Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Lee Anne Answers (a Lot Of) Your Questions

You asked. Lee Anne Wong answers.

Hi, everybody! I wanted to take the time to respond to some of your questions and commentaries, especially some of the more negative ones. It's been such a pleasure being given the opportunity to blog about Season 2, and I am glad that we (Tom, Gail, Padma, Harold, Dave, and I) have been able to give you our individual perspectives, as well as provoke some reactions from you. Thank you all for watching and reading!

Mun Yee L Cooling wrote: My husband Adrian & I enjoy cooking very much and we LOVED Season 1. Our favorites were you, Dave & Harold. It's so nice to see that you guys have formed a great friendship. The three of you have inspired us in different ways but together I think you'd make a killa team. Do you think the three of you would consider working together? Congratulations on your success and we hope to hear more from you!

The Peppermonkey and the Top Chef are two of my favorite people in this world. Harold has his hands full with opening Perilla, and we just found out this past holiday season that Dave will be moving east to take on the job of Executive Chef at Lola in Soho (which is right down the street from me). I think most of us have taken separate paths after the show, and life goes on (I didn't quit my day job, if you know what I mean), but I am also incredibly grateful that we have stayed in touch with each other. I have offered both Dave and Harold my assistance with filling their kitchens with good cooks when the time comes.

Jo Anderson wrote: Lee Anne - Please elaborate about your diet and how you learned to eat right. Jo

Another fabulous friend .... Please check her out at andreabeaman.com.

Susan wrote: LA, love your blog but I must question your involvement with the production staff for Season 2. You say you were brought in to define the rules of the challenges. Are you an attorney? It seems not only suspect to hire a former losing contestant on the show but extremely unethical. Why not enlist the other 11 cast members from Season 1? In all fairness, you didn't even make it to the top three! There is also talk around other fan sites that you are dating the director of the show. Hmmm.... Would love to you to address this. Perhaps that is how you get the "inside scoop." It all sounds pretty unprofessional for a show that is supposedly on the up and up.

Yes, I am a losing contestant from Season 1. No, I am not an attorney. And who I happen to be dating is none of your business. The Elves hired me because of my perspective from being a contestant in Season 1, and also because of my experience in a kitchen and on a TV set. Part of my job at The FCI involves setting the stage for other chefs when they come to give a demonstration or presentation. This involves logistical aspects such as coordinating recipes and schedules, ordering food and budgeting, setting up mis en place and equipment, and working with the chef to basically make sure he/she has everything they need to ensure a successful presentation.

Working on the set of Top Chef was slightly different, and took quite a bit of adjusting and learning, but my familiarity with such situations made it a comfortable fit. As far as defining the rules, I worked with the executive producers to make sure that the actual written rules would cover any questions the contestants may have and make the challenges explicitly clear to them so there would not be any incident where, "I didn't know" or "I didn't understand" would come up. All rules are sent to NBC legal for approval before we proceed with a challenge. And for the record, The Magical Elves are not only incredibly professional, but also happen to be very good at what they do.

peter cruize wrote: hey lee anne, thanks for your pizza tip using the pita bread. i will try it tonight. whatever happened to tiffany?

Peter, enjoy your healthy pizza, and last I heard Tiffani was working at Riche in New Orleans. I have no doubt she is doing very well and putting out some phenomenal food in the Big Easy.

Tad wrote: I couldn't agree with you more here in regards to the Marcel issue, but i just have one question: shouldn't a responsible producer have done more to show the kinder side of marcel in last night's episode? Hs willingness to help others, assist cliff with his color blindness, etc was reduced to a few seconds worth of footage. the rest of the episode was nothing more than a free-for-all bashing against him. now, to read all these blogs in defense of him just seems a bit cheap. the guy is clearly trying harder than what he is being given credit for on the air. i am not a fan of the petty drama the producers seem all to eager to air, while waiting to tell the other side of the story in a blog that few people will read. your viewers are deserve better, and marcel certainly deserved to be treated better than the footage the production team presented to the public last night.

I have nothing to do with the editing of the show, at all. Each episode is hours (and sometimes days) of footage that is sliced and diced down to roughly 45 minutes of solid TV. I am sure the editors are aware of the strong reaction from the viewers to cut back on the interpersonal drama and make it more about the cooking, and I am also sure they will take it into account. At the same time, this particular cast gave them plenty of ammunition. Personally, I'd rather see more about the food too, but the double edge of reality TV is that most of the time viewers like a little drama (just not this much of it).

Jung wrote: Thanks for your insider viewpoint. Marcel doesn't seem all that bad, and your comments verify that the others are picking on him. Do they read these blogs and viewer comments? Are they aware of how distasteful their behavior was to us viewers? Hopefully, in some follow-up or reunion, they will apologize.

Being under the glass for that long sucks. It is such a high-pressure situation for all of these contestants, and there is a lot at stake. It is not exactly easy to watch yourself on TV, each week rehashing the emotional rollercoaster you had to go through. I learned a lot about myself, both the good and the bad. I've gotten to know some of the Season 2 cast, and off camera, they're pretty spectacular individuals. Put 'em all together in the same room for weeks on end, maybe not so great. The spirit of competition is a vicious thing. Hopefully this has been as good of a growing experience for them as it was for me.

pat walsh wrote: Lee Anne, Where does one get to taste some of your food?

I'm still working at The French Culinary Institute in NYC. Keep your eyes open though, working on a book, a TV show, and spreading the gospel of pork.

Aingeal wrote: Sorry Leann but, if what I heard about your relationship with Harold is true, I have very little respect for you or him. (and just a side note...I never saw what the problem with Tiffany was....she was just as up front as any of the rest of you) I have to say that you do seem to have an odd affinity for a very poor chef in Mike, but then only a few people seem to have been chosen this year based on talent. It would seem the theme this year is Top Jerk not Chef. Only El has even come close to being a likeable human.....but I suppose this is what ratings get you. I'm very sad. I liked this show last year for the most part.

What exactly have you heard? To dispel all of the rumors once and for all, I am not dating Harold, I have never dated Harold, and nor will I ever date Harold (or what ever else you happen to be insinuating, speaking of respect...). We are very good friends, end of story.

Anne wrote: Hey, Lee Ann, you're affiliated with a culinary institute, right? Isn't front-of-the-house training part of the curriculum? I hold a meager degree from a community college and spent a full semester at the front of the house. Educational experience aside, it is so hard to imagine that these chefs with their audacious restaurant expertise have NO expectations for how their food should be presented. I was amazed that neither Cliff nor Illan could make that transition from conceptualizing to executing proper guest service of their product.

Not all cooks ever get a front of the house education, whether it's in a classroom setting, or working as a waiter. It is in fact a separate profession altogether that requires training and skill. Learning how to make a perfect sauce takes time enough, and while most culinary institutions do offer a small bit of front of the house training, Ilan and Cliff probably spend most of their waking minutes focused on how to make the food taste and look good, not how to present it. Add the pressure of building a restaurant in a few hours and not getting eliminated and there you have your drama.

done again wrote: Can we all agree that no one over the age of eight should ever use any form of the word yum? Yes, that includes yummy, yummo, yummilicious and any other modifications/derivations.

Could you possibly be speaking in yum about a certain yummo personality? I will admit to using words like yummalicious, yumtastic, yummorama, and yummalummadingdong. Or I could just be full of s#*t (otherwise known as yum). Agreed. Keep up the great comments everyone, I'm off to get some yummy snacky numnums.

Richard: "Gregory Had the Better Ideas"

Richard Blais explains why Mei Lin won, and why we'll definitely be hearing from Gregory Gourdet soon.

The finale of Top Chef is the one absolute every season. Make the best meal of your life, in a multi-course tasting format for a room of the "who's who" in the culinary industry.

If you get to the finals, it's the type of thing you can prepare for. Every finalist should have a few four to five course menus floating around their heads, including a dessert, and all complete with options and Plan B's transcribed to their moleskins. And although the knowledge of what's coming is helpful, the format does not play to every chef's strengths.

There aren't too many restaurants committed to such meal services. Which means less chefs experienced with how to "write" and execute them. A progressive meal has to have a certain flow about it. And even the stereotypical versions of the "menu degustation" could force a contestant into cooking a dish that's not in their wheelhouse, for instance a straight forward fish course because "it belongs there."

Tonight, Mei Lin has a slight advantage. She cooks in a restaurant every day that showcases a tasting menu. Her food has been the epitome of a modern tasting menu all season. Many previous times, to a fault. Mei's food is small and precise. Beautiful to look at, and intellectually stimulating to discuss. Cold sometimes, every once in a while a shaved radish plated with tweezers heavy. It's not for everyone. It's not for everyday. But it's the type of food that when done well, can win Top Chef. Win James Beard Award noms. Win Best New Chef honors. Win Michelin stars.

Her future could indeed be bright.

What struck me most about Mei's food tonight however, wasn't technique. Technique and presentation often can get in the way of flavor. But tonight Mei delivered a few courses that were deeply satisfying. Soulful, delicious food that also was presented at a high level and cooked with surgeon's precision. That congee though...combined with a simple dessert that took yogurt and granola to another planet, won her the day. Her other two courses were fine, but suffered from the strains of modernity. Overly plated (the duck) and technically overwrought (the fried octopus).

Gregory on the other hand, it's just not his finest work. You can hear it in his voice as he's explaining his food. He's cooking improv, an ode to Mexico. The problem is, this isn't a jam session at a local cantina. This is a studio session where the chefs should be cooking practiced and refined pieces.

His octopus was a highlight and featured the unusual combination of passion fruit and avocado. It was an explosive start. The following two courses unraveled a bit, with the soup being good, but way too unrefined for the moment and technically problematic (the crispy shrimp heads), and the fish course bordering on dessert with the sugary carrot purée.

The mole was authentic and delicious, the rib cooked perfectly, but the dish felt a little incomplete. I believe Gregory had the better ideas, but just needed to think them through a bit more.

His sadness after the fact, I can attest, is profound. Tearful. Absolute emptiness. Close to the feeling of the sudden loss of a loved one. This may shock some of you, because it is indeed just a game. The mere thought of feeling that way over such silliness is well, silly. But not for us. This isn't the Super Bowl where an athlete loses and they can shake it off. Jump in their Bentley and start thinking about next season. There is no next season. There is no guaranteed pay day for the runner-up. The ten wins you had before don't matter. It just ends. Suddenly. And it's rather sad.

The good thing is, this is certainly, 100%, not the last time you will hear from Gregory. I waxed last week about Doug's professionalism, all of which is very true. But Gregory... Gregory is a special talent. His food (and I can say HIS type of food, because it's unique to him), is a study in refined, exotic comfort. What the man can do with a one-pot meal of braised anything, some chilies, sugar, vinegar, herbs, and spices is beyond impressive. Rarely do I taste food that makes me jealous as a cook. Rarely do I taste food that makes me start thinking about a new restaurant concept. The word inspiring in cooking competitions is sort of like the word "love," when it gets used too much, it loses it luster. Gregory's food however. I love it. It is inspiring.

Congrats to Mei and Gregory! Tom was right, I can't wait to one day say I saw you two way back when, in Mexico, in a little kitchen, before the bright lights, fancy kitchens, and big stages that lay ahead for both of you.

See you next season. I hope!

Richard Blais
@RichardBlais - Twitter and Instagram

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