Top Chef is Cooking in Kentucky
Burgoo. Hot Browns. Benedictine. Derby Pie.
BY KRISTINA ROSEN AND CLAIRE RAMSAY
Top Chef has come to the great state of Kentucky for season 16 and Kentuckians can finally watch the results in December when the Bravo series airs.
Earlier this year, Bravo announced that Top Chef would head for the bluegrass state for a southern twist on the popular cooking show. “We are always looking for rising culinary destinations and are looking forward to planting our flag in Kentucky and soaking up a diverse region of the country that we haven’t yet explored on Top Chef,” said Shari Levine, Executive Vice President, Current Production, Bravo Media.
The Bravo show built its footprint in major culinary destinations like Miami, New Orleans, and Austin. This season, the show shines its cable spotlight on the bluegrass region. 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.”
People on the west coast don’t even know that beer cheese exists!
—Lexington Chef Wyatt Sarbacker
Lexington chef Wyatt Sarbacker had an opportunity to shop and cook for host Padma Lakshmi when the show’s team was in Lexington for a well-attended shoot at Rupp Arena. He echoes Branscum’s pride. “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 Padma 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.”
There are 15 contestants going for that ultimate Top Chef prize 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) 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.
There’s a facebook page devoted to Top Chef Kentucky. Winchester fan Michelle Ladanyi, says, “Being a Top Chef fan I was very thrilled to hear that they would be featuring Kentucky. There is a unique food culture here in Kentucky that you cannot find anywhere else. I am excited to see what Top Chef has decided to feature and hope it showcases the bluegrass state where it entices people who are not from the area to visit and experience what this great state has to offer.”
- 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
Louisville: Churchill Downs, Muhammad Ali Center
Lexington: Rupp Arena, Keeneland
Maker’s Mark Distillery
The winner of Top Chef receives “$125,000 furnished by S.Pellegrino Sparkling Natural Mineral Water, a feature in Food & Wine magazine and an appearance at the annual Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, as well as a $50,000 prizing package from Williams Sonoma and a headlining slot on the Williams Sonoma Culinary Stage at BottleRock in Napa Valley.”
Season 16 of Top Chef begins on Thursday, December 6 at 9 pm on Bravo.
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