‘Top Chef’ Kentucky: If the Lake Cumberland boat’s a-rocking, that’s the one to get on

Those oysters, that watermelon salad: Chef Emeril Lagasse and host Padma Lakshmi are wowed by the dishes from chefs Justin Sutherland and Kelsey Barnard.
Those oysters, that watermelon salad: Chef Emeril Lagasse and host Padma Lakshmi are wowed by the dishes from chefs Justin Sutherland and Kelsey Barnard. David Moir/Bravo

After the beef debacle in last week’s episode, it’s time for “Top Chef” Kentucky to have some fun, right? So the group heads to Lake Cumberland to throw competing parties on houseboats.

Well, one team throws a party. The other throws ... if not a wake, then the kind of party where you are stuck in the dull room and you can hear the fun going on next door.

The episode skips the traditional immunity challenge. Instead, host Padma Lakshmi tells the chefs that the 100 people attending the parties will vote for which party they liked better and that the chefs of that party will be safe.

As the winner of the beef challenge, Eddie gets to pick his team first and gets to decide if he wants five or four on it. He taps Adrienne, Michelle, David and Brian. For practically any other challenge, this would have been a strong team but this is a party.

And Kelsey, Sara, Justin and Eric are clearly much more into that vibe.

“Y’all, this is what I do for a living,” Kelsey exclaims, pretty much cementing her role as the green team party planner. Padacah’s Sara says this challenge is her jam, Justin says he owns a boat AND has thrown lake parties. So it looks like Eric, who has never been on a lake, landed lucky.

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This crew knows how to party. The Green team of chefs Sara Bradley, Kelsey Barnard, Justin Sutherland and Eric Adjepong with Captain Sandy Yawn has a plan. Bravo David Moir/Bravo

They put together a menu of Kelsey’s Alabama oysters, Justin’s watermelon salad, Sara’s shrimp (no lobster at Whole Foods) rolls and Eric’s fried fish with Jamaican escoveitch, with Maker’s Mark “jiggle juice” shots and snack bags of key lime “puppy chow” for take-home treats.

While on the Blue team, Michelle is pitching tiki and trivia. “We’re out of our element because our team is more reserved and mature,” she says.

“We’re throwing a soiree and they’re throwing a kegger,” Brian says. (I know which one I want to be invited to.)

He’s wedded to doing porchetta to redeem his meat chops, while David dreams up a seafood dumpling, Eddie’s designing a shrimp-on-a-stick, Michelle is working up potato chip-crusted fried fish with onion dip sauce, and Adrienne ... is fending off illness.

Even without Adrienne, the blue team is in trouble when the boat’s generator goes out, leaving most of their kitchen unusable. But they scrounge together Sterno burners and a couple of induction cookers and keep going. Kelsey offers to let them cook on the green team’s kitchen but nobody takes her up on it.

Instead, Brian decides to work through the night; if he can get his pork loin in the oven by 2 a.m., he thinks he’ll make it. And the power indeed comes back on in the middle of the night, so his team plows on.

Meanwhile, after the green team samples their jiggle shots, they crash for a few hours.

And that pays off big time in the energy level for the party.

Guests and judges notice right away that the green crew is cooking and working the crowd while the blue team is just doing its best to stay upright. Especially Brian, who won’t be talked out of carving his porchetta from the hot tub. In the sun. All day.

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You know what makes for a great summer party in Kentucky? Shade. It’s a lesson that chef Brian Young learns the hard way as he serves porchetta from a hot tub to Captain Sandy Yawn, chef Emeril Lagasse and host Padma Lakshmi. Bravo David Moir/Bravo

Things aren’t perfect for the green team either: Eric’s fryer is fried, so he has to run down to the kitchen to fry up his fish.

But the scenery is terrific and the posh boats make it fun, along with guest judges Emeril Lagasse and Captain Lee and Captain Sandy from “Below Deck.”

As Padma comes aboard the green boat, she notices that the party is under way. People are lining up for Kelsey’s Alabama-style oysters on ice with cocktail sauce, lemon juice, hot sauce, horseradish and pickled watermelon rind on top.

Emeril loves it, especially the touch of watermelon.

Justin’s watermelon salad also is a big hit, as is the Key Lime Crunch puppy chow.

“Great boat food,” Emeril says.

Padma likes the Meyer lemon zest on Sara’s shrimp roll and the Caribbean escoveitch on the beer-battered walleye, but the “jiggle juice” has too much booze for her.

On the blue boat, David’s seafood dumpling with scallops, black bass, caramelized onions and spiced coconut broth needs more heat and just ... isn’t what one wants on hot afternoon. Eddie’s poached shrimp lollipop is just too bland. Michelle’s potato chip-crusted Kentucky bass is a hit with Emeril but Tom’s is cold.

Adrienne is too ill to cook and serve her dish but Eddie puts together her salmon tacos and they are delicious.

But Brian’s porchetta is tastes more like honey-baked ham, and again is not what one wants to dive into on a summer afternoon.

While some of the 100 attendees think the food on the blue boat was better, the party on the green boat wins out overwhelmingly with 79 votes.

Justin’s watermelon salad is something every cookout could use, the judges say. Emeril says Sara’s shrimp roll is delicious and Eric’s fish was delivered hot despite the challenge.

But it’s Kelsey’s oysters that take the win.

“Those oysters brought me to Alabama for sure,” Emeril says. “And I loved how you cross-utilized the watermelon.”

Kelsey is ecstatic. “The fact that I won for literally being myself ... I couldn’t ask for anything better, except for winning ‘Top Chef,’” she says.

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Chef Kelsey Barnard caters weddings off-site, so she was up for the challenge of throwing a party on a houseboat. Bravo David Moir/Bravo

The blue team looks like it was left out in the sun too long. Michelle tells the judges the night was rough because they didn’t have power but David says in the end it wasn’t an issue. “One of us is going to go home for a dish that we were proud to serve,” he says.

Will it be Eddie’s rubbery shrimp? David’s dumpling soup?

Nope, it’s Brian’s bad pork. A bit of a bad sport, he blames his teammates for not sticking up for him. He’s sent to pack his knives and head to “Last Chance Kitchen.”

Next up: A jaunt to Nashville, where they visit the Grand Ole Opry to cook onstage with guest judges Hunter Hayes and Caleb Followill of Kings of Leon.

But for “Top Chef” fans, the big moment is coming: This looks like the episode where we get to hear Tom say those magic words, “best dish all season.”

Stay tuned; “Top Chef” airs on Bravo 8 p.m. Thursday. “Last Chance Kitchen” is available on Bravo’s site.