Sorry for my absence — been on the road again, starting with filming the finale for season 6. I’ll breeze over the past few episodes, and finally, here we are at the Wynn, at Alex Restaurant, with The Bocuse d’Or panel, Gavin Kaysen, and one of the most well-respected chefs in the world, Thomas Keller. The funny story behind this is Shauna Minoprio, who executive produced the first five seasons of TC, tried for SO long to get TK on the show. Shauna didn’t work on Season 6, but the girls got her a cookbook signed by TK that said something to the effect of, "I’m here. Where are you?"
But yes, we captured yet another god among gods, in addition to the world-class culinary Olympic organization. Tom and I looked at each other and said, "It’ll never get any better than this, right here, right now." The debate he and I battle with the production sometimes is whether it's a cooking show or a reality show first. There was almost always debate about this during casting. Over the short time since Top Chef first aired, through the support of the fans, industry, and general worldwide glamorization of the food industry, the show itself has turned into something that I could never have imagined four years ago while I was locked up in the house on Baker Street with 11 other crazies. Back in the day when we had no sponsors, and it was like, Katie Lee who? Sex Shop Challenge what? And each of us just about had one set of Calphalon each to work with, and that was it. Since I began to work with the show, each new judge who signed on was another milestone, in the way we were perceived by our peers in the industry. It lent credibility to our work and the brand overall. Eric Ripert, Daniel Boulud, Rick Bayless, Jean Georges, Andre Soltner, I could go on and on. I hated the thought of living in Las Vegas for two months, and trust me the highlights in that respect were few, but I had forgotten what an epicenter for culinary greatness Las Vegas actually was. Season 6 would be brilliant. Season 6 would have the unicorn and TK and the Bocuse d’Or. We had arrived.
Let’s start with the Quickfire. Who here has made a turducken??? I have. Ballotines, (pronounced bah-yo-teen, for those of you who are up in arms about the pronunciation last week) are by no means simple, and require a great deal of precision, technique, and care. We had to give them enough time to cook with a recirculator if they wished to do so. I thought Bryan Voltaggio did an especially good job with his, the forcemeat being perfectly cooked. Jen, a seafood chef, made a calamari roulade that was delicate and balanced. Before I go any further, let me say what a rockstar Gavin Kaysen is. I’ve known Gavin for a few years in the NY culinary scene and he is always such a nice guy, beyond being a crazy young talent.
Here we are at the TC version of the culinary Olympics. We debated about how much time we should give them. I concluded that five hours was fair, in that they were only making one platter. In the real competition, while the chefs do practice for an entire year (sometimes more), they have to do two presentations, also in five hours, but they are a team of two. And besides (my ever present mantra) this was Top Chef. The girls and I set up the Alex. The contestants were read the rules after the Quickfire, and we revealed what their proteins would be: lamb, salmon, and caviar. I would provide the proteins and a limited pantry. They would need to think about their menus and then go shopping at Whole Foods for the rest of their menu. Team Culinary and I walked into our last casino (thank Jeebus) for this last challenge. By this time, I already knew my way around the maze of basements and back hallways in the Wynn, the Venetian, Mandalay Bay and the MGM. You want to meet a gentleman? Chef Alex Stratta. What a great guy. We worked with him and his staff to set up the kitchen with all small wares and molds for the chefs to use during the challenge. I brought the requisite two tons of equipment and pantry to set up the kitchen with. I also supplied the contestants with an equal supply of the following: lamb saddle, lamb loin, and lamb shank, a whole wild king salmon, and American sturgeon caviar. I set up the presentation table in the dining room with a cutting board that weighed around 100 lbs., serving napkins, towels, and a variety of carving and serving tools for each of the chefs.
the show has certainly come a long way . can you see the expression on Mikey's face if he was told he had to do some of this season's challenges,
not sure if i am enjoying the show as much, since it seemed to be more fun before the show became a hit and there was is now a lot more money, obviously, for your weekly budget.
my one comment for this season is the smart a-- attitude of Michael. i know he's talented but so is Kevin and Bryan, and when one of them wins instead of him the shocked expression on his face, and the demeaning comments afterwards, makes me want to throw a pie at him.
i am rooting for Bryan and Kevin simply because they are booth great chefs and class acts.
Anne PS...glad you're back
Lee Anne, your blogs add so much to we viewers' understanding of the show. Thank you! As some one who has watched the show since season 1, I can see how much more elaborate the challenges have become as well as how the gadgets and equipment in the kitchen. We know that much of this is due to you. Thank you and the best of luck on your future endeavors.
Hello Lee Anne,
Thanks for the back story. Top Chef has certainly arrived. The guest judges, gifts and prizes awarded to QF and Elim winners are very impressive. The evolution of the show from S-1 to the present is remarkable. It was nice that the top 4 finalists actually deserved to be there, for a change. Nobody glided in by the back door or by default or dumb luck. It was all done with skill and fortitude. Thanks for filling in the gaps about why Eli was sent home. It wasn't truly clear as aired. I look forward to your comments on the finale.
I love your blogs, Lee Anne. You provide us all with a peek at the behind the scenes details. I very much look forward to reading your blogs about the finale.
“Consuming” passion sums up what your blogs have revealed about the hard work that goes on behind the camera as well as what goes on in front of it. I’m amazed that you even had the energy and time to blog, but I’m glad that you did. How else would I know about ‘food porn?‘ May your successor be as dedicated and best of luck to you beyond TC.
great blog...i thought you had left the show to go back to cooking. good luck in your future endeavors.
I've sorely missed your blogs. You're the only one who can provide a "behind the scenes" post and I completely enjoy them.
Don't be a stranger!!!
Thanks Lee Anne, as always your blogs are the best.
Wondering - Yukon Cornelius is Kevin. From the tv special Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer. Kevin bears a slight resemblance.
The panel always seems to confuse me for the sake of malodrama. Thanks for the heads up on what really the outcome is of the food.
LOL "who is Yukon Cornelius." He is Kevin and a character from the Rudolph Christmas special and known to chuck his pick and then lick it to taste for silver or gold. The resemblance is notable and made me LOL. Love your blogs Le Anne, I've missed them.
Thank you so much for the behind the scenes stuff. It's great! It's also very enlightening. I'm going to miss your blogs and I'm sure the producers will miss your work. Good luck. Maybe now you can be a participant in some of the shows.
I'm a little sad, I have to say, to hear that Kevin was complaining about anything - he has always been portrayed as so very gracious! It's a real shame that it turns out he was "griping."
NO!!! You can't leave! I was just getting caught up on my Lee Anne blogs when I read that you're leaving. With your presence, I always felt assured that the materials and time given to the cheftestants were fair. You've created a marvelous kitchen and wonderful challenges. Thank you for introducing me to the Bocuse d'Or. And, wow, the guest judges this year...speechless. Thank you for several great seasons and a wonderful Season 1 of your cooking and grace.
It's sad to hear that Kevin was complaining about the challenge, he needs to have more faith in his ability. Kevin is my favorite, hands down!
Hi Lee Anne, First let me say I enjoy your blogs and will be sorry to see you go.Can you tell us what the future brings for you?Good luck to you always.I have enjoyed this season of Top Chef more than all the others and I am looking so forward to the finale.I love Kevins food but have gotten to appreciate Bryan too.I don't envy the judges!