Lee Anne Wong

Lee Anne Wong lists out what ingredients were in each Macy's Culinary Council member's bag.

on Oct 16, 2009

Don’t ask me about Cookstr. Again, it’s one of those challenges where I’m like, “This makes no sense, but I’ll go with it”. Sponsors. It goes hand in hand with what Tom and I would like to tell the contestants every season; even if the challenge makes absolutely no sense, cook something good and then just make up a story to make it somewhat relevant. All I know is that everyone needs to learn a little more about umami, as I think there were three mushroom dishes, and umami, the fifth flavor, covers a broad range foods.

Where do all these groceries come from? How does it all get put together? Do they go shopping for their ingredients? Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the magic of TV. The idea was to give each pair of contestants a mystery bag of groceries representative of each one of our Macy’s Culinary Council superstars. I asked Tyler, Nancy, Govind, Tom, and Takashi each to give me a list of ingredients that would generally define their style of cooking and what they liked to use. I asked each of them for four meats, two to three seafoods, two cured products, top five dairy products, top ten produce items, and then a selection of dry groceries that are their go-to pantry items. From there I took their answers and narrowed their lists, making sure everyone had a broad selection of ingredients, being careful not to duplicate too many ingredients with each chef. I’ll provide the original list of what I provided each of the groups to cook with, in addition to the fact that I stocked the cast house with a ton of additional pantry ingredients (I did this while Quickfire was being filmed on set). To note, it honestly takes the fun out of grocery shopping. Seriously. Angie and I can speak to the fact that we do “supermarket sweep” every other day at Whole Foods, with receipts longer than I am tall, though I am not very tall. I think shopping for this particular challenge took up close to six overloaded grocery carts and we jampacked the back of Van Halen (we name the Culinary mini van every season; this season we had a pic of David Lee Roth on the dashboard. On Masters we called it “The Montalvan” and had a pic of Ricardo Montalban on the dash.)

To set up the house, I decided on what appliances would be useful from Macy’s and we settled on the wok, the panini press (which I discovered this weekend works great for grilling eggplant), tabletop deep fryers, a griddle, and toaster/convection ovens. As usual, we dragged in appliances, pots, pans, and hand tools into the cast house. The challenge for our contestants would be finding space and then sharing that space. I brought in a commercial rental fridge, which we kept in the garage to hold all of their ingredients. All in all, this is the challenge when the chefs really blew me away. Considering they were cooking with tabletop appliances, the worst dish would’ve put to shame many winning dishes on previous seasons. They were all beautifully presented, the artistic nature of each dish far beyond what I had seen from so many seasons past. This group, as different and dynamic as they are, are all professionals and they get it done; not with a tremendous amount of whining, but rather focus. I’m not usually around for the character drama and name-calling but what I do see of them when they are cooking truly makes me proud to be involved with the show, as they are really talented. It makes my job worth it when they don’t all go for the scallops and this is the first season to prove it to me.

I enjoyed all of their dishes, at least visually. Bryan and Laurine’s fish dish was particularly tasty and presented simply. Eli and Ashley’s prawns and beets were a little muddy texturally and the flavors didn’t complement each other all that well, but it was certainly nice to look at. Mike Isabella and Robyn’s tuna dish was good, though I think this is like the third incarnation of rare seared tuna I’ve seen from Mike. Jen and Kevin made a knockout dish of rare seared kobe skirt steak with a ponzu vinaigrette that left me wishing I didn’t have to share the food porn plate. As for Mike V. and Ash, also beautifully presented, just not as well thought out as it could’ve been. Ash really took a back seat to Mike, and as we know, that’s always a dangerous if you don’t want to go home. Ashley’s prawns and lackluster attitude unfortunately got her the boot. Ashley is a great gal, very talented and very focused, but I’m pretty positive the competition format wasn’t right for her. Glad she’s is in NYC now.

Govind Armstrong:
•    Meat: Duck
•    Seafood: Santa Barbara Prawns, wild striped bass
•    Cured: Pancetta
•    Dairy: aged goat cheese, crème fraiche, plain Greek style yogurt
•    Produce: Tuscan Kale, snap peas, green asparagus, wild arugula, broccolini, baby beets, butter lettuce
•    Dry Goods: truffle salt, smoked salt, dried porcini, aged sherry vinegar, 12 year old balsamic vinegar, Morrocan cured olives

Tom Douglas:
•    Meat: Kobe Skirt Steak, Tofu
•    Seafood: Whole Wild Salmon
•    Cured: Chinese Sausage
•    Dairy: Goat Milk, Greek Yogurt
•    Produce: Fennel, Artichokes, Sweet Corn, Bok Choy, Tangerines, Apples, Cherries, Arugula
•    Dry Goods: Miso Paste, Hoisin Sauce, Sambal Olek

Tyler Florence:
•    Meat: Petaluma Chickens, Lamb Chops
•    Seafood: Halibut
•    Cured: Dry Aged Chorizo
•    Dairy: Cowgirl Creamery Mt Tam, Whole Milk Ricotta, Buttermilk
•    Produce: California red Grapes, strawberries, fennel bulb, fresh corn, avocadoes, artichokes, Ruby Red grapefruit, zucchini
•    Dry Goods: polenta, sourdough bread, San Marzano tomatoes, Arborio rice, California black olives

Takashi Yagahashi:
•    Meat: Pork Belly, Tofu
•    Seafood: Yellowfin Tuna, Diver Scallops
•    Cured: Smoked Salmon
•    Dairy: Maytag Blue Cheese
•    Produce: Ginger, daikon, shiso, cauliflower, swiss chard, enoki and shemeji mushrooms, sunchokes
•    Dry Goods: wasabi, soy sauce, mirin, sesame oil, yuzu, kombu, bonito flakes, rice flour

Nancy Silverton:
•    Meat: Dry Aged Ribeye, Italian Sausage
•    Seafood: Halibut
•    Cured: Framani Salami, prosciutto
•    Dairy: Gorgonzola, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Greek yogurt
•    Produce: green onions, fennel, Persian cucumbers, baby arugula, upland cress, asparagus, sugar snap peas, radicchio
•    Dry Goods: fregola sarda, mayonnaise, aged balsamic, champagne vinegar, Nicoise olives, sourdough bread, cannelloni beans