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Hiccups! Cocktails and Pub Grub

Gael Greene describes judging alongside some Real Housewives of Orange County.

I eat. I drink. I’ve been eating and drinking professionally for 42 years now so I always have an opinion. But maybe I wasn’t the best person to join the Orange County Housewives in judging this week’s Masters class reunion Quickfire, The chefs had to dream up a dish that went with a cocktail.

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First of all I knew there were Orange County Housewives and their plots and spats were a big hit on Bravo, but I had never watched a single show. I’m a Top Chef fan and loyal to Jim Lipton at Actors Studio but never tempted by Housewives. Assigned to judge with them, I assumed they would be gorgeous, skinny, have lots of hair, and be covered with jewels. What I didn’t expect was how simpatico they would be, especially Lynne. In three minutes I felt I’d known her forever.

Maybe the real killer was that I rarely like cocktails with food, except for margaritas which I like straight up or on the rocks or frozen in classic form or fruity frou frou. Watching the show, I see Wylie anticipated that cocktails might not be my strength.

We judges don’t see the chefs of course when they’re cooking. And I didn’t know how enthusiastically they’d been sampling the mixologist’s blendings. From what I saw on the show itself, I imagine they were all really loose. For me, most of the drinks were just too sweet. And mulled cider with fish. Oh no. I don’t think so. The excessive sweetness made it even tougher to pair the fanciful drinks with food although the masters certainly tried.

The lemongrass mojito was the exception – really tart, pleasant to drink, and it worked with its dish: the perfectly cooked shrimp with twist of pork tenderloin.

I had no idea whose dish it was. Unlike the challenge where the judges talk to the chefs about their dish and give them the ratings eye to eye, in the Quickfire, the chefs can watch the judges tasting and commenting but almost always, the judges can’t see them. I thought yes, this is a delicate snack, perfect for an Orange County gabfest or lunch at the pool. What a surprise to discover later that it was Jonathan Waxman playing it cool. Seeing the kitchen action for the first time as I watched the show, I laughed at Jonathan playing the lazy grasshopper to everyone else’s scurrying ant.

Next day in the pub was fun, full of good vibes, being surrounded by locals chugging beer and calling out critiques. I gave Wylie credit for his straightforward and delicious sausage with smoked mashed potatoes and snow pea consommé. Rick’s aristocratic fish and chips with chicken-fried Alaskan black cod and lemon confit and tarter sauce won big points from me. Granted his twice-cooked fried potatoes could have been thinner but I liked them better than the usual too salty chips.

Poor Mark’s ambitious seafood sausage had to sit in that muck he presented as Yorkshire pudding. It wasn’t till later at the critics’s table that we learned he’d been done in by a faulty oven gauge.

I love kidneys. Properly-prepared kidneys do not have any foul taste or odor. But I guess you rarely see kidneys on a menu today because most people won’t eat them, chefs included. Given his fear of kidneys, Graham did the best he could do with fine beef tenderloin and an excellent root vegetable ragout.

Ludo is an original. Whatever he’s thinking, it just pops out of his outh. He was not very chivalrous in his put down of the housewives.  But as a certified Frenchman I bet he would have done a great riff on steak and kidney pie. As for his Irish stew, he knew he was lost in a fog   He is definitely not Irish and it wasn’t Irish either.

Jonathan’s lazy man’s shepherd’s pie was a stretch too, but all it’s parts were absolutely luscious. It was close for me at the end but I had to give him the five points his dish deserved.

Gael Greene,
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