The night Kentucky foodies and fans have been waiting for happened Thursday — the season premiere of “Top Chef Kentucky” on Bravo TV.
Louisville Tourism hosted a free public viewing of the episode at the Brown Theatre, and while there are many excellent contenders this season, the crowd at the Brown was most excited to see Chef Sara Bradley of Paducah, Ky. Bradley is the chef and owner of Freight House, which specializes in farm-to-table cuisine.
Bradley was a fan favorite, not only because she’s the literal home team, but she seemed to be the sassiest. (Spoiler alert: details of the episode to follow.)
At Churchill Downs, host Padma Lakshmi asked the contestants if any of them had ever been to the Kentucky Derby, and only Bradley answered that she had been in the infield. When Lakshmi asked what she was doing there, Bradley answered, “Drinking.”
Bradley also did not hesitate to say a very long, loud expletive when she realized she couldn’t cut a steak because knives were taken away after the first two minutes in the Quickfire round, held at the track.
Despite the setback, her team won the round, though she was placed last among her team when they had to serve a Derby party for 200 people. But she was not in the bottom three, so she avoided the chopping block. Caitlin Steininger of Cincinnati was eliminated at the end of the show.
Local chef Annie Pettry of Decca and a “Top Chef” Season 14 contestant was the host of the evening. Before the show, she told Insider that she was really excited and nervous about the season. An episode of this season was filmed in Decca, which was a great thrill, she said.
“I sat with (host) Tom (Colicchio), Padma and (judge) Graham Elliot,” Pettry said. “I didn’t get to go behind the scenes. I didn’t even get to peek in the kitchen to see what they were doing in there, so I was really nervous to see what was going on in the kitchen. But it was super cool. It’s like it’s coming full circle from being on the show and then being on again but as a guest.”
Chef Darnell Ferguson, owner of SuperChefs, was at the showing and VIP reception. Ferguson, who recently won the Food Network’s “Ultimate Thanksgiving Challenge,” said he was excited about the exposure it brings to Kentucky.
“I can’t wait for the eyes to be on this state,” Ferguson said. “Not just Louisville, but the whole state because outside of Louisville people are doing big things, as well. So I’m just excited for everyone to see all the hard work we’ve been doing.”
After the show, Kristen Branscum, commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Tourism, did a short interview with Pettry about her thoughts on the show.
Pettry said she thought the most ambitious and well-executed dish on the show was a soup prepared by cheftestant David Viana of Elizabeth, N.J. He had originally planned to make gnocchi, but he had forgotten flour at the grocery store, so he went for a potato soup with bok choy pesto, and the judges loved it.
Pettry explained that being on “Top Chef” is very stressful and cooking for 200 people isn’t normally an issue for most chefs; they do it all the time. But when it’s your first day on “Top Chef,” you don’t know the kitchen, the contestants or really much of anything.
At the end of the interview, Branscum asked her if she’d ever be a contestant on “Top Chef” again. She answered: “Hell no.”
After the show, visitors gave their takes on the episode and their picks of who could win the season.
Janis Kaelin, who manages Book & Bourbon Southern Kitchen at Louisville International Airport, said she thought it was awesome, and she was glad to see Kentucky showcased.
“I’m hoping for Sara (Bradley), but I really think the guy from Ghana (Eric Adjepong, a Ghanian-American from Washington, D.C.), I think he’s a really strong contender,” she said. Her daughter-in-law Chandra Kaelin agreed with her pick.
Allison Thompson of Lexington, who has never watched “Top Chef” before, said she is “totally loving it now.”
“I’m from New Jersey, so I kind of want the Jersey guy (Viana) to win,” Thompson said. “My trifecta is the Jersey guy, the Kentucky girl (Bradley) and that guy from Ghana (Adjepong). He seems to be really intense. He’s your horse that’s really ready to go. He’s like a Bob Baffert entry.”
During the filming, Padma told Insider that one of the restaurants she was excited to try was Decca. And she did, along with several other stars, producers and crew members.
“They were there like once a week,” Pettry said. “Every day I’d get a phone call, ‘So-and-so is coming!’ After a month in, my staff were like, ‘Yeah, we know, they’re coming.’”
Season 16 of “Top Chef” airs at 9 p.m. Thursdays on Bravo and runs through March 2019.