Hi Top Chef Lovers! Sorry I’ve been gone for so long, but traveling takes a lot out of a girl! I spent the first half of the year on the road for Top Chef; New Orleans in January for finale, then straight to Los Angeles for two months for Masters, and then over the Vegas for another two months to film what I consider to be the best ever, and sadly my last season of TC. Definitely bittersweet for me, but the decision to go back to being a chef feels good in my bones. I’ll be producing the finale for Season 6 this fall, and then onto some other adventures (check out www.zenosupperclub.com for my latest project!)
Two months in Vegas was tough. It was also a return to the scene of the crime. The first time I ever spent in Vegas was during the Season 1 finale. Several booze-fueled days with no sleep, a lot of cooking, and a hazy Judges' Table for a victorious win by my friend Harold. What you don’t know is that we pulled ANOTHER all-nighter that evening and then collectively as a group, Harold, Miguel, and myself all missed our flight back to NY the next afternoon (not on purpose) and the production company had to pick our asses back up from McCarran and bring us back to the MGM until they could put us on a later flight that night. We met back up with Stephen and Dave and the good times recommenced until we were all dragged out of an obscenely good dinner at Craftsteak to catch our flight. That’s Vegas. These days, I’m older, and creakier; and while I did have some late nights in Vegas, thankfully most of them were not spent in a casino. I’ve been to Vegas many times since then, and craps is no longer my friend, though I still enjoy the game.
With much relief, we (the crew) did not stay on the strip, but by the airport at the humble Hilton Homewood Suites. An extended stay hotel, each suite had two small glass burners and a microwave, with which I would cook many meals for my crew and my immediate neighbors, the lighting boys. The outdoor pool and Jacuzzi became the centerpieces for decompression for the very hardworking Elves. The cast house was located in far East Vegas on the side of a mountain. It was roughly 90-100 degrees out every day, and my drug store humidifier totally sucked. Yes, Vegas would be hard.
But it would be spectacular!!!! Look at the judges we have this season! We’re making food television history!!! Wait’ll you see the last episode before finale! Jeebus, yes, I can leave in peace, knowing the show has finally reached a pinnacle level this season. It’s what I’ve always wanted for it, and I am very proud of TC. And we’re just GIVING away money left and right. $15,000 here, another $15,000 there. My fellow Season 1 pals used to joke about this ALL the time.
I’ve spent the past four years since I signed on trying to build the ultimate kitchen for the chefs. I had to dance around trade-outs, sponsors, and other legal mumbo jumbo to slowly start piecing together the appliances and equipment that would ensure these chefs could cook anything! It took the newest baby, Masters, to convince the higher-ups that I needed to build a tech corner. With that I turned to some great partners in the culinary field: Multivac for our cryovac machine; Irinox for the blast freezer; Polyscience for the recirculators, antigriddle, and smoking guns; Advanced Gourmet for the Paco Jets; iSi for the syphons; Terra Spice, National Starch, Ajinomoto, and TIC Gums for the food powders and tech ingredients; and of course, that giant tank of liquid nitrogen. I put together this amazing tech corner for Masters, which was amusing because chefs like Jonathan Waxman would glance over at it, snort, and walk in the other direction while chefs such as Michael Cimarusti, Wylie Dufresne, and Nils Noren were quite stunned at the fact that they had absolutely everything they would need should they choose to engage in that style of cooking. (Blais and Marcel would have enjoyed cooking in this kitchen very much). So while most of this did not get utilized for Masters, I was able to keep all of the equipment, knowing full well it would get some use for Season 6, which we filmed almost immediately after. I had Team Culinary with me to help make TV magic; Angie "The Fox" Ketterman, Louise "Weezy" Leonard, and our culinary PAs, Cirstan and Barrett.
The talent this season is scary. I can’t tell you just how excited I was to try some of the food this time around! As you can see by now, we have some pretty bad-ass contenders, far and away the best I’ve ever seen on the show. The food porn didn’t last long, that’s for sure. In addition to some great food, we’ve got some great personalities. Our chefs are from all over America, each with different style in and out of the kitchen. Frenchie, and chatterbox Mike Isabella. Ashley Merriman and Jennifer Carroll! Ash Fulk and Ron Duprat. The Voltaggio Brothers are reality TV gold. So are Eli and Kevin! What a cast of characters! And they can actually cook! There is so much to talk about this season and so I am staying in this Friday evening, to write about each episode, and give you the behind-the-scenes.
Thank you Lee Anne - We have missed you and your insightful blog SO much. Thanks for coming back and keep up the great work!
Great to have you blogging again, Lee Anne! Your behind-the-scenes insights to the show are always golden, and it's super how you've managed to help step the show up a few notches. Best on television for sure!
Understand that it's time to get back to your roots as a chef. Looking forward to your upcoming projects!
Your last season? Damn.
I have always enjoyed your commentary on the episodes and the insight you bring.
YAY!!! Glad to see you are back Lee Anne. I enjoy the blogs from everyone, but it's great to get that 'behind the scenes' view that you give us.
If you have a moment of down time, how about a few comments on your Top Chef Master experiences? Was it as awesome as it looked? Did the masters all play as well together as it appeared on tv? What were the best and worst dishes? How great was the Master's Oaxan black mole? Couldn't you get Kelly to eat anything? Why so much Spike-ok, why any Spike?
Lee Anne: Welcome back! I love reading all of the TC blogs, but your blogs, with the behind-the-scenes POV and the dishing on the cheftestants are THE BEST! Cannot wait to read your catchup blogs.
You should be very proud... this is indeed the best season of TC ever!
Go Volt bros!
Le Ann it's wonderful seeing your blog again. I've noticed a lot of changes in Top Chef since S1. The cooking challenges have gotten more and more sophisticated. Your work improving the kitchen equipment has made a big difference. Thanks for all your work! You'll be missed by the fans.
LEE ANNE!!!!!!!!! We have missed you! Your perspective is so insightful and LOVE LOVE LOVE your commentary. (and pictures, when available...I especially remember the one where you were under the table handing ingredients out for cheftestants to taste during a quick fire). I even wrote Andy Cohen a msg asking where you were.
I will be sad to see you go, but you are talented chef and can't wait to taste your cuisine in the future. Good Luck.
Lee Anne - looking forward to your upcoming blogs. I have missed reading your behind the scenes view on the episodes and I agree - the talen this season is amazing!
Thanks for your contribution to the show! I'm sure it has been much appreciated by everyone. So sad to read that this is your last season with the show... :-( Your insights are THE BOMB! Thanks again for all you do! You will be missed!!! Look forward to reading your blog this season for the last time... Boo hoo!
Lee Ann, you've been sorely missed. I adore your blogs and as fabulous as this season has been, I've felt the lack of them. I'm really sad that you'll be leaving the show.
So so happy to see you blogging again. So so sad to hear this will be your last season. Will miss the behind the season insight and commentary and hope you will still blog like some of the other past TC contestants do. Love when Wong writes!
Hey Lee Anne,
It's good to have you back and sad to hear you will be soon gone. I noticed all the updated equipment and thought of the difference between S-6 and S-1. Today's chefs have so many more advantages than the debut season's crop of cooks. Thanks to you and you determination to improve on the show.
YAY YAY YAY!!!! Lee Anne is back! I'm saddened by the fact that this is your last TC season, but it in no mere consolation that it truly is the best season, and with the most phenomenal group of talent, since season 1.
Can't wait for your blog entries on the past episodes!
Lee Anne I am so glad you are back blogging! I missed you. Please write a blog about Top Chef Masters.
Yaaay! I heart Lee-Anne's AWESOME commentary! I'm so glad you're back on the boards! Top Chef isn't the same without your insight - you rule! - T
hoooooray!! lee anne's back! you are by far the best blogger on the site. (i loves me some tom but your entries have always offered behind-the-scenes cooking info that we can't get elsewhere and that really enriches the viewing experience.) those of us who watch more for the skillz than for the interpersonal drama really appreciate your sharing how the sausage is made, if you will. (and i know you will.) your intel on HOW the kitchen and challenges work is delicious. best of luck in zeno and all your future ventures.
So glad you're back! Sorry to hear that this is your last season, but I understand. I think it may be my last season, too. The formula has grown cold for me,(I hate to say it, but is anyone else over Padma?) but I will never tire of reading what you write.
I'm so glad your back to blogging. I missed your insights & your blogs. you will be sorely missed. I hope you will guest blog on next season. good luck on your new venture. I will miss your insights hopefully you'll keep your fans updated.
Glad you are back. I also have missed your blogs. Can't wait to read about masters and s-6. Love your behind the scenes stories.
I have been missing your blog. I was so happy to see it tonight when I popped on to read Tom's blog. I will truly miss reading your blogs but I'm so happy for you. I with you the best in all you do and look forward to reading more from you before this season ends.
Chef - Ad my sentiments to the welcome relief that you're back, if only for this season. You will be missed. Um...there's vacant restaurant space near my home. Northern Virginia is a great place to be. I'm just sayin'.
SO glad you are back. It's great to have this commone voice from all the seasons. You have seen it all, so you can really compare and contrast in a way we viewers can only dream about.
Sad to hear you are moving on, but very excited to learn more about your future.
Can't wait to read more from you.
SO glad you're back Lee Anne! Missed your blog, and your recipe conversions. (Fabio can NEVER replace you!!!) Have to tell you--my daughter saw you at a cooking class in Tampa, and she said you were amazing and nice and so skilled--and so beautiful! We need you in front of the camera again! Good luck in all you do.
A little sad knowing this would be your final season and I am sure you'll be immensely missed judging from your contributions and insights. I am sure it has been a great ride and I am sure you'll be on to bigger and better things. The future is really bright for you and I am looking forward of tasting your creations.
Great blog...this has been the best season ever!!! the chefs are so exciting to watch. the brothers are amazing as well as kevin...i feel jennifer has fallen behind them.
so this means we will be losing you to the West Coast?
Boo-hiss! Why can't you do this here?
Ah well, another "excuse" to visit LA.
Lee Anne, so glad to see you are back. Good luck in your next venture, you will be missed. How about trying to convince Bravo to rerun Top Chef Season 1? They rerun all the other seasons repeatedly, but haven't seen that one in a long time. It is way overdue!
Sad to hear you're leaving, but I'd also like to commend you for what a fine job you have done. I'll miss your down to earth behind the scenes reports.
Lee Anne, it's sad to know you'll be leaving the show. I've just recently started checking out your blog, and I really enjoy you sharing your unique angle of view on the show.
When we look back the earlier seasons, we can clearly tell the TC kitchen has come a long way and is really better equipped for the chef to go all crazy with their molecular experience.
TC Masters was also a great spin on the TC brand.
I used to be an Iron Chef fan, but Top Chef is really where it's at now (though some elimination I didn't really agree with ;)). To me, it's clear that with Top Chef alone, Bravo Network has beaten its concurrent Food Network at its own game. Props to that, to you and the whole TC team!
ps: Who will be replacing you?