Kentucky Cuisine is no stranger to the small screen. Louisville chef Edward Lee got serious in 2011’s episode two of Top Chef Texas, telling the camera “if they leave me here in the stew room long enough, I’m gonna kill the other five people to get that jacket. That’s how bad I want it.”
Midway through that episode, he reinforced his commitment when he sliced open his hand, and kept cooking — with a medic working on one hand while he prepped with the other. It was a gusher. Hashtag #TeamEd was born. In 2010, Lee had already reigned supreme on Battle Tongue and Cheek on Iron Chef, against Iron Chef Jose Garces.
Lee served as a judge and mentor when Top Chef filmed season 16 in Kentucky, set to air December 6, 2018. Bravo team and producers visited Churchill Downs in Louisville, Rupp Arena in Lexington, and dozens of culinary treasures in between.
Kentucky Tourism Commissioner Kristen Branscum says, “Top Chef is an opportunity to showcase the bourbon and horses that Kentucky is known for, but also the rich culinary culture across the entire state. On this season, we look forward to showcasing our food scene, but also the natural beauty, one-of-a-kind attractions, and especially the talented Kentuckians who will be featured.”
During Top Chef’s time in the bluegrass, Lexington chef Wyatt Sarbacker had an opportunity to shop and cook for host Padma Lakshmi.
He welcomed the chance to share Kentucky’s treasures with our high profile guests, saying, “As bourbon becomes more popular across the world, people have started to pay attention to what we’re up to in Kentucky. Pit BBQ, sorghum, burgoo, stack cakes, country ham (I have my favorite hams)…
“Kentucky has a bit of everything,” he continues, “Mountains in the east of the state, palisades and rolling hills / farms throughout central Kentucky, and wetlands in the western part of the state. Too far east to be west, too far west to be east, too far south to be north, and too far north to be south. There is an interesting mix of cultures across the state. Appalachian in the southeast, and German-American around Louisville and the northern part of the state.”
“People on the west coast don’t even know that beer cheese exists!” he adds.
Sarbacker is proud of Lexington’s culinary diversity (and helped prepare authentic Sri Lankan fare in a friend’s kitchen for Lakshmi). He says, “Once a massive test market for corporate chain concepts, Lexington has shifted and there are more small places popping up in existing structures in neighborhoods that otherwise have little to no access to food.”
Tuk Tuk’s Samantha Fore adds, “For those of us who live and work in the Bluegrass, it’s no surprise,” that Top Chef would select Kentucky for Season 16, adding, “We have so much to offer — from agriculture to bourbon to horses and beyond. The dining scene is emerging in such an interesting way — with classics and favorites taking the forefront — and I don’t think viewers will expect the diversity in cuisine that Kentucky has. I think once the Top Chef production folks got to spend some time here it became pretty evident that Kentucky is a special place to be.”
Padma welcomes the contestants to Top Chef Kentucky, where “15 of the country’s best chefs are here to play the odds and cook the best food of their lives.”
There are 15 contestants going for the Top Chef white coat, and lucky for the host state, there is a hometown girl competing. Sara Bradley is from Paducah, Kentucky and is the chef/owner of the local restaurant freight house. Sara’s mission with her restaurant is to bring fresh, local ingredients from the community, to the community, while working to define the flavor of the “new south.”
Celebrities who participated in Season 16 include Emeril Lagassé, Eric Ripert, Jonathan Waxman, Art Smith, Nancy Silverton, and former Top Chef competitor Richard Blais. Actress Lena Waithe, musicians Hunter Hayes and Caleb Followill, model Lily Aldridge, UK basketball coach John Calipari, and former boxer Laila Ali will also show up. Chefpreneur Ouita Michel (Holly Hill Inn, and Honeywood are a few of her mainstays; Zim’s is her latest) is a guest judge on the season.
Despite the star power, the scenery will undoubtedly steal the show. Kentucky has been known for its beauty of rolling green hills, white horse fences in the country, and picturesque sunrises/sunsets. The crew didn’t confine their visits to the “big cities.” Yes, there are episodes set in Louisville and Lexington, but they also went to Lake Cumberland, Maker’s Mark Distillery, and many other places that really show the essence of Kentucky.
Tom Colicchio can be overheard to say of one dish, “This should be a new Kentucky thing.” Laila Ali observes of another dish, “I just didn’t feel the passion.” We’ll have to tune in to find out what that is… and who will be the first to pack their knives and go.
Season 16 of Top Chef begins on Thursday, December 6 at 9 pm on Bravo. Watch parties are planned at West Sixth Brewing and Creaux. (Stay tuned to aceweekly.com for more updates, videos, and episode recaps.)
Who are the contestants for Top Chef Kentucky, Season 16?
- Eric Adjepong Washington, DC
- Sara Bradley Paducah, Kentucky
- Kelsey Barnard Clark Dothan, Alabama
- Edmund “Eddie” Konrad Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- Pablo Lamon Miami Beach, Florida
- Natalie Maronski Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- Michelle Minori San Francisco, California
- Nini Nguyen Brooklyn, New York
- Brandon Rosen San Mateo, California
- Kevin Scharpf Dubuque, Iowa
- Caitlin Steininger Cincinnati, Ohio
- Justin Sutherland St. Paul, Minnesota
- David Viana Asbury Park, New Jersey
- Adrienne Wright Boston, Massachusetts
- Brian Young Boston, Massachusetts
Where did they film Top Chef Kentucky, Season 16?
Locations included Churchill Downs and the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, and Rupp Arena and Keeneland in Lexington. Maker’s Mark and Lake Cumberland also make starring appearances.
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