Lee Anne Wong

Lee Anne Wong explains how difficult it was to prepare for the first finale challenges, and shares her thoughts on each dish.

on Dec 9, 2009

I filmed finale a little over a month ago. To me, it was slightly sentimental, as I hadn’t been back to Napa since I had been eliminated four years ago, and this was to be my last two episodes as the culinary producer for the show. On Team Culinary, I had Weezy and Peder, Angie would be taking over for me so she was down in L.A. prepping for Top Chef Masters 2 while we were filming finale. Louise and I were both super-psyched to have Peder on board. He was with us in N.Y., and soon after got a job with Grant Achatz at Alinea. He was our guy who would eat all the worst Quickfire food from the N.Y. season for $3.

Napa’s a nice place. I used to visit wine country all the time (that last episode for me was technically the only time I’ve ever been kicked out of Napa). We set up home base at the Meritage and spent the next few days scouting locations, organizing the equipment we had shipped from Vegas, sourcing ingredients, and getting the order together for the final two episodes. Our first challenge was to build grape mountain on the Napa Valley Wine Train. This was not as easy as you would think. Apparently it had been torrentially pouring for two weeks in Napa and most of the local grapes had already been harvested and what was left was starting to rot and mold. There were no grapes to be found in Wine Country by pure chance of Mother Nature. Let me say, it was truly the perfect time of year to be in Napa with the leaves beginning to change color, but the overpowering stench of rotting grapes reminded me of what a nasty bar smells like in the morning after a busy night.

Anyways, I went to extreme measures to get a wide variety of grapes, including getting Crimson, Autumn Royales, Golden seedless, and Ruby Globe grapes. I had Chef Kelly from the Wine Train order both red and green Thomson grapes, as well as concords and a large variety of grape products including grape juice, jams, jellies, vinegars, wines, vines, leaves, vincotto, cheeses, and raisins. I sent Louise and our PA, Darren, to grab Kyohos, green globes, black grapes, and other grape-based products. Chef Sheamus Feeley of Long Meadow Ranch managed to sneak into some backyards and snip me some Merlot, Cabernet, Syrah, Petit Verdot, Pinot Noir, and Nebbiolo grapes. It ended up working out, but it all happened within 24 hours. I shopped at Whole Foods in Napa to stock all of the extra proteins, dairy, produce, and products for the train.

We stashed all of the groceries and equipment at the train’s base Commissary kitchen the night before, which is about a mile down the tracks from the station where we picked the contestants. We had to get all the stuff on the train the next morning at 6 a.m. We started by getting our pots, pans, appliances, and tools on first and setting up the kitchen and pantry. Next we styled out the dining car train, grape mountain, and the food display, lastly bringing on the seafood and meat and setting it up on ice. By noon, we were all ready to go and the contestants boarded the train to start cooking. I remember peering out the window of the train as the Prius rolled up outside. Cars for Quickfires. Ridiculous.