the drink.
On the downside, Sara, Brian and Brother are in the bottom three and it gets ugly. Tom has harsh criticism for all three offerings.
Graham says he could definitely eat more of Sara’s “dip” but nobody is speaking up for Brian or Brother.
And suddenly it’s Brother, who looked like a ringer, who is off again. He’ll get another chance on “Last Chance Kitchen,” Tom says. So we could see him come back again, but the chefs have dodged a big bullet for now, especially Brian.
And next week’s challenge looks to be right in his wheelhouse, with lots of red meat to be butchered.
“Top Chef” airs 8 p.m. Thursday on Bravo.