As “Top Chef” Kentucky comes to a boil, here’s a hint of what you can expect to see in Thursday night’s Season 16 finale: Everyone playing to their strengths, cooking their best.
For chef Eric Adjepong, that means African cuisine; for chefs Kelsey Barnard Clark and Paducah’s Sara Bradley, it means more Southern cooking.
“It’s been the bread and butter, and we’ll keep it going for the finale,” Eric said in an interview Tuesday. “What you expect from each of us, is what you’ll see in the finale.”
Bravo will air the supersized “Top Chef” finale Thursday at a new time: 9:30 to 11 p.m.
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“We all have to cook a four-course meal of our lives, but only two people get to serve,” said Sara. “There’s a lot of interesting ‘Top Chef’ twists.”
One of them: They get to choose their sous chefs from former competitors. They each had a pretty good idea who everyone wanted to work with.
“I knew who Eric and Sara wanted to pick, and we all chose the people we wanted to choose,” Kelsey said.
“We’re super competitive but there’s a lot of integrity behind it as well,” Eric said. “We all wanted to win, but it’s great to have such a great group of people who work well together.”
They weren’t giving away any clues about which two chefs end up cooking, though.
They all said the show had given them more confidence in their cooking.
“It solidified with me, don’t ever not cook Southern food,” said Kelsey. She said that she hopes she’s shown people there’s more to Southern food than frying.
Growing up in Dothan, Ala., that meant fresh seafood and vegetables. “My only strategy going in was to cook southern foods the way I was raised,” Kelsey said. “We didn’t have a fryer anywhere in our house.”
But they’ve learned from each other too.
Sara said that as Kentuckian she was already a big fan of sorghum but until Eric used it, she’d never heard of red sorghum.
“Everybody there grows green sorghum ... so I found a farmer to grow that red sorghum for me,” Sara said. “It’s a different flavor, used a food dye, makes a beautiful purple.”
Eric said he’s been very appreciative of how well his African flavors have been received. “It’s a lot of validation I’ve gotten through the competition and everyone I’ve fed the food to,” he said.
In the months after the show was taped, they said they had some adjusting to do.
“The first time I went to Whole Foods, had slight PTSD,” Eric said. “It’s a weird social experiment … you putting a group of strangers in a house ... you gain some social intelligence.”
Sara said that besides the other chefs, she missed the show’s crew.
“The part you don’t see is the behind-the-scenes. We became really close with the producers, camera people, audio people. You saw them every day for three months, and now they are gone … and you don’t know if you’ll ever cross paths again. I had some separation anxiety.”
Sara might have spent more time with the crew than the others. After every Quickfire and Elimination challenge, the chefs have to sit down with them to tape the comments about what happened.
“I was couldn’t stay on track,” she said. I would start telling a story and be three hours into the interview, and I haven’t gotten to the Quickfire. Or I’d be really inappropriate and they’d tell me ‘Sara, you can’t say that.’”
Kelsey was the queen of the quick soundbite.
“We appointed her to be our spokesperson a lot,” Eric said.
Eric and Kelsey are in the running for Fan Favorite, which Sara jokes is because they voted for themselves. But it clear that amongst fans, there are two clear teams: Team Sara and Team Not Sara.
Sara shrugs off the criticism. Take the box waffle thing. “I still don’t see anything the matter with it,” she said. Her main strategy is not to let the naysayers bother her.
Sara has a theory about why fans focused on her: It’s the editing.
“My personality is kinda vulgar, no filter, kind of abrasive,” she said Tuesday. “The things I say are followed by a big laugh but you don’t always see that.”