Newsflash: Minnesotans like boats.
Our hometown hero on “Top Chef” plays the Minnesota card well on Thursday night’s episode, in which the remaining cheftestants are sent to Lake Cumberland in Kentucky to cook for a houseboat party.
Host Padma Lakshmi claims that Lake Cumberland is “the houseboat capital of the world,” and Kentuckian contestant Sara Bradley describes the scene: boats line up next to one another and people hop around for parties. That’s the kind of soiree Justin Sutherland of St. Paul’s Handsome Hog — and many a Lake Minnetonka teenager — knows all about.
This is the first episode in which we get any backstory on Sutherland’s life. He announces he’s from the Land of 10,000 Lakes and has a boat back home. In high school, he threw all the ragers when his parents were out of town. This flashback scene is accompanied by some adorbs photos of Sutherland hanging out by the pool with his buddies, and wearing a too-big captain’s hat.
Sutherland is all but freaking out at the announcement that he’ll be throwing a party and get to do it on a boat.
“One thing I can do is throw a party,” he boasts.
Later, he tells contestant Eric Adjepong how “stoked” he is about the floating challenge. “If I wasn’t at work, I’m on a boat,” he says.
At the planning meeting with his teammates Kelsey Barnard Clark, Adjepong and Bradley, Sutherland offers some Cruiser’s Cove-level party ideas: puppy chow and Jell-O shots.
“I don’t think any boat party is complete without some sort of gelatin shot,” he says. He comes up with a recipe for bourbon and peach “jiggle juice.”
“It’s extremely simple,” he explains. “We want our people to hang out and get drunk.”
There’s no Quickfire Challenge on this episode, so they go right to cooking for the Elimination Challenge, in which two teams have their own boat kitchen and less than 24 hours to prepare a dish each for 100 guests.
Sutherland gets another chance to freak out when guest judge Emeril Lagasse walks onto his boat.
“Emeril’s in the house,” Sutherland says after Lagasse steps away. “Gotta give him some BAM!”
Things aren’t going so great for the other team. One chef is pulling an all-nighter, another one is sick in bed, and all of them are reeling from the power going out in the kitchen.
But after a smooth day of prep, Sutherland’s team is laughing and getting tipsy on jiggle juice.
After a stumble during Restaurant Wars, is our chef once again getting too confident before a big challenge?
Not this time. Sutherland’s team throws the better party by far, and his watermelon salad with tequila marinated shrimp and basil croutons delights the judges.
Later, the judges ask him to explain his dish.
“We have short but amazing summers in Minnesota and they’re all about barbecues and being outside, and it always comes with watermelon,” he says.
Food & Wine editor Nilou Motamed says his dish was “something that I would want to eat at any cookout.”
Great feedback, but still not enough to land St. Paul’s chef in the top spot. That goes to Barnard Clark. Meanwhile, Sutherland’s pal, Brian Young, gets kicked off for a poorly executed Porchetta and boated away.
Before the episode wraps up, Lakshmi informs the remaining chefs that they’re heading off to Nashville for the next episode’s challenge. If you thought Sutherland was freaking out about boats, you should see his reaction to that.