Lee Anne Wong

Lee Anne Wong goes deep behind-the-scenes of the finale, and says goodbye to her role as a culinary producer.

on Dec 10, 20090

Ladies and gentlemen, place your bets. Far and away the most exciting finale in Top Chef history, it was truly anyone’s game. I haven’t seen the episode yet, so I am writing from memory, the Wong point of view. The producers, Tom, and I set the rules for the final challenge. Because of time constraints, Bravo had only wanted the chefs to do a three-course meal, with one of the courses being a set mystery box and one of the other courses HAD to be dessert. We managed to convince them to make it four courses by adding the childhood memory twist, hence the Moms. Which by the way, reality TV gold; one mom, two brothers, one prize ... and the love between Yukon and his mom was enough to make me cry.

After Brix, the next morning Team Culinary and I headed to Long Meadow Ranch at 5 a.m. to pick up all of the food leftover from the previous challenge with our cube truck, the Culinary Van (which we appropriately named "Vanischewitz") and a refrigerated truck. Not fun. What WAS amusing to me was the fact that we would be filming the final challenge up in Healdsburg at Cyrus Restaurant. Chef Douglas Keane had been part of the Napa round table that sent me home. When I had scouted Cyrus back in September, it took us both a few minutes to realize this, but gave me a good excuse to give him a little light-hearted ribbing (Cindy Pawlcyn got her fair share during Masters). We caravanned it an hour up to Healdsburg, and began the painstaking process of building out another kitchen and pantry for the chefs. Chef Doug and his crew had cleared their kitchen of pretty much everything and we loaded in all of our equipment, all of the food from Long Meadow, rental plates, and just about everything else they could possibly need for the final cook-off. All of the produce was in cardboard boxes that were falling apart, so we had to style all of the food out in appropriate sized Cambros and lexans. It really did take us almost nine hours to build out the kitchen. I had worked with their sous-chef, Amos Watts, to order a wide variety of proteins and some extra ingredients, which were not on hand. But everything else I had sourced at Whole Foods or from Long Meadow.

There was a bit of debate over the mystery box and whether or not the chefs would be required to use all or just some of the ingredients in the box. We agreed that if we put challenging but sensible ingredients in the box they would have to all utilize all of it, but they would have access to everything else in the pantry. Amos had let me know that matsutake mushroom season was in full swing, and me, just having been in Japan at the end of the summer when the matsutake season was just starting there (I ate many, many mushrooms), jumped at the chance to feature these in the mystery box. I consulted with Tom on my ideas for the box. He suggested we put two seafood proteins in the box that the contestants would be required to use. Dungeness Crab season was in full swing in Washington and Oregon, so by the time this aired I knew it would be Dungeness season in Northern Cali. We tried to get sand dabs but they were not available so we settled on local rockfish. I added Meyer lemons, kabocha squash, and a fragrant and slightly sweet herb, anise hyssop to the mix, with Tom’s approval that the chefs could make some very interesting dishes out of those six ingredients. Anyone who thinks that those ingredients don’t go well together should try watching Chopped and just be happy I didn’t put string cheese into the box.

To add to the chaos, this time we brought back ALL of the contestants, as we filmed the reunion the day after the finale. Everyone was staying at the Meritage, which is kinda in the middle of nowhere, so I get back from set one night and all of the ex-contestants are sitting in the lobby bar getting fairly shitfaced and being less than inconspicuous. We don’t actually tell them what’s going on either, and every season we change up the twist. They kept asking me what was going to happen ("We all had to bring our knives...") as I chugged my Maker’s on the rocks, and I told them it was so they could stab each during the reunion show. Over the years, I have enjoyed getting to know the contestants, though I am not allowed to be friendly with them during the show. Richard Blais had been under the misconception that I "hated" him, which is hilarious because it is so far from the truth; I was just not allowed to answer the billion questions Richard would always throw at me during rules (I don’t hate you Blais; I hated the fact that you always tried to trick me into revealing details about the challenge). I thought it was great the way we handled the sous-chef situation this time around. The producers had asked me, "Is it fair if Chef No.1 pulls knives with two contestants who had been eliminated early in the game vs. Chef No. 2 who may pull Jen and Eli as sous chefs?" First, I am sad I never got to torch the knife block in the parking lot. Secondly, (here it is again) this is Top Chef. I explained that part of being a Top Chef is managing your staff and training your cooks. In real life, not all of the cooks on your staff are all-stars so you have to work with you got. Misogynist Mike was REALLY pissed at this year’s twist, as I think he automatically assumed that he would be assisting someone, since he was one of the longer-lasting contestants. The challenge for Kevin, Michael, and Bryan would be figuring out who to utilize for Day One and who to use on Day Two.

76 comments
SFU
SFU

I just wanted to say this dreadful finale of Season 7 showed just how much Lee Anne was missed. The behind the scenes mysteries are the backbone of a show like this -- this season didn't measure up in ANY way. Come back, Lee Anne, the nation turns its lonely eyes to you!!!

Kristin D.
Kristin D.

I will miss you, Lee Anne!

I know that someone else will love doing your job behind the scenes and add their own flair and personality to the drama of Top Chef, but your blogging insights can't be replaced. Not only do you have a vibrant and dry humor as you share the trials and perils of working behind the scenes but you also have many years of Top Chef history under your belt.

Thank-you for taking the time to make your blog so delightful and I wish you the best.

Kathy B.
Kathy B.

I'll miss you Lee Anne...especially your thoughtful blogs! Good luck and hopefully I'll be able to dine at one of your restaurants some day!

TruCarMa
TruCarMa

Good luck, Lee Anne. You're a class act, and I look forward to hearing about your restaurant, and hopefully, tasting your food one day in the near future. I'm sure you'll be missed at Top Chef, but know everyone who loves the show will be rooting for you.

Larissa
Larissa

Lee Anne, I think you're wonderful. I was rooting for you in your season, and when you stayed with Top Chef for Production, I knew this was a wonderful thing. You've improved the show every year, all the challenges and locations, adding things to the kitchen that they can use every year... And I love your blogs and getting to *hear* about all these behind-the-scenes things. We know that Top Chef is more than a show, and you're the one who always brings that home. Thank you for all your work on the show, and good luck in your future! Look forward to hearing about your own cooking now. :)

Karen DeLaria
Karen DeLaria

Lee Anne, you have done a marvelous job. Hope your restaurant is a big success. I, too, think you were robbed. Saw Tiffany as a sous chef in a Boston restaurant - she still never smiles...

Whoever was responsible for this year's contestants should be congratulated. They were, for the most part, a very mature, serious, chef group. The editing of the show was also far superior to last year. More food, less fight. And if the part 2 selection of sous-chefs wasn't popular - well, there's always next year and a new twist.

Thanks for the memories...

Jason L.
Jason L.

LeeAnn, your presence and contribution to this show will be greatly, enormously missed. We love you and will miss you . . . but I cannot WAIT to eat at your restaurant! Best of luck and I hope to see you soon!

Viewer12345
Viewer12345

WORST FINALE CHALLENGE EVER!

You all tried about 5 too many twists and it came off completely contrived.

From the horrid decision to pull knives for the sous chefs........ come on... at least let them pick the people fairly if you insist on bringing back every eliminated contestant......

To the need to maked 3 of 4 dishes for the meal gimmicks. It would have been fine to say .. just have the mom course... or just have the mystery box... or just have the desert manditory..... but all 3 was stupid. Every past season it's been just "make the meal of your life"... and perhaps one restriction (like the one year they had to use the whole pig..... and the one season where it had to be Hawaian inspired) Seriously it I was wondering if you just couldn't come up with a 4th twist so that every dish was contrived.

And do we have to mention the editting that made it appear as Byan should have won?

Frankly, I'm just going to remember the Finale Part 1 as the end and try to erase Part 2 from my memory completely.

Leigh Anne
Leigh Anne

Lee Anne, you are indeed a winner. While many of us will miss your insight into this wonderful show, I join others in celebrating the next step on your journey. Good luck, and I hope to sample your wares where you land!

JRob
JRob

Lee Anne You Rock!! Best of luck to you. Season One is still my favorite and you were one of the best there!

Amy s.
Amy s.

Lee Anne, you will be greatly missed!

I'm afraid I have to say I was disappointed with the finale. Not because of who won, but because of the set-up. You said yourself above about the meat course: "This was the one course where the chefs really had free reign to do what they wanted." But we have come to expect the finale to be "no holds barred, cook the best meal you've ever cooked." Unfortunately, because of all the restrictions, the chefs could really only shine in their signature way on one out of four courses. We start with "here's a box of ingredients you'd probably have no desire to use, then cook something good, then make a dessert even though it's likely to be your weak point." Then the extra course gets thrown on -- which I'm sure they saw coming if they're watched the show -- but even that wasn't "give us a great starter course" but "it has to tell a story of your childhood." And don't get me started on the sous chef thing -- at least, couldn't they have drawn knives to pick who they wanted? Nobody will ever cook "the best meal of their life" in time constraints when they have substandard sous chefs, as Kevin did.

SW Chicago
SW Chicago

Lee Anne....I look forward to you feeding me and all the others that fell in love with your creativity and passion for cooking!

Diane in the pantry
Diane in the pantry

Chef Lee Anne: You will be greatly missed. It will be difficult indeed to imagine Top Chef without you. I have watched TC from Season 1, your season, and you captured me not only with your talent as a Chef, but your grace, your humour and attitude. Ive gotten my son, who is high functioning autistic, to watch TC with me and I tried to explain why I was rooting for Kevin. I told my son that certainly a great chef had to have the expected high level skills in the kitchen, but there as more to a great chef than that. A great chef should inspire and respect and show courtesy those who make up the crew. Harold is that kind of chef, and I know you will be too Lee Anne. I'd cook for you anywhere. I hope there will be a way to follow your progress and read reviews of your restaurant on Television Without Pity, as I have enjoyed the reviews of Perilla and Volt. Many thanks for all you have brought to Top Chef and best wishes for continued success for you.

Jin sac
Jin sac

Oh, Lee Anne, whatever are we gonna do without you??? Don't know if I Missed it or if you didn't say, but make some noise when you land, please. California is a nice place to live (Hint Hint)

dtc
dtc

It was completely unfair that the chefs pulled knives rather than chose their sous-chefs. Sure, part of being a chef is handling your team, but I'm guessing most chefs don't have assistants foisted on them. They get to interview them, work with them and develop them, over time. And, if they don't like them, they get to fire them. The chefs should have been allowed to choose because there is no doubt that Kevin being stuck with an assistant he didn't respect or trust hurt him. Would it have made a difference if he'd had the sous-chefs of his choosing? Maybe not, but maybe and those sorts of variables should be eliminated from the final challenge.

Alison K
Alison K

Congratulations! Loved you on the show and have loved reading your blog each subsequent season. Good luck with your future projects and hope to see you on Top Chef again as a guest judge.

mmc
mmc

Good luck in the future Lee anne.Thanks for the memories!

MargaretE
MargaretE

Lee Anne, I have enjoyed watching and reading you since you were on Top Chef all those years ago. Since you went behind the scenes, I loved your interesting and fun perspective on the Top Chef challenges and chef-testants. You have a unique take on the program that can't be replaced. I will miss you most of all scarecrow! :-( Margaret R

Janice S
Janice S

I am going to miss your blogs! Thanks for sharing the behind the scene's stuff. It's good to know that Kevin and Bryan are exactly as they were portrayed on the show.

I look forward to visiting your restaurant when it opens. My next Top Chef stop is Woodfire Grill. Thank goodness it is in Atlanta and I can plan an easy trip. I'll follow it up with a trip to Volt.

chiromom
chiromom

Lee Anne, Thank you for your insight, explanations, effort, dedication, and love of food. I hope to see you at judges table one day, having so much experience on the other side of the show. You will be greatly missed. I wish you luck in all of your future endeavors and hope to eat in your future restaurant one day. You went out with a bang - this was the best season ever, and I have watched them all!

chrisonli
chrisonli

Thanks for the wonderful insights - I only discovered TC in the middle of the Chicago season, but I love, love, love it. Best wishes to you in your future endeavors, I'll be watching for you!

AbbyVP
AbbyVP

Lee Anne, Thank you for the very insightful blog. I do have to comment that I agree with some of the other viewers that it wasn't fair that Kevin had Priti as sous and the other two had Jen and Eli. I was rooting for Kevin to win the entire season and although he may not have even with a better sous chef, he should have had a fair chance with a sous on the same level as the other two. Otherwise the outcome was explained very well. All three of the men were amazing chefs and I'm very happy for Michael.

cochise
cochise

The twist, bringing back all the contestants, was truly terrible. You gave 2 chefs a decided advantage over 1 and would be kidding yourself if you denied it. I have no problem with making them work with lesser talent, but they should all have to deal with lesser talent. No one had anyone nearly as bad as Preeti other than Kevin.

Team Lee Anne
Team Lee Anne

Thank you so much for your time and talent! You are so awesome Lee Anne. I've been following Top Chef since the beginning and you're one of the reasons why I've stuck around. Good luck on your new cooking adventures. Thank you for your behind-the-scenes blog.

P.S. Couldn't help but laugh when you mentioned Mike V's dehydrated broccoli and CJ's burnt broccolini.

Matthew (CCWolffeNC)
Matthew (CCWolffeNC)

Hey there, LeeAnne, I know it wasn't easy going ahead and being behind the scenes during the past five seasons, when you really wanted to get back into the fight, as they say. (And Tom, if you're listening, it may be time to finally do an All-Stars, of which LeeAnne, Tiffany, Kevin, Richard Blaise, Marcel, and a few others just might want to join in, and get the gold some of them deserve...) You've done a great job helping "Big Daddy" Colicchio, Padma, and Kelly do their work with both the culinary would-be stars and superstars (and I STILL think of Season One as the best, thanks to you, Dave, Tiff, Harold, Steve, and company). Best to you in your work, wherever it may be. Take care!

Spruce
Spruce

Lee Anne we will miss you so much. It was great fun to watch the show and then read your blog to hear "The rest of the story". Good luck and best wishes!!!

SueL
SueL

Lee Anne - Thank you for everything you've contributed. Happiness always and in all ways!

hardcore fan
hardcore fan

LeeAnn, you truly rock! I was rewatching Season 1, and though the culinary caliber may not be up to par with the seasons that came next, I felt that the season 1 cheftestants truly all deserved a thumbs up for being the first!

Thank you for having made the show always exciting to watch as the seasons went along, I loved the quickfire relays or blind tasting, though I sometimes felt bad for the cheftestants and all the curveballs they got thrown with, hehe, you're so mean! :)

Well, I hope the show will keep its momentum, and that you've left your culinary producer position in good hands.

Good luck for the future. I'll be keeping tab of your next moves!

Vinnie Satuito
Vinnie Satuito

Lee Ann...first of all, I still think you got robbed in season 1...I was really rooting for you nd Harold...but now, you are on to bigger and better things....you are so right though about Bryan V...what a true gentleman and the epitome of professionalism...gracious even in defeat...andyu cn tell in his face that he was so proud of his little brother..what a classy guy... they have some big shoes to fill when you are gone...great job you do in TC and Masters...good luck....you have com full circle here..good luck and God bless you in ALL your endeavors...Merry Christmas to you and your family....Congratulations t Michael V...you kicked ass...what a great season...best ever..watch out season 7 the bar has been raised.

LosGatosGirl
LosGatosGirl

Wait, you didn't tell WHERE you'd open this new culinary experiment :-) Make sure you set up a twitter page or something and let us all know what you're up to.

Dreamboat
Dreamboat

Lee Anne, I always look forward to reading your blog, I will will sorely miss it! Good luck on your new adventures. And can I hope that you can find time to be a guest blogger on occasion?? :)

Big Shamu
Big Shamu

Lee Anne, damnit, the show just won't be the same without you. Thanks so much for the behind, beneath and in the weeds scenes your blog brought to us lowly viewers. You will always have my undying gratitude for a simple bag of frozen scallops in a walk in. As always - BACON RULES!

Ginger535
Ginger535

Good luck with your future endeavors! I hope you end up in Los Angeles! It's a foodie town for sure.

Thanks for all of your blogs. They were the best!

Leonard
Leonard

Why do I feel like I am signing your yearbook on the last day of school?

Some of us are still pissed you didn't win.

Now do what you said and feed us.

K?

CR
CR

THANKS Lee Anne for all you did the make this such a great show this season and for the past few years! I love reading your blog for the behind the scenes scoop. Good luck with your restaurant. I know it will be great!

V.T NYC
V.T NYC

I am sure if you follow your heart it will always turn out for the best. My own selfish dream is that your return to NYC so I can try your culinary delights in a space lovingly crafted to suit your style.

V.T. NYC

Amanda Jean
Amanda Jean

Lee Anne,

I can not imagine that there will ever be a replacement for you whose blog I will enjoy half as much. Your behind-the-scenes take has been really informative, and the weeks when you don't blog I somehow feel as if I didn't see the "whole show". Good luck to you in the future, and if you publicize where you will be cooking next, I, for one, will make an effort to sample your food.

That said, I think on this last challenge you made a bad call. Randomly assigning the sous-chefs made for a ridiculously uneven playing field. In any case, yes, being a real-life chef includes training and managing your employees, but it doesn't include trying to train and manage them in a window of only a few hours. Everyone I have talked to about this was very disappointed in that part of the program, and it sullied what has otherwise been a fantastic season of Top Chef for me.

Yvonnene
Yvonnene

Lee Anne, Top Chef will be all the poorer without you. I've really enjoyed reading your posts and getting all the behind the scenes info - it's an extra element to the show which I really enjoy. Best of luck with your future plans.

Donna A
Donna A

Best of luck, Lee Anne!

Marie M
Marie M

Lee Anne you're behind the scenes insight will be missed but I certainly understand that there is nothing like cooking in your own kitchen!

Best of luck & best dishes!

KSM
KSM

Sorry to see you go but excited for your future.

Good luck we will miss you.

topchefer
topchefer

Good luck Lee Anne. I have enjoyed reading your blog and will miss your behind the scenes 411.

mmc
mmc

You will certainly be missed Lee Anne, but I hope you go on to bigger and better things.I truly was rooting for Kevin based on the total season along with the finale and I think Bryan had some wonderful dishes too.I totally disagree with this decision. I have only one request, please don't have the chefs draw knives for sous chefs in the finale.It is so unfair.Let them each write down two names , put them in a bowl and somebody draw two names with eyes closed for each of them.Or something like that.In other words the finale has enough stress and drama, lets make it more balanced and fair!

piazia
piazia

You will never know how much we all love you and we will sure miss your touch which made Top Chef a lot of what it was.

Dina
Dina

So long, Lee Anne. You were such a class act and asset to the Top Chef brand, starting with your participation and all through your behind-the-scene slog as a producer. The show, and the audience, will miss you.

Best of luck with all your future endeavors and I'm glad you benefited as much from your association with TC as the show has.

conrad
conrad

whatever you finally decide to do i'm sure you will be very sucessful, you have a proven amazing work ethic and obviously a remarkable chef.....where ever you go you will shine.....best of luck

MH
MH

I'm sorry you're leaving the show but I think you're awesome and look forward to finally having the opportunity of going to a Lee Anne restaurant! After last night's episode, this blog was actually the most helpful and informative to me, especially the extra info about Kevin's chocolate/bacon dessert. Thanks so much for posting it, and I hope everything goes great for you in whatever you do next.

You'll be missed!
You'll be missed!

That was by far the most illuminating blog of this episode. Thank you very much. I still think the editors do a great disservice to the fan to skew the show so much that the outcome is literally out of left field for the viewer. I felt the result was disparate from what the viewer saw far more this season, and it really takes away from the fun of the show. Anyway...

I loved you as a competitor and, as a viewer, enjoyed what you've accomplished with Top Chef. I hope someday I get to enjoy your cuisine in person. Best of luck...

Linda W.
Linda W.

"Anyone who thinks that those ingredients don’t go well together should try watching Chopped and just be happy I didn’t put string cheese into the box. " ~~~~~ But here's the issue - Top Chef is and always will be light years better than Chopped! So to have ripped off a really bad part of Chopped, and put it in the finale is just not a Bravo-quality thing to do. While you might have liked the mystery box, I think most viewers prefer the "cook the best meal of your life" finale.

Having said that, this was still the absolute BEST season ever! Your Season (#1) and TC4 are tied for second place, IMO. Your blogs will be missed, Lee Anne - good luck in whatever new endeavor you undertake! You're going to rock it, no matter what, I'm sure!