Following last week‘s “Top Chef” that saw the contestants endure another high pressure challenge the chefs were feeling the weight of the competition, but hoping for a bit of reprieve from the stress as they headed in to the top 8. That reprieve came in the form of a trip to Nashville to cook on the Grand Ole Opry stage and then find inspiration in their favorite music and family memories for their elimination dish.
Below, check out our minute-by-minute “Top Chef” recap of Season 16, Episode 9, titled “Music City USA,” to find out what happened Thursday, January 31 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.
8:02 p.m. – With news from Padma Lakshmi that they’d be meeting her next at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, the chefs speculate whether they’d meet a country music legend and if so who it would be. After their 153-mile drive they arrived to the stage of the famed music hall to find that for their Quickfire Challenge they’d have to cook a dish for a rising country music star without knowing who they are. Instead they had to fashion a dish based solely off of the artist’s breakfast, lunch or dinner rider, a list of items the artist wants supplied for them backstage.
8:07 p.m. – Last week Adrienne Wright had to bow out of most of the houseboat challenge due to illness and this week she’s still suffering from symptoms. In a Quickfire scenario the lethargy is far less than ideal and so Adrienne’s game plan was to go for steak and veggies which she knew she could execute with minimal effort.
8:11 p.m. – After the 30 minutes of cook time was up, Padma welcomed guest judge Hunter Hayes to the stage to decide which of the chefs cooked the best meal according to his rider. Hunter’s least favorite dishes were David Viana‘s omelette with an “overwhelming” goat cheese vinaigrette, Eddie Konrad‘s shaved vegetable salad for its one-noteness and Kelsey Barnard Clark‘s shakshuka because of an acidic sauce. On the other hand, he loved Eric Adjepong‘s oatmeal for its lightness, Sara Bradley‘s well-balanced cauliflower dish and Adrienne’s craving-satisfying plate of meat.
8:15 p.m. – Despite being under the weather, Adrienne was declared the winner of the Quickfire by Hunter, marking her first individual win of the season! For her win, Padma offered Adrienne the advantage of an extra hour of cook time for the Elimination Challenge where each chef would be creating a dish inspired by a music memory. Continuing the theme of music, Kings of Leon frontman Caleb Followill and his wife Lily Aldridge would be on the panel of the judges for this round of the competition.
8:24 p.m. – During the first night of prep work David was entering mini meltdown mode just as Tom Colicchio and Graham Elliot entered the kitchen for a check-in. David planned on an octopus dish, but the store didn’t have what he needed and so he got clams instead. The clams he was able to purchase were larger than he’s used to and so he fretted whether they’d be too chewy.
8:29 p.m. – The next day, Adrienne entered the kitchen an hour earlier than the other chefs, feeling slightly better health wise than the previous day and prepared to get her cooking back on track. The rest of the chefs considered the importance of the challenge and how personal their inspirations were and that the connection would inevitably help them create better food.
8:36 p.m. – First to present to the judges was Eric, inspired by the music of Notorious B.I.G., who made a ribeye with eggs, parmesan and a grape jus. Next was Justin Sutherland who mistakenly didn’t plate for enough of the judges making him ineligible for the win. Nevertheless he presented his New York strip with beet potato dumplings and purple pearl onions inspired by Prince and his song “Purple Rain.”
8:39 p.m. – Eddie presented a red snapper dish inspired by a Cake song he shares with his wife, but the judges were confused by his decision to substitute puffed rice instead of risotto. Inspired by The Beatles, Michelle Minori also made red snapper with a corn ragout that reminds her of her father. While explaining her dish she broke down into tears recounting the memories of being in the garden with her father before he took his own life when she was just 15 years old. After tasting the dish, the judges were blown away by her dish and Tom even declared that it was the best dish he’s had all season.
8:41 p.m. – Right before presenting his dish, the already plagued David realized that his sauce had over-reduced and so he had to salvage it any way he could. His pork and clams dish was described as “soggy,” “salty” and “mush.” Kelsey was next with her deconstructed chicken pot pie dish, inspired by Etta James and how her husband is her Sunday kind of love. She suffered from a similar critique to David though conceptually some of the judges thought it made no sense.
8:47 p.m. – Sara was also inspired by music in relation to her father and so she cooked her father’s favorite food, jambalaya. The judges said it worked well with her inspiration and Grahama said it was some of the best cooking they’ve seen from Sara. Last to present was Adrienne with her fruit de mare dish inspired by home that earned mixed reviews from the table.
8:50 p.m. – At Judges’ Table Padma named Justin, Michelle and Sara as the top 3 of the week. They loved the sweetness of Justin’s dish, but reiterated that he was not in the running for the win. With Michelle’s dish they appreciated that it captured the spirit of the challenge and Tom said he wouldn’t change one thing about it. For Sara, they thought her dish “spoke of confidence” and was executed really well. In the end, the winner had to be Michelle! That’s the first high score for her and the first win as well.
8:56 p.m. – On the bottom were Eddie, Kelsey and David. The judges questioned the butter-poaching of Eddie’s snapper and told him that it all became one note. David expressed his complications behind the scenes that may have led the judges to consider his dish as too muddled and Kelsey had to defend the over-saltiness of her plate. In the end the judges had to choose between a “lack of passion” and over-saltiness and so the dish they just couldn’t get behind was David’s.
NEXT WEEK: Team spirit is the theme as the chefs go head-to-head in the Quickfire Challenge and then compete live in front of a basketball crowd in teams that builds tension between Sara and Adrienne.