If you have spent the past year in a Tibetan monastery (or in France without a TV), you might not have heard of Bravo’s Top Chef show. For the other four billion, you have no doubt been treated to some of the most delicious drama since JR got shot. Earlier this year ago I received a flurry of emails from some classmates at the French Culinary Institute and people who knew I went to school there. Subject lines screamed “GUESS WHAT?!” or “LEE ANNE IS ON TOP CHEF!”
I am the above guilty party in France sans television so I had no idea what they were talking about. After more than a few of these such emails infiltrated my inbox I thought I’d best investigate. It took all of three seconds on Google to realize what all the excitement was about. Lee Anne was Lee Anne Wong from the FCI, she was indeed on Top Chef, and Top Chef was a show. Mystery solved!
As a student at the FCI, I volunteered whenever possible in their Culinary Ampitheatre, which is run by Lee Anne, helping her and visiting chefs or the FCI deans (ie: Jacques Pepin) prep and serve at their demos. According to Bravo’s biography, Lee Anne is “executive chef of event operations at the FCI and absolutely loves what she does – probably because she gets to boss her students around everyday.” If that is bossing around, I’ll take it. It was the most fun part of being at the FCI. Lee Anne and I assisted Marcella Hazan in her class a few years ago and Marcella loved her. I didn’t get any love from Marcella but Marcella loved Lee Anne.
Our very own Grub Report reviews Top Chef on Television without Pity and when I mentioned that I knew Lee Anne at cooking school, Stephanie admonished me to get writing. I hesitantly emailed Lee Anne starting off with “I’m sure you don’t remember me but…” and even with her busy busy busy schedule, Lee Anne graciously agreed to an interview. Here’s what she had to say…
1. What have you been up to since Top Chef? Did you go back to the French Culinary?
I maintained my position as Executive Chef of Event Operations at The French Culinary Institute. In addition to all of my daily duties there I have been working on some other projects. I was a chef consultant for the Warner Brothers remake of “Mostly Martha” with Catherine Zeta Jones and Aaron Eckhart, creating the menu and training the cast. I am currently working on a book project with a friend of mine who is a published photographer. I am also in the process of developing a television show, and am currently consulting for a new steak company, Uruguay Steaks. I’ve spent the summer traveling and cooking all around the country (I actually just got back from Ohio today). It’s a really exciting time at The FCI, as we are expanding and about to officially launch as the International Culinary Center, so that keeps me pretty busy.
2. Are you going to work at Harold’s new restaurant?
Haha, Harold and I both agree that he can’t afford me. Besides, I happen to love the job that I have now.
3. Who of all the Top Chef contestants are you still in touch with on a regular basis?
Harold and I are pretty close. I see Andrea all of the time. I just got back from LA, where I saw Dave, Stephen, and Candace. I get to see Cynthia and Miguel on occasion too. For the most part, we all stay in touch on a regular basis and we get to see each other pretty often.
4. Why did you stop posting on your blog and why did it get taken down?
Ahhh, the infamous blog…. I had initially posted my blog on Friendster for my friends. I didn’t realize at the time that the fan base looks that kind of stuff up. That’s when it became an issue with confidentiality and I talked to the lawyers at NBC and they recommended that the blogs be taken down.
5. Does you believe someone intentionally turned off your oven in the second episode?
I don’t like to speculate, it’s in the past. But no, I don’t think anyone turned it down intentionally. Someone probably used it and just forgot to turn the temperature back up to 350.
6. The rumors are that you were sick on the challenge that eliminated you and that’s why you couldn’t taste your seasoning. Is that true?
The petri dish that was the house on Baker Street. Basically, someone on production was really sick, which in turn got the cast sick (Harold, Tiffani). As we were eliminated, we were consolidated into bedrooms, and I ended up rooming with Tiff. By the time the wedding challenge came around I had strep throat and was on antibiotics, which I could not take during the challenge as they would have put me to sleep. So, no, I couldn’t taste a whole lot for the wedding episode, and by the time that Napa rolled around I was still relatively sick.
7. What job in your past best prepared you for this show?
(Nothing ever really prepares you some of those challenges.) I think all of my experiences as a cook and food lover thus far had helped me. The cool part about the culinary field is that it so diverse with many facets, and I take pride in the fact that I managed to keep an open mind about some of the challenges that were presented to us. The harder part was being in a house with 11 other people and a camera on you at all times.
8. Did any of the FCI chefs give you any advice before going on the show?
I actually could not tell anyone I was going on the show, confidentiality stuff. I have the privilege of working with some of the greatest chefs in the world like Andre Soltner and Jacques Pepin. They are my role models in terms of attitude and professionalism. Because of my job at The French Culinary, I knew that I had to stay relatively professional and represent well while on camera.
9. How has your life changed – in the not so obvious ways – since the show aired?
The exposure was tremendous for all of us. We didn’t know how popular the show would be. It’s nice to be recognized for what you do, and I am overwhelmed by and appreciate all of the support and kind words from the fans. The show has definitely made life more interesting, and if anything, I am busier now more than ever. While I am still happily at The FCI, I have begun to work on several personal projects that are really going to help build my career. Best of all, I have met so many people who are now friends of mine, and made some lifelong friends with my castmates.
Listed below are all the recipes Lee Anne cooked on the show by episode. Bon Appetit!
Episode 1: Signature Dish Challenge
Smoked Sturgeon Roll, Cauliflower Puree
Episode 2: Sexy Dessert Challenge
Banana and Cashew Nut Spring Rolls, White Chocolate Wasabi Fondue
Episode 3: Quick Fire Octopus Challenge
Citrus Poached Octopus
Episode 4: Microwave Challenge
Red Curry Chicken with Steamed Jasmine Rice
Episode 5: Street Cart Food Challenge
Lee Anne & Stephen’s Andrea’s Corn Sope with Char Sui Pork
Episode 6: Quick Fire Appetizer Challenge
Deep Fried Oysters with Lemon Garlic Cream
Ted Allen Appetizer Challenge
Fourme d’Ambert Cheese & Beet Salad
Episode 6: Dinner Party Challenge
Peking Style Beef with Scallion Pancakes, Garniture
Episode 8: Quick Fire Appetizers
Wong’s Shrimp Toast
Episode 9: Main Courses
Pistachio-crusted Lamb Loin, Butternut Squash and Black Truffle Risotto, Red Wine Sauce
Episode 9: Quick Fire Challenge
Japanese Seafood Dog
And keep your eye out for Emily Sprissler on Top Chef 2. We cooked together at Farallon a few years ago when she was an intern at the California Culinary Academy and I had just graduated from the FCI. She was a natural in the kitchen so I’m sure she will be fun to watch. Bonne cuisinez!