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Team Swine

Lee Anne describes the zoo challenge from conception.

By Lee Anne Wong

... that's the team I would like to be on. Unfortunately, there were no pigs at the Lincoln Park Zoo. Anyways, I apologize for the lateness of my blog -- I had a crazy crazy week, but I hope you all enjoyed this episode.

How to Watch

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I had never actually seen the "workout room" in the house. I think the only things we ever lifted while we were in the house in San Francisco were our cocktail glasses. The Quickfire at the Green City Market was so much fun. I had already been in Chicago for almost three weeks by the time we shot this episode so I had scouted the market at least a half a dozen times and ended up doing most of my grocery shopping for my apartment there. At a time when I missed the NYC Union Square Greenmarket's Fall bounty, Chicago's Green City Market was a very impressive substitute.


We developed the idea of "Take 5" because for it's sheer simplicity it would be an incredibly difficult challenge for any chef, considering having to choose amongst all of the beautiful produce in the market. I think as chefs we sometimes forget how much tweaking we do to a dish until it has over 20 ingredients in its makeup. The things that our chefs needed to think about are the usual suspects, but with more acute attention to the flavor profile. Five ingredients ... texture, color, cooking techniques, but most importantly, understanding the flavor of each ingredient and how it would interact with the other four flavors. The chefs did not have a lot of wiggle room but we were pleasantly surprised with the results.

Wylie Dufresne is one of the culinary world's leaders in using innovative techniques in his cuisine. I have known Wylie for several years and have a tremendous admiration for the way that he thinks about food and drink (analytically, scientifically, and methodically, coupled with a playful creativeness). You hear the term "molecular gastronomy" and one would think all of the bells, whistles, (and foam that is sooo eight years ago), but the real definition is the use of science and technology to improve the quality and end result of your food. There is no point to making circus food that does cool somersaults but tastes terrible. Wylie and his team at wd~50 were recently reviewed by The New York Times and received a glowing three-star review up from two stars, so congratulations to them for all of their talent.

We knew Richard would be excited that Wylie was the judge. Not pee-in-your-pants-excited like Marcel, but psyched nonetheless. I sampled all of the Quickfire food (I am one of the very few lucky crew in production who gets to sample the goods, all so I can tell you guys about it!). Richard gets an "A" for effort and what I find so endearing about him is how earnest he is about his food, not to mention the fact that he is humble and very sweet. However, the eucalyptus could've played a more dominant flavor in his dish, and while I appreciate him taking a chance with the lowly chicken wing, they were really difficult to eat since he had not cut the wings at the joints. Ryan's steak and potatoes were right up my alley -- simple and elegant with concise flavors and good color. Dale's dish was also very good -- the components were all prepared beautifully but somehow did not mesh as well as Ryan's composed steak dish. I enjoyed Val's steak and peaches, and summer-style dish that reflected well on the last of the peaches at the market.

And then there was Spike and his beef tips. Mark had left one of his ingredients at the market but managed to improvise and win in the end. Spike just got pissed. I have to admit, the well-done chopped meat crostini/napolean was akin to dog food en croute. You can't win 'em all.

Erik's "deconstructed plate" was way too simple. He did not embrace the challenge and Wylie recognized that right away. Andrew's ADD was working overtime but I will admit that his dish was very tasty.

When the producers initially pitched the Zoo Food idea to me, I was like, "What?" I met with the Lincoln Park Zoo zoologists/nutritionists to go over all the animals they had at the zoo and what they each ate. Surprisingly, most of the animals' diets include a basic feed which varied slightly in ingredients (soy, corn, oats, wheat, etc.) If you are curious about the odd choice for animal groups it's because I had to find the animals with the most variation in diets so our guests for the party would not all be eating leafy greens and eggs. I kept everyone's group to roughly five main categories to draw inspiration from.Here's the official breakdown:
Bears: Salmon, Venison, Berries, Mushrooms, Nuts Gorillas: Leafy Greens, Root Vegetables, All fruits, Eggs, Corn/Wheat/Soy/Oats
Lions: Beef Steaks/Ribs, Buffalo/Bison, Beets, Eggs, Chicken Penguins: Crabs, Squid, Herring, Anchovies, Shrimp
Vultures: Quail, Rabbits, Small fish, Chickens, Lamb

I had purchased a gazillion quail and rabbits from an outside source for our contestants because they are not items that Whole Foods carries. I had them hold these things behind the counter for our Vulture team. Of course, they went with chicken, lamb, and small fish, and I ended up with a freezer full of game.

At this point it's their first team challenge (yes, we know Dale doesn't play well with others ... DRINK). I did however, love the animal shit-talking in the house. And Cafe Brauer, which is a beautiful space. Things I did not like? The glacier, for which Andrew used up a $100 bottle of yuzu concentrate that I had stocked in the pantry. And his spice penguin, for which he brought a good chunk of spices from the pantry to decorate his table (it all goes in the garbage for cleanup). But his ceviche was undeniably modern and delicious, and also carried through on the black and white theme.

I tasted all of the food (again). I thought some of the contestants took a little too much liberty with their inspirations ... though as a violence-loving television watcher, it has always been my dream to watch a silverback gorilla tear a baby lamb apart by its limbs and then eat it. I'm kidding. (GORILLAS DON'T EAT MEAT SO WHY WOULD YOU MAKE A LAMB DISH???) Dishes I enjoyed? Mark's marinated anchovy on quinoa croquette. It's a familiar dish I fell in love with at Public. Lamb meatballs, because vultures would eat them. (Stop trying to feed the gorilla meatballs ...). Obviously, the squid ceviche. The cheese and honeycomb. And Stephanie's salty caramelly banana-rama bread, which speaks to my soul as I am a vanilla-caramel girl, probably saved her from getting eliminated. Everything else was "ehhh." Good, but not memorable. The mushroom was weird and gross, and Dale's arrogance and inability to accept responsibility for adding cheese to the already terrible combination of blueberries and mushrooms reminded me of a cross between Hung and Stephen, but angrier and more maladjusted. (Watching these episodes is a small shock, only because the contestants are so tame and nice when I see them most of the time). I would've sent Valerie home too. While maybe not bad in theory, each component of her dish had a fatal flaw that once altogether made for one unsexy canape. The rutabaga definitely should have been cooked more (why not slow poach it in olive oil until it is creamy soft?) and she could have done the blini a la minute. That's why I gave each team two portable butane burners. However, it was the cold, limp, uncooked rutabaga and blini that got Val the boot. Maybe I'll see her on my next visit to Chicago ....

... which by the way ... a good friend of mine conned me into registering for the Chicago Marathon. This was because we were not able to register in time for this ridiculous costume marathon they hold in Bordeaux every year, which includes cheese and wine tables along the route for the runners. So she ordered me to sign up for Chicago. Sometimes I run to the bar. Occasionally I'll run to the bathroom. I, however, don't run. Call it a personal challenge. I'll start training in the next few weeks. Renew the gym membership, buy a good athletic bra (and some duct tape), and pray that Rocco would want to give me some advice. For those of you who think I'm crazy, and I think I'm crazy, worry not. I think we're gonna try this one as a pub crawl to make up for the absence of cheese, wine, and a silly costume, and hope to finish in under six hours. I can do it. Just watch. Run Wonger, Run.

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