Following last week‘s spirited “Top Chef” emotions were running high for the six remaining chefs, especially Sara Bradley who felt thrown under the bus by some of her peers during the challenge. She is the only chef left in the competition without a solo win to her name and has racked up the most low placements in elimination challenges as well. Was she able to reign as champion for the first time during a progressive meal in honor of Muhammad Ali?
Below, check out our minute-by-minute “Top Chef” recap of Season 16, Episode 11, titled “The Greatest,” to find out what happened Thursday, February 14 at 8 p.m. ET/PT. Then be sure to sound off in the comments section about whether or not the right decision was made at this week’s Judges’ Table.
8:03 p.m. – For this week’s Quickfire Challenge, Art Smith joined Padma Lakshmi as the guest judge in a fried chicken fry-off. Art confessed to the chefs that his first job was at Kentucky Fried Chicken, the restaurant whose chicken uses a secret recipe of herbs and spices in the breading. For the challenge the chefs had to blindly taste 30 different herbs and spices and only the ones they could correctly identify based on taste alone would be available to them for use in the creation of their own secret recipe of fried chicken.
8:05 p.m. – In the blind tasting, Adrienne Wright, Eddie Konrad and Justin Sutherland each only identified six spices, half as many as Sara who identified twelve mostly using just her sense of smell. Eric Adjepong with seven and Kelsey Barnard Clark with eleven managed to at least not be the worst at the test.
8:12 p.m. – For Art, the least impressive chicken preparations were Justin’s Japanese fried chicken with white shoyu because it was overdone, Kelsey’s chicken thighs with pickled fennel for her undercooked chicken that caused her to plate very small portions of chicken that actually cooked through and Eric’s chicken sandwich with gochujang mayo despite having a good concept. On top were Eddie’s double breaded chicken thigh in duck fat for its flavorful chicken and good hot sauce, Sara’s chicken with corn & blackberry salad for its balance, Adrienne’s chicken thighs with turmeric sage which Art said had the best cooked chicken. But in the end Art decided that Sara was the chef that used the herbs and spices to the best effect, giving her a first individual win and a $5,000 prize!
8:16 p.m. – For the Elimination Challenge the chefs were tasked with celebrating the life and career of Ali through a progressive course to be served to the judges as well as his daughter Laila Ali and a charity gala of 100 guests in total. The progressive course was designed based on six of Ali’s legendary fights: first course, the Fight at Freedom Hall; second course, Liston Two; third course, the Fight of the Century; fourth course, Rumble in the Jungle; fifth course, Thrilla in Manila; and sixth course, the Battle of New Orleans.
8:20 p.m. – In the discussion to decide who would cook what course, Kelsey volunteers for sixth (dessert), Eric grabs fourth and Adrienne grabs fifth, but after Eddie (third) and Justin (second) declare their wishes Sara says she isn’t comfortable being forced to take the Kentucky food-focused first course because she’s cooked too much Kentucky food this season as a Kentuckian. To settle the dispute, Justin, Eddie and Sara all put 1, 2 and 3 in a hat and draw papers. Unfortunately Justin and Eddie draw what they wanted and Sara is still, ultimately, stuck on the first course.
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8:24 p.m. – After reading the dossier on her course’s fight, Sara felt more comfortable with her spot on the menu because it meant that she could cook the Kentucky staple “thunder and lightning.” Eddie changed up his own perspective on his dish as well while at the store, switching from duck to chicken.
8:27 p.m. – During a visit to the kitchen from Tom Colicchio, Adrienne is confronted by his notion that her interpretation of “Thrilla in Manila” as Southeast Asian food and not specifically Filipino food is a risk. Would she also have to change up her dish’s concept?
8:34 p.m. – In the kitchen the chefs were determined to help one another out, hoping to build a great meal across the board despite being judged individually on their own dishes. Though he was comfortable with the traditional African dish he was making, Eric was nervous that time would be a factor in determining how well it actually turned out.
8:37 p.m. – Sara’s first course was king salmon with “thunder & lightning,” a Kentucky tradition of running to get the tomatoes and cucumbers before a storm destroyed them. The judges were pleased with how much flavor she packed into a light and “vinegar-forward” dish. Justin second course was saffron & seafood soup of scallops, clams and mussels. Tom was a little miffed that Justin heard Maine (where Liston is) and thought seafood though Liston is actually not on the coast of Maine. That being said, the judges appreciated that his soup was luxurious but also light at the same time.
8:40 p.m. – Eddie’s third course was brown butter roasted chicken with collard green puree & toasted hazelnuts. The reception of the dish was that everything was cooked well and tasted “fine,” but ultimately was not exciting and didn’t honor Ali’s legacy.
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8:45 p.m. – Eric’s fourth course was fufu plantain & cassava dumpling with Congolese red sauce. With that dish, Tom was impressed by Eric’s decision to take a very humble dish and roll with it with confidence. Adrienne’s fifth course was braised short rib with mango & herb salad. She warned the room that she was bringing “the heat” with her dish and the judges liked it but questioned her use of bottled hot sauce.
8:47 p.m. – Kelsey’s final course was “unanimous” bread pudding with corn three ways. Without knowing it, Kelsey ended up making Ali’s favorite dessert which was a score, but there were elements in the dish that the judges didn’t necessarily love.
8:49 p.m. – At Judges’ Table, Sara and Eric were named the top two of the week. With Eric’s food, the judges loved that he introduced the room to a dish they were likely unfamiliar with and those on the panel that have had it before thought he prepared it to perfection. Sara expressed her frustration with the course she ended up getting, but in the end the judges loved what she did. Ultimately Laila got to choose the winner and she named Eric as the champion, his third of the season (by far the most among this left)!
8:55 p.m. – The other four chefs were all vulnerable to the “nit-picking” of the judges to find faults in their otherwise good dishes. For Adrienne the problem was the bottled sauce, Justin’s seafood wasn’t cooked up to par, Eddie’s concept never connected and Kelsey’s ended up being a little one note.
8:59 p.m. – In deeper critiques, Tom defended Adrienne’s willingness to change up her dish after the kitchen walkthrough and Kelsey’s storytelling connection to her concept. On the flip side they all thought that Justin’s soup wasn’t anchored in the story of Ali and Eddie’s was just lacking in general. Between those two guys, the chef that was asked to pack his knives and go was Eddie, sending him to Last Chance Kitchen to face its most recent champion, Michelle Minori, for a chance to return to the show.
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NEXT WEEK: With Last Chance Kitchen concluding, a sixth chef (either Michelle or Eddie) jumps back into the competition where they all take part in an auction for the proteins that they’ll use in the upcoming Elimination Challenge.