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‘Top Chef’ recap: ‘Super sassy’ Renee Kelly wins first two challenges

On the second part of “Top Chef” season premiere, which airs at 9 p.m. Thursday, Renee Kelly will work with a small team to open a vegan pop-up restaurant.
On the second part of “Top Chef” season premiere, which airs at 9 p.m. Thursday, Renee Kelly will work with a small team to open a vegan pop-up restaurant. Andrew Eccles/Bravo

Spoiler alert: Local chef Renee Kelly was a standout on Wednesday’s Season 13 premiere of “Top Chef.”

Kelly, who owns Renee Kelly’s Harvest in Shawnee and contributes to our blog, wowed the Bravo show’s judges in the first challenge, which involved breaking down whole chickens into parts. She said on the show that the day before she left to shoot “Top Chef,” she had broken down six chickens, four ducks, two prime rib roasts and a beef tenderloin in a total of 24 minutes.

“Yeah, I got this,” she said.

Kelly displayed dazzling confidence and sunny demeanor throughout the episode — especially when she introduced herself as “the super sassy chef from Kansas City.”

That comment elicitied an eye roll from fellow cheftestant Amar Santana of Orange County, Calif.

“Who introduces themselves like that in the kitchen?” He said.

Kelly, like a true Midwestern, kept things friendly.

“I like my life,” she said, “and if that annoys you, go like your life!”

Santana’s tone changed after Kelly rocked the chicken challenge: “She must be a badass,” he said.

Santana and Kelly teamed up with chef Frances Tariga-Weshnak of New York City for the second challenge. The trio worked tag team-style (and occasionally in blindfolds) to make sweet and sour chicken with marinated slaw. The Asian-inspired dish impressed host Padma Lakshmi — “I like the mint,” Lakshmi said, “really nice flavors in here” — and ultimately won the challenge.

Thanks to that win, Kelly and her teammates were granted immunity from elimination after the third challenge, in which each chef had to prepare a single dish for 200 VIP guests (including many food critics) under the iconic Hollywood Sign in Los Angeles.

Kelly’s citrus-marinated pork loin atop soft polenta was declared “underseasoned” by judge Tom Colicchio. Despite her attempts to sprinkle on more flavor, the dish landed in the bottom four on the food critics’ list, and the challenge was ultimately won by Miami chef Jeremy Ford.

Garret Fleming of Washington, D.C., whose burnt garlic left a bad taste in two of the judges’ mouths, was the first chef to pack his knives and go.

The second episode in Bravo’s two-part season premiere of “Top Chef” airs at 9 p.m. Thursday. In it, the 16 remaining chefs will have one day to work with French restaurateur Ludo Lefebvre to open several pop-up restaurants in Los Angeles.

And from this preview, it looks like Kelly’s pop-up won’t involve chicken or pork loin.

Look for our recap Friday morning.

Hungry for more? Read our interview with Renee Kelly or her latest Chow Town blog post, which features a recipe for horseradish beef with honey-roasted parsnips.

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