Lee Anne Wong

Lee Anne Wong is back to give her behind-the-scenes take on the Bocuse d'Or challenge.

on Dec 3, 2009

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.