Top Chef season 16, episode 3 recap: Naughty and Nice – Clear front-runners emerge


Top Chef is the premier chef challenge reality show, and just three weeks into Top Chef: Kentucky the true contenders are separating from the also-ran competitors.

Natalie Maronski experienced the extremes of Top Chef, winning the first episode and being asked to pack up her knives and go by the end of the second week. In Kentucky horse racing, there is a purpose for even pace horse that falls to the side quickly. Natalie seemed at ease with the outcome.

Brian Young has been in the running for immunity and also in the bottom four of elimination challenges. Kevin Scharph, Adrienne Wright, and Sara Bradley have been in the bottom half of enough challenges that each can be considered lucky not be chopped from the roster.

In the second episode, “Bourbon, Barrels, and Burgoo,” each contestant was given a plot of land to grow some herbs and vegetables. Of course, a couple of contestants discussed their illegal herb growing operations, but these ingredients will likely be used later on this season and Kentucky has yet to legalize marijuana.

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The loca-vore movement is growing rapidly, is legal everywhere, and even the largest metro area residents are learning to utilize space to grow fresh produce. Loca is not left handed smoke type crazy in this usage. It’s an environmentally friendly hobby that results in locally grown produce.

Local Kentucky product, contestant Sara Bradley will need to tend her garden more precisely to have a shot at winning the title of Top Chef: Kentucky in her backyard. The local connection is perhaps weighing on her too heavily, as she mentioned in episode two.

Kevin was playing it safe last week, judge Tom Colicchio called him out on beets and ricotta. Playing Top Chef with the goal of ‘not losing’ instead of focusing on winning is a quick way to annoy the judging chefs. Brian was also seemingly playing it safe.

Already this season, Adrienne has had problems with time management and logistics. She has had to admit to the judges that prep the day before killed her chances of winning the elimination challenge. Her pasta took too long, and the edit makes it seem like Tom immediately replies that its a welcome to Top Chef moment.

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Season 16 of Top Chef has only three returning contestants. Everyone else is being thrown into the oven, and Top Chef: Kentucky needed no preheating according to the judges impressed reactions since the first quickfire. Budgeting issues and getting the most out of every minute is paramount to making a long run in a Top Chef season. Playing is safe and ignoring the smallest of details cost many contestants, even before Restaurant Wars.

Nini Nguyen came into Top Chef: Kentucky Naughty or Nice as the reigning Elimination challenge champ, and as the voice of reason among the group. She was also $10,000 richer after she put the finishing touches on her team’s win. After the more domineer characters shaped most of the family style presentation helped everyone put feelings aside and move forward as a team.

David has the goodwill of many, and had immunity, for serving up a favorite for the very pregnant Gail. Being in the top of almost every challenge, David should feel confident in what his technique. Whatever he is doing in the kitchen has translated well so far.

However, Top Chef Season 16: Naughty or Nice started out hectic with everyone speaking a different language. Everyone’s mumbles and curses translate to: Two minutes to #%^&* think of a dish, AND find the &%%$ ingredients, WHILE %^&&* fighting through everyone other contestant?! @#^&*”

Once everyone had a box of goodies for a dish, they drew knives. And the knives came out. Depending on the number on the knife, others can take a box of ingredients from another. Then the knives really came out, literally, as the quickfire challenge gave 30 minutes to make a dish using that box of ingredients chosen by someone else. It is Top Chef: Kentucky’s idea of gifting, or re-gifting begrudgingly that which one bought for themselves.

David was able to whip up the most comprehensive and satisfying dish using the whole box of mystery ingredients. This was David’s second Quickfire win in a row, with the Quickfire Queen of Top Chef in attendance.

Rounding up the judges top choices were Sara and Nini.  Eddie, Justin and Kelsey had places coal in the judges stocking and some dishes that drew their ire.

Once the dishes were done and served, the judges brought in guest judge Eric Ripert and everyone jumped for joy like kids and elves for Santa’s big entrance. Sharing a meal with a legend and idol is a Christmas gift that happens on Top Chef: Kentucky.

Surprises right at the end of meals is a curse. Pastry techniques are lacking among the group, as is discipline to not keep opening the oven door. It is a cardinal sin in baking, and it is constantly being broken.

Only two Top Chef contestants have a real background in pastries, and it showed in the judges decisions. Kelsey, Nini and Eddie were the Top 3. When Kelsey commented only Nini and herself had pastry backgrounds, it was a sure fire give away. Nini was the overall winner, taking the top honors two weeks in a row.

The bottom three of Kevin, Pablo, Brian were expected after just a few comments. Kevin was accused of never tasting his dish, as no one could serve something so acidic and overdone according to Repair. Pablo and Brian both were trying to cover mistakes with more mistakes. Instead of having a plan, they threw stuff into the oven and hope a dessert popped out.

In the judges’ discussions, Pablo was revealed to have presented the least offensive dessert. He had a bad balance, but at least the idea was noticeable. Though his dessert was way too salty, Kevin was pleasantly smooth in his departure to Last Chance Kitchen. 

So to review, Nini is the overwhelming odds-on favorite to make the final three chefs. She has been in Top 3 in Quickfire challenges as well as being on an Elimination Challenge winning pattern. David, Eddie or Kelsey are a good bet to make a run to the Top Chef finale.

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Pablo being on the wrong side of the judge’s table at the wrong time means his time could be short. Brandon, Brian or Adrienne would be the top choices for the next chopping block victim.

Restaurant Wars will be a three-team race this season. The middle ground of safety just got a lot bigger, while the island of the losing team just got a lot smaller, especially for the remain chefs.