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

Food porn: Kevin’s fromage blanc mouse was way too sweet and one-note. The honey overpowered the grapes and the entire dish lacked texture. Mike V.’s stuffed grape leaf was very good, having utilized the grape the most: the grape leaf, raisins in the couscous, the grape vine, grapes, and the Minus 8 reduction (I ordered the stuff cuz it’s the bomb.) Bryan’s hen was indeed overpowered by the bacon, but it was tasty. If you ask me, based on taste alone, I would’ve chosen Jen’s dish. I ate it about an hour after it had been sitting around in food porn. It was ice cold and still delicious. The clam and verjus broth was unctuous, and the rich chicken livers were complemented by the sliced grapes and mushrooms. It was a perfect dish in my opinion. When Chiarello was on Masters, he shipped down some grape leaves and grape vines when we had our signature dish swap challenge, so I think he really appreciated Mike’s integrated use of the grape product.

The Elimination Challenge had to be set up in two stages. During finale, I don’t have a base kitchen so we are usually working out of a cube truck and the production office. Our first challenge was to build an outdoor farm stand, which you saw on camera. I worked with Sheamus and Avia, Long Meadow’s manager, to order all the product for the market. Everything was sourced within 50 miles. It took us all morning to build and set up the market, styling everything out in baskets, boxes, and in coolers.  We started at 6 a.m., were ready to go by 2:00 p.m. and after finally pricing everything out and creating master price lists for the Long Meadow staff, we had built this beautiful outdoor farmers' market. The producers showed up with the contestants, camera crews and the rest of the production. We filmed arrivals and then the contestants shopped for 45 minutes. And then we tore it all down in about an hour. (Build. Destroy. Build. Destroy.) We had to pack all of the food back into their boxes and move the food back into the Long Meadow cooler because we’d be picking it up two days later to bring it to the final challenge. A good culinary producer always watches her budget. While we were doing this, Louise went with the producers and contestants to Brix to supervise the storage of their ingredients until the next day.

Early the next day we trucked all of our equipment into Brix and simultaneously set up the kitchen and the back lawn/service area with the assistance of Brix’s kitchen manager, Guillermo. For each chef’s station outside, we provided them with three electric burners, a cutting board, bus tubs and soap, serveware and cutlery, and two of the gorgeous Steelite chaffing dishes. The contestants had 4 1/2 hours in the Brix kitchen and then at the end of that time they had to be outside setting up their station for the last half hour.

Let’s talk food: Kevin’s dishes were good, but not perfect. I found his beets and carrots to be just a tad undercooked, but other than that, the dish was simple and striking. Now, the brisket situation perplexes me slightly. I know what he was trying to achieve, but he opted not to use the pressure cookers we provided, and even though the meat was not done, he tried to shred it. The muscular fibers of brisket are long and stringy, so I think he may have been able to achieve a more appealing level of “toothsome” had he sliced the meat thinly across the grain, as you would traditional brisket. The collagen would have still been springy, but at least it wouldn’t be like trying to chew through rope. His pumpkin polenta was tasty but his marinated root vegetables were unpleasantly raw.