Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

An Offal Mess

Lee Anne Wong on the the difficulties of cooking for 60. Oh, and why you must try pig's leg.

This round is all about "leftovers." Now I debate calling the Quickfire this, because while unusual and not often eaten by the average American, these parts of the animal are consumed in many countries as a delicacy and mostly because other cultures are less wasteful and use the entire animal.

I myself will try anything three times, and have done so with most of these parts. I have come to love many of them, with the exception of chicken's feet (weird crunchy cartilage...my fellow Chinese cooks at Jean George's 66 used to get a good haha eating them in front of me and watching me squirm). Two hours is not a lot of cooking time, so to choose something like the veal tails to braise is not the wisest choice, especially if you are not using a pressure cooker. Veal tails, a smaller version of oxtails, are absolutely sublime if cooked long enough. The meat is tender and flavorful, and should fall off the bone. Same with pig trotters. Love 'em, but they need quite a long time to cook.

If you ever get a chance to consume what is known as a zampone, I would not pass it up. It is a full pig's leg stuffed with ground meat. You roast and braise it whole, and you traditionally serve it with lentils. Mmmmm, delicious swinerrific treat. Okay, back to the show. (By the way, I am back from Hawaii this week, and I must say, this dreary weather in NY is just not doing it for me.)

Watching everyone's recovery from the cheating incident, I find Betty's "poor me" attitude to be a little thin, especially when she can't help but take a dig at Marcel in interview. Both her and Frank's dishes are a little bizarre to me, as they opted to use two different varieties of offal, fish and meat. The pastry chef manages to pull off a little Greek Bolognese (probably the best dish she's done in competition so far). Miss Elia decided to brave kidneys, which usually need a little bit of soaking time to rid themselves of that uric acid taste, especially if they are veal kidneys.


When she actually argues about Chef Bernstein's decision to call her out in the bottom three, I was incredulous. First of all, Michelle Bernstein knows what she's talking about. It's ridiculous that any contestant should second-guess a professional who's been cooking twice as long as you. Secondly, most kidney dishes need a little sauce to make them palatable. Traditional sauces involve maybe some caramelized onions, or some sort of vinegar, with the acid and sweetness to cut through the richness of the kidneys. The rest of them seem to make most their dishes quite well. I think one of the solutions to the meats that required longer cooking time was cutting them off the bone into smaller pieces.

I absolutely love sweetbreads, so Sam's, Marcel's, Cliff's, and Ilan's dishes looked scrumptious to me, and I would have ordered them off a restaurant menu any day. Even Mr. Midgely pulled it out for Chef Bernstein. In the end Sam's beignets won. (Sweet, sweet deep-fried immunity.) If any of you ever get the chance to stop by any of Tom Colicchio's restaurants, order the sweetbreads. I think it were the sweetbreads at Gramercy Tavern (when he was the chef there) that first won me over years ago. His preparations are always spot-on. leeannesblog_60_320x240.jpg

Brunch at Social for Jennifer Coolidge and friends. Social is one of Jeffrey Chodorow's many restaurants. The contestants are given the opportunity to raid the walk-ins and pantry of Social to create a lunch for 60. This challenge is so great because Tom asks them to pair up in twos. No knife block, just "who do you want to cook with?" Alarm bells should be going off in their heads right about now to let them know that it'll be a double elimination due to last episode's fiasco. The Betty and Mia bus love is great ("I love you, even though I'm the one who called you out at judges' table last time"). When they do actually draw knives, it's amazing how the teams did not work together at all to create the lunch menu.


What I love about my season, and the people on it, is that while we were competing, we realized there was something much more important than winning...the customer. We came together to create a menu for Ted Allen that would "wow" his guests, and even when we were switched up, most of us helped each other out to ensure that the meal actually tasted good. No such luck with this group. leeannesblog_marcel_320x240.jpgleeannesblog_sam_320x240.jpg

Fun teams, Marcel and Frank (Eddie Munster and Tony S.), Marisa and Josie (because they are the only ones who trust each other, HA!), Sam and Cliff (the calm and collected workhorses), Carlos and Elia (cooking deeessert, not feeeesh), and Ilan and Midgely (also a comically relaxed pair). Many of the dishes make absolutely no sense when put together as a complete menu, with duplication of ingredients and formats (duos and trio run amok). Part of the challenge is figuring out what plates well 60 at a time. I learned that the hard way with the wedding challenge, and I am a much smarter cook since then. Ilan and Midgely do a great job with their risotto (lucky them, with 30 soft shell crabs lying around the walk-in).

The duck napoleon leaves quite a bit to be desired (overcooked, and all that puff pastry). The "awakening" palate cleanser is just plain weird. And the dessert doesn't seem like it would taste very good even as separate courses. So one thing you all may not realize is that if you are 5th or 6th course, that means you get an extra TWO HOURS to get your course ready for plating. Which is a wonder to me why they struggled to make and plate three salad dishes as a trio. (That's five hours cooking time. Ridiculous.)

So bye-bye Josie and Marisa. Again, both strong, accomplished women, and quite charming in person, may I add. I just don't think they were cut out for this competition. In closing, one of the reasons that I am so critical of some of these contestants is because of their astounding egos on camera. To be a chef, of course you need to have a sense of oneself, and a bit of an ego. Common sense will tell you that you need to keep that ego in check, especially if the rest of America is watching and you can't back up all of that bravado with some kick-ass food. Some of the best and most respected chefs in the world are the most humble. It is humility, and the understanding that there is always someone out there better than you, that should keep even the best chef motivated to continue learning until the day they die.

The next episode is where I actually join up with the production and in getting to know some of the remaining contestants. I'll tell you right now, the egos get bigger and the drama, as petulant and immature as it will get sometimes, only increases. Great TV. Until next week, go get your pigs' feet on. And for those of you still thinking about my chocolate and bacon cake, stay tuned. I'll eventually relinquish the recipe once my website is up and running.