Top Chef fried chicken challenge tested the chefs’ palates


This week, the Top Chef fried chicken challenge had the chefs longing for the Colonel’s spices as they tried to recreate the Southern favorite.

Finally, the Top Chef fried chicken challenge appeared on Top Chef Season 16. Top Chef fans and the chefs expected that a fried chicken challenge would be part of this season. In this week’s episode, the challenge was more than just making mouthwatering fried chicken.

After last week’s somewhat heated episode, filled with smack talk and taunting, the chefs return to the Top Chef kitchen to be greeted by a table filled KFC, Kentucky Fried Chicken. While Harland Sanders’ infamous fried chicken is legendary, this week’s Quickfire judge has legendary fried chicken of his own. Chef Art Smith can whip up some memorable fried chicken alongside other delicious Southern favorites.

With Chef Art Smith as a judge, he can relate to this competition. As a former Top Chef Masters competitor, he has felt the pressure of competing. Still, this challenge had a little more difficulty than the chefs expected.

TOP CHEF — “The Greatest” Episode 1611 — Pictured: Chef Art Smith — (Photo by: David Moir/Bravo)

Instead of the chefs being given a full pantry, each chef could only use spices that they correctly named, while they were blindfolded. Losing a sense really plays with your palate. It might not seem like a lot, but tasting food that you can’t see is disorienting.

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It was quite curious how Sarah took a different approach to this challenge. Instead of focusing on the “taste” of each spice, she focused on the aroma. This idea was incredibly smart. Tasting spice after spice would overwhelm the palate. She racked up a total of 12 spices to use in her fried chicken.

While the show couldn’t have guessed that the previous week’s challenge would have a fried chicken face-off, it is interesting that this week has the same battle. Still, all these chefs should have had at least a couple fried chicken recipes in their back pocket (with varying spices).

The most concerning part of this Quickfire was the poor cook on the chicken. Granted no one served raw chicken, but the technical cooking issues were a little unexpected. One good cooking tip, make sure that the chicken is room temperature before putting it in the fryer.

Winning the Top Chef fried chicken challenge was Sarah. It was her challenge to win. Although a few other dishes were good, her dish, as a whole, was the best. Although she won, immunity is no longer available.

TOP CHEF — “The Greatest” Episode 1611 — Pictured: (l-r) Adrienne Wright, Justin Sutherland, Sara Bradley, Eddie Konrad, Kelsey Barnard, Eric Adjepong — (Photo by: David Moir/Bravo)

For the Elimination Challenge, the chefs had to work together to create a progressive menu based on Mohammad Ali’s most memorable fights. Although Ali is from Louisville and the challenge was interesting, the concept was a little contrived. Sure, the previous Maker’s Mark challenge and even Kentucky Derby influenced challenge were expected, this one was a slight more of a stretch.

Even though this challenge featured a progressive menu, the chefs seemed to focus on the particulars of their own dishes. Granted, it was rather obvious that Eric would make an African dish (and even Sarah seemed destined to make the Louisville dish). Overall, there needed to be a little more cohesive arc to the dinner. Sure, dishes went from bright to light to robust, but each dish was more of an island on its own.

The overlooked part of this challenge was the dishes’ connections to the story. Each dish was supposed to represent a specific fight. Some chefs accomplished this task very well, while other dishes were lacked a sense of passion.

TOP CHEF — “The Greatest” Episode 1611 — Pictured: (l-r) Adrienne Wright, Justin Sutherland, Eddie Konrad, Eric Adjepong, Sara Bradley, Kelsey Barnard — (Photo by: David Moir/Bravo)

The top two dishes were from Sarah and Eric. While the dishes weren’t overly sophisticated, they brought nuanced flavors and a deep connection to their particular fight. Eric choose quite wisely. His African dumpling, fufu, might have been humble but it was thoughtful. Beautifully prepared, the fufu showed his passion for this cuisine and culture. He deserved the win and, hopefully, he continues to share more African cuisine this season.

Sarah’s dish was also lovely. The story about fire and lightning was quite interesting. Who knew that people in Kentucky would take vegetables off the vine before a big storm? While the dish was acid forward, it was a smart choice as an opening course. It awakened the palate for the other dishes.

With only a few episodes left, the four remaining chefs were in the bottom. Overall, it seemed unlikely that Kelsey would go home. Her bread pudding was good and she cried at judges table. As the potential fan favorite, no one wanted Kelsey to go home.

Adrienne’s short rib was good as well. It made a good connection to the fight, but it could have been a little better. She was dinged for using a store bough hot sauce (a little ironic considering the whole store bought waffle mix issue). Overall, her dish was more successful than the other two male chefs.

Either Justin or Eddie would be going home. So far, Justin has been in the middle. This week’s dish didn’t have a strong connection to his story. It seemed like he had a preconceived notion and was going to make this dish work for the story.

The soup itself was highly praised. Achieving a lightness in a creamy soup takes a deft hand. Still, the fish in the soup was slightly underwhelming.

TOP CHEF — “The Greatest” Episode 1611 — Pictured: Eddie Konrad — (Photo by: David Moir/Bravo)

Eddie’s dish lacked any emotional connection. Although he originally wanted to cook duck, he had to pivot and cook chicken. While his chicken was beautifully cooked, the dish lacked any spark. Without the connection to the challenge, it was just a good chicken dish. Maybe if he could have found a better story tying everything together would have helped his cause.

The chef sent to Last Chance Kitchen was Eddie. Given the preview at the end of this week’s episode, a chef will return from Last Chance Kitchen next week. Does Eddie have an advantage because he would only have to win one challenge? Even more important, could the returning chef knock out a current chef?

Additionally, the Top Chef curse seems to be going strong. Winning challenges doesn’t keep a chef safe. Eddie has won numerous challenges, including last week’s Quickfire. There seems to be no clear advantage for any of the remaining chefs.

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Do you have a favorite chef in Top Chef Season 16? Did you think that the Top Chef fried chicken challenge lived up to expectations?