Top Chef: Kentucky episode 1 review: The culinary Kentucky Derby

Top Chef

Tonight, Top Chef: Kentucky episode 1 brought the Bravo series to a new state, but it very much has the same personality. This has long been the pinnacle of all culinary reality series and we certainly do not think that this is any different this year.

Obviously, the setting of Kentucky was prominently featured in the premiere episode and then some. It’s a spot with a thriving culinary identity and one where you’ve got a lot of interesting character that you don’t see almost anywhere else. It also has the Kentucky Derby, which basically was the theme for the entirety of the episode even though we don’t actually think the race was going on at the time of filming. The show just wanted to find a way to shoehorn the derby in there and they did just that, first with a super-fast quickfire and then also an elimination challenge that had a specific horse-racing theme. At least it did also give us a chance to see all of the chefs be creative and for some, try to embrace the theme. We heard a lot about bourbon from some of the chefs, and we also got a culinary form of mint julip. Nutty flavors were utilized as were many varying forms of beef.

This was a fun challenge! More than that, it feels like we’ve got a particularly-fun crop of contestants this season who know who they are as chefs and also what they want to bring to the series overall. There were a couple of people who were far too tentative far out of the gate, but in a lot of ways the start of a Top Chef season is akin to watching someone learn to walk again. It’s a different environment and everyone adapts to it in a very different way.

So who succeeded the most in this episode? Think along the likes of Natalie Maronski, who did a sensational job doing a cold preparation as a way to acclimate herself to being in this kitchen. We do know that ceviche has been reasonably overdone on Top Chef over the years, but let’s face it — a good cold dish is a good cold dish. If you do a killer job with it, it doesn’t matter if it’s a modified version of something that the judges have seen many times over. It’s still something that is going to be well-received at the end of the day.

As for who went home, that unfortunate honor went to Caitlin Steininger. She had an ambitious idea for tomato cobbler with ricotta that on the surface sounded delicious. These were great flavors and this felt absolutely like the perfect environment to do it. The problem was that the liquid from the cherry tomatoes dramatically altered the texture of the biscuits — it made them soggy and with that in mind, nothing ate like it should. We do think that she was one of the more creative chefs this season and she had a lot of potential; yet, with a good crop of contestants comes sometimes people leaving far before they should.

CarterMatt Verdict

A fantastic start to the season. Even when Top Chef goes the obvious route with its premiere and its challenges, there’s still something about the editing, the contestants, and the hosting that makes you think you’re watching the Olympics of food. It’s one of the best shows out there.

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What did you think when it comes to Top Chef: Kentucky episode 1 overall? Be sure to share in the attached comments. (Photo: Bravo.)

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