Top Chef Season 16 episode 1 recap: Win, place and shown the door


Top Chef Season 16 episode 1 recap is off to the races. In the first episode, the chefs got a taste of the fast paced challenges could earn them the title of Top Chef.

Top Chef Season 16 episode 1 was a lovely introduction to one of Kentucky’s legendary locations, Churchill Downs. With the race horse setting, the episode’s theme was definitely apparent. From clever nods to the fastest two minutes in sports to the always impressive Kentucky Derby fashion, this episode was a nice start to the new season.

With 15 cheftestants on Season 16, the first couple of episodes can’t introduce all the chefs. Anyone who has watched the season previously will understand that the chefs highlighted in the first couple of episodes will either be on the top or on the bottom. That scenario ran true in this episode.

For the Quickfire Challenge, the chefs divided themselves into five teams of three. Since the majority of chefs may not know each other, this team challenge could have proven quite difficult. Then again, without any perceived opinions about the fellow competitors, this team challenge could be the least combative.

TOP CHEF — “The Fastest 2 Minutes in Cooking” Episode 1601 — Pictured: (l-r) Caitlin Steininger, Eric Adjepong, Kelsey Barnard, Pablo Lamon, Justin Sutherland, Sara Bradley, Kevin Scharpf, Eddie Konrad, Natalie Maronski, Brandon Rosen, Nini Nguyen, Adrienne Wright, Brian Young, David Viana, Michelle Minori — (Photo by: Michael Hickey/Bravo)

The most curious aspect to the first Quickfire Challenge was the premise. The teams could only use their knives for two minutes. Even the most adept chef is going to feel flustered with only two minutes of prep time. Truthfully, I was expecting a bigger disaster.

With just two minutes of prep work, these five teams accomplished a ton of work. I think that the teams with a clear plan for their dish did the best. Although a few teams forgot about the no knife aspect, everyone recovered well. Overall, this first challenge was quite impressive.

In the Top Chef Season 16 episode 1 Quickfire Challenge, all the dishes were exciting. Surprisingly, there wasn’t one dish that was an absolute fail. Yes, the rabbit was a little overcooked and some fish was slightly under seasoned. Still, the majority of dishes were spot on. I can’t remember such a surprising start to a Top Chef competition.

The top dish in the Quickfire was actually a dish that wasn’t supposed to happen. The green team’s dish comprised of beets, beef fat roasted carrots and a poached egg was smart. Although originally a steak dish, this dish was probably better without the steak. The poached egg added an unctuous flavor to the dish.

The biggest takeaway from the first Quickfire Challenge was seasoning. Just like every Top Chef Season, the chefs need to boost the flavors in their dishes. Subtle pales in comparison to dishes that really come on strong. Let’s hope that the chefs remember this premise.

For the Elimination Challenge, the teams from the Quickfire become direct competitors. Building on the horse racing theme, the three chefs per team will face a head to head battle. One chef will win, one chef will be safe and one chef will be up for elimination. The idea is win, place and show.

Top Chef

Season 16 episode 1, photo provided by Bravo

It is curious that the challenge didn’t have any parameters. The chefs could cook anything that they wanted. It was interesting to see how the chefs approached that broad themed challenge.

Of course, it wasn’t entirely that simple. The chefs were plating 200 tasting plates for a huge crowd. That type of service is extremely daunting. Additionally, the dish needs to be smart. A dish that works well in a restaurant may not work well in this setting. A few chefs understood the true nature of this challenge.

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Winning the Top Chef Season 16 episode 1 Elimination Challenge was Natalie. Her dish was smart. She knew that she had to plate 200 dishes and this ceviche was perfect for the challenge. She executed well and the flavors came through. It might not have been the most complex dish, but it didn’t need to be. She won because it was the best dish for this particular challenge.

Looking at all the dishes, there was no common theme. These chefs mostly stayed true to their individual styles and preferences. It will be interesting to see how the chefs can adapt going forward. Some chefs may be uncomfortable working within a particular culinary box.

Two of the three bottom chefs had the same issue. Kevin’s biggest flaw was that his dish didn’t push the envelope. His beets and ricotta was nice. Nice isn’t going to win Top Chef. He needs to swing for the fences. In this competition, the idea of go big or go home gets rewards. There is no just skating by.

Caitlin and Adrienne were in the bottom as well. Both of these dishes had execution errors. Caitlin’s riff on a tomato pie wasn’t a good choice for this type of challenge. The tomatoes were steamed and the biscuits absorbed too much liquid. It was a nice nod to Kentucky, but it was the wrong challenge to attempt this dish.

Top Chef

Season 16 episode 1, photo provided by Bravo

Adrienne had time management issues. Her plan to do a stuffed pasta turned into just a pasta dish. The plate needed editing. That small plate looked like an overfilled garden. She needed to dial this dish back, a lot.

The two bottom chefs suffered from two of the biggest problems often seen on Top Chef, time management and dish selection. If you can’t complete a dish well in the allotted time, then don’t attempt it. It is better to do a dish that you know and do it well than fail because you didn’t complete the dish correctly.

Second, the choice of dish matters. For example, cooking 200 poached eggs in this challenge would have been silly. The same can be said about a dish with 20 plated ingredients. Having a breadth of knowledge is key to picking the right dish at the right time.

Unfortunately, Caitlin was the first chef eliminated in Top Chef Season 16 episode 1. She does have a chance to cook again in Last Chance Kitchen, which is returning again this season.

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What did you think of the Top Chef Season 16 episode 1? Could you pick out a couple of favorite chefs in this first episode?