Hugh Acheson

Top Chef: If Snooki Served This

Well hello!  I hope everyone’s has a lovely Christmas/Hannukah/winter holiday of choice.  It’s time to get back into the blog groove with a Top Chef recap just in time for tonight’s new episode!  (We try.)

Hey, did you know there was a new editor at Food & Wine?  I hadn’t realized until Padma annouced Nilou Motamed, who brought the chefs Quickfire gifts.  The chefs have 30 minutes to create a dish using everything (and we mean everything) in the wrapped boxes before them.  The box holds a pressure cooker (which I actually just got for Christmas!), Patron Tequila, pomegranate, chocolate-covered pretzels, cloves, wasabi, squab, and a melon baller.  Ooookay!

Shirley basically has a bad time.  She sets fire to her squab.  Sheldon accidentally works on her station and steals her melon baller, so she doesn’t even know to use it.  Padma makes a comment about how it’s a good thing it’s not a sudden death Quickfire… (“or is it?  I don’t know yet.”  Cute, Padma.)  Shirley finds herself in the bottom with Emily and BJ.  The top of the pack is Brooke, John, and Casey, who takes the win and immunity for the elimination challenge.

Local chef Mike Lata joins Padma for the elimination challenge.  He once fired Emily, so it’s super awkward for her.  The elimination challenge is a take on a tradition that I just experienced, the Feast of the Seven Fishes… but, with trash fish.  The chefs draw knives to pair off and grab a less-than-ideal fish to work with.

They serve to Padma, Nilou, Mike, Tom Colicchio, Richard Blais, Hugh Acheson,and Graham Elliot.


Having recovered from their Quickfire spat, Shirley & Sheldon come together to create a harmonious mullet dish– even the multitude of bones can’t detract.

img_2510Jamie and Sylva’s fish may taste a bit like blood, but they’re able to turn it into something that looks like tuna.  Impressive!


Poor Brooke got no support from a frazzled Emily.  This dish needed editing.


The broth and, what BJ calls, “Silvia’s Italian cracker than I can’t pronounce,” were the only things good on this dish.  The barrel fish ate like chicken.


An unlikely duo, Katsuji & John, hit it out of the park with their triggerfish.  Okay, they served two different preparations of tomatoes… Katsuji’s sauce sealed the deal for this one and egos were pushed aside!


Amanda was kind of a nutcase in the kitchen and undercooked her beans.  She and Jim’s dish came off a little pedestrian for the judges.  Tom calls it “South Jersey” cuisine.


Since Casey won the Quickfire, she got to work alone.  She was grateful to have immunity this week, as she would’ve rather not served anything than this dish.

At judges’ table, Shirley and Sheldon, Jamie and Sylva, and John and Katsuji are the standouts.  Katsuji wins for his sauce, as he & John had the judges’ favorite dish!  The rest of the crew is the bottom, save for Casey with her immunity.  I was nervous for Brooke, but BJ is ultimately sent packing his knives.

I’m so looking forward to what seems like a very interesting Quickfire tonight.  Who’s ready?!  Who do you think is next to go?

Top Chef: Eyes, then Hands

You eat with your eyes first, right?  The Quickfire Challenge from this week’s Top Chef was all about #foodporn!  Yes, with the hashtag.  It’s a plating challenge.  The twist?  It’s junk food that they’re plating.  The other twist?  Instagram likes will decide the winner of immunity.

Here’s what the chefs create:


L to R, top to bottom: Phillip, Carl, Chad, Jeremy, Marjorie, Karen, Kwame, Amar, Isaac

While the Quickfire was all about eating with your eyes, the elimination challenge was all about eating with your hands!  Neal Fraser introduces the concept of beefsteak– a traditional event in which there are no utensils, and no napkins.  Three teams are three are to make a meat dish, a fish dish, and two sides each.

The red team is basically all of my favorites– it’s Kwame and my Boston people, Karen & Carl.  The blue team is Marjorie, Isaac, and Chad.  The green team is Jeremy, Amar, and Phillip.

Here’s what they make:

It was pretty hilarious to see everyone in black tie and eating with their hands.  The best part, however, was that Hugh Acheson (heart-eyes emoji) was there to judge!  He also flung a piece of lamb that Padma had nibbled and hit some guests for the charity event.  Miss you every episode, Hugh!

Karen is announced as the winner of the instagram Quickfire securing herself immunity.

Most of the plates suffered from being too dainty and missing the point of the challenge.  Ultimately, the green team won for being the closest to hitting the mark, and Phillip claims his first win for his on-the-bone lamb.

The blue team ends up being the least favorite.  Luckily for Marjorie, my favorite member of this trio, Tom announces her the best baker Top Chef has seen– seriously, my mouth is watering for that milk bread!  Chad is sent to pack his knives.  Sadly, his instagram was my favorite, but he had trouble switching gears.

Which ‘gram is your favorite?  Seriously, how pretty are they?!

Top Chef Boston: Finale

I’ve honestly been dreading this episode, because that means this wonderful season of Top Chef is over!  However, I’ve been dying to see who will take this title… especially when it’s down to Gregory and Mei, who, as the episode notes, have traded wins all season.


It starts off with a lovely hot air balloon ride over San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.  Though Mei seems a bit nervous (“We might die today!) both she and Greg get to take is some breathtaking scenes.  As they come down, they see a more familiar scene: Tom and Padma.

They know and we know: this is the start of their final challenge.  It’s a simple one, according to Tom: Create the best four course meal of your life.  No pressure, right?

It’s time to pick their sous chefs!  Since Gregory won last time around, he gets first pick.  He choses Doug.  Mei is happy that leaves her the opportunity to pick her first choice, Melissa.  Gregory then selects George to round out his team.  Mei grabs Rebecca with the intentions of making a dessert.

They’re cooking for a panel of intimidating chefs including Michael Cimarusti, Donnie Masterton, and Gavin Kaysen.  They are also cooking, of course, for our fabulous judges Padma Lakshmi, Tom Colicchio, Gail Simmons, Hugh Acheson, and Richard Blaise.

On a couple courses, Mei and Gregory are going head to head.  Mei is doing dessert and Gregory is not.  They are both bringing their A games and they are both bringing influences from their experience in Mexico.

Mei makes:

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Greg makes:

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Both first courses go well, though Mei’s octopus is noted to be a bit chewy.  Gail likes it, but Richard calls it the biggest technical mistake of the dinner.  Greg seems to win this course.

The second course winner is Mei’s congee, as the shrimp heads in Greg’d didn’t go over well with Padma.  The third course winner is Mei as well.  Gregory made a mistake in his sauce and couldn’t correct it in time for service.

The final course was the best for each chef, majorly impressive all the judges!

After deliberation, Mei and Greg stand in from of Padma, Tom, Hugh, Gail, and Richard.  All of their Boston competitors standby to watch the big moment.  “Mei,” says Padma, “You are Top Chef!

I am so excited for Mei!  Though I think both she and Greg (and a lot of the other cheftestants) deserve to be there, I was really cheering Mei on!  She had so much drive to make her family proud and to live up to her chef, Top Chef Michael Voltaggio!  She call him at the end of the episode overwhelmed, and it’s a very sweet moment!  Can you believe she’s only the third woman that has ever won?  Hopefully we can see some more female Top Chef winners soon!

What did you think of Mei’s big win?!

Top Chef Boston: To Julia!

Finally, Top Chef Boston is back!  It’s been forever for the viewers, but the chefs are fresh off of Katsuji’s elimination.  The episode starts with a PBR toast to him!

Andy Cohen (Boston University alum) and his college roommate, Dave Ansel, act as guest judges for the Quickfire.  Padma announces that it’s a ramen challenge!  While Top Chef provides the ramen, the rest of the ingredients are provided by my alumni network: Emerson College students!  Five Emerson students bring in bags of whatever food they had in their dorm rooms.  This is the pantry the chefs have to work with.  They pick blindly and hope for the best, because the winner of this Quickfire gets $5k!

It’s truly hilarious watching the cheftestants’ reactions to their ingredients!  I must admit, I probably was worse than some of these kids in college.  You can’t fit a lot in that mini-fridge!  Here’s what they come up with:

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Andy & Dave don’t care for Mei’s for the lack of broth, and found Doug’s combination of ingredients strange.  Even though most people might find George’s meat-filled concoction off-putting, it worked for Andy and Dave.  They also liked Gregory’s bacon-pizza-broth and Melissa’s Frito crunch!  The winner of the Quickfire: Melissa!

Padma sends the cheftestants back to the stew room where they find a remote and a note to “press play.”  The TV lights up with Julia Child cooking with Jacques Pépin!  Watching the camera pan their faces as they watch Julia, you can see the pure magic her presence brings.  You cannot watch her cook without smiling.

In walks the real Jacques Pépin accompanied by Padma.  “I come with wine,” he says, “and a beautiful woman.

The chefs ask Jacques about Julia, as their elimination challenge will be cooking to honor her!

To make this monumental task a little more nerve-wracking, the chefs serve to the judges– Padma, Tom, Hugh– Jacques, and a table of special guests including Food & Wine’s Dana Cowin, and Boston chef/restauranteur/celebrity Barbara Lynch.

In Julia’s honor, the chefs serve:

Gregory truly cooked in the spirit of Julia, and watching him do so was amazing!  His coq au vin pleased the judges all around.

Gregory truly cooked in the spirit of Julia, and watching him do so was amazing! His coq au vin pleased the judges all around.

Mei's take on duck a l'orange was cooked in Julia fashion, but with five spice to add her own twist.  It was very well received!

Mei’s take on duck a l’orange was cooked in Julia fashion, but with five spice to add her own twist. It was very well received!

George used the pressure cooker, which always makes me nervous.  Even with that, his veal was not braised long enough.

George used the pressure cooker, which always makes me nervous. Even with that, his veal was not braised long enough.

Melissa braised in Julia-fashion, but feared her meat wouldn't be tender enough... so she left it in the over all day resulting in over-cooking it.

Melissa braised in Julia-fashion, but feared her meat wouldn’t be tender enough… so she left it in the over all day resulting in over-cooking it.

Doug's foie gras was undercooked.

Doug’s foie gras was undercooked.


Hugh, Tom, Padma, and Jacques sit at the judges’ table and announce that Mei and Gregory have the top dishes!  While they both took different approaches, ultimately Mei’s personal twist on the dish won it for her!  The remaining three in the bottom, and Dougie is asked to pack his knives.

This is another tough elimination.  I really feel like Dougie is one of the strongest chefs left, along with Mei and Gregory.  With the pack so small and everyone so talented, every elimination is rough.

We’re close to the end, sadly!

Leave me some thoughts in the comments, and tweet with me every Wednesday 10 pm East coast time!

Top Chef Boston: Did You Bring a Musket?

It’s War!  With just 10 cheftestants left, they should know each other’s cooking styles pretty well by now.  That’s what Padma says when she and Jamie Bissonnette come out to announce the Quickfire Challenge.

It’s a head-to-head challenge sponsored by Reynolds Wrap with a prize of $10,000 to the ultimate winner.  Katsuji choses his opponent first and selects Aaron.  Aaron then is able to select what they’re cooking, which ends up being “smoked salmon.”  Doug is called on next, and he picks Adam, who in turn picks “steamed mussels.”  Keriann picks Stacy, who choses “trout en papillote.”  Melissa picks Katie, who selects “smoked barbecue.”  This leaves Mei and Gregory, arguably the toughest competitors, to face each other.  Greg gets the last pick of steamed dumplings, which is risky against dumpling pro Mei.

Jamie and Padma taste the dishes, and Jamie announces the winners of each head-to-head match-up: Katsuji, Dougie, Keriann, Katie, and Gregory.  The ultimate winner ends up being Gregory.

After the Quickfire, Padma announces that it is indeed war.  The winners will face off against the losers in five battles, named after the five most critical battles of the Revolutionary War.

  • For the Battle of Lexington & Concord, the “losers,” which become the Red Team, put up Adam.  He will battle the “winners,” or Blue Team’s pick, Dougie.  Rematch number 1 is on.
  • For the Battle of Bunker Hill, Blue puts forth Katsuji.  Red wants a stronger chef to take him on, and Melissa is that chef.
  • For the Battle of Trenton, it’s rematch number 2: Greg v. Mei.
  • For the Battle of Saratoga, it’s rematch number 3: Keriann v. Stacy.
  • Finally, for the Battle of Yorktown, Aaron on the Red Team will face off against Blue Team’s Katie.

Because budgets run tight in times of war, they only have $1000 per team to shop, which works out to $2/head for the amount of diners they’ll need to feed at the Watertown Arsenal slash Athenahealth campus.  They cook after their Whole Foods trip (“One Mexican minute left!  That’s like 5 American minutes.” Can I tell you how much I’ve been enjoying Katsuji this season?) and a bit the next day onsite.

Before service, Aaron’s dashi takes a tumble.  Mei bought instant dashi that she gives to him, kindly, to keep his dish moist until it’s his turn to serve.

Jamie, Padma, Tom, and Hugh Acheson (thanks to him for the titular quote of the post!) show up to eat and judge the battles.

Lexington & Concord: Adam v. Doug


Both dishes are well received, but Adam gets redemption winning the first battle for Red.

Bunker Hill: Katsuji v. Melissa

Katsuji wins this battle for Blue.  Melissa's broth was not thick enough.

Though Padma puts in a vote for Melissa, Katsuji wins this battle for Blue.  Ultimately, Melissa’s gazpacho was not thick enough.

Trenton: Gregory v. Mei

Again, both dishes are well received.  Gregory is just unstoppable in this episode, and wins another battle for Blue.

Again, both dishes are well received. Gregory is just unstoppable in this episode, and wins another battle for Blue.

Saratoga: Keriann v. Stacy

Stacy is able to get redemption against Keriann winning the tying point for Red!

Stacy is able to get redemption against Keriann winning the tying point for Red!

Yorktown: Aaron v. Katie

Aaron mocks Katie's course, asking who brings chocolate cake to war?  Hugh asks, who brings scallop noodles to war?  Katie's chocolate cake wins giving Blue the winning point for the battle and the war.

Aaron mocks Katie’s course, asking who brings chocolate cake to war? Hugh asks, who brings scallop noodles to war? Katie’s chocolate cake wins giving Blue the winning point for the battle and the war.

This means the Red Team is up for elimination.  Adam, Mei, Aaron, Melissa, and Stacy face the judges.

Since Adam and Mei got high praise from the judges, they’re off the table.  Though they weren’t overly impressed with Stacy and Melissa, Aaron ends up packing his knives.

While I don’t like to see anyone go home, (I’m not heartless!) I think this was the right choice.  I know my Boston girl has a lot more to show, and Melissa’s a strong competitor!

I can’t wait to see chaos in the cranberry bog next week!

Do you think the judges made the right decision last night?

Top Chef Boston: Fine Dining at Fenway

Padma and Ming Tsai announce the second Sudden Death Quickfire of the season.  It’s Boston Tea Party themed… because that might the be only thing people know about Boston.  Actually, it’s a neat challenge.  Each cheftestant gets a different type of tea to cook with.  There are thirteen different types which include:

  • strawberry white tea, which Gregory gets
  • gunpowder spearmint, which Aaron gets
  • lemongrass pomegranate rooibos, which Rebecca gets
  • Asian pear white tea, for James
  • chocolate & salt herbal tea, for Rob
  • toasted nut oolong, for Melissa

They don’t get to pick, they just open a container and that’s what they need to prepare tea for two with for Padma and Ming.  Melissa, Gregory, and Ron come out on top.  Gregory takes the win and earns immunity for the elimination challenge.  The bottom three are James, Aaron, and Rebecca.  Ultimately, Aaron loses and is up for elimination.  He has to cook for his life.

Aaron chooses Katie to cook again, as she is a culinary instructor and he has some kind of chip on his shoulder for not being able to afford culinary school.  The twist?  The only source of heat Aaron and Katie can use is boiling water.

Aaron does “a spring roll, but a fucked up one,” which Padma asks how he would like her to eat.  Katie makes pasta by hand since she couldn’t figure out the pasta maker.  Aaron’s fucked up spring roll is enough to beat Katie and keep him in the competition.  It’s nice to see no one go home!  But Aaron’s ego, man.

Ming & Padma then announce the elimination challenge and FENWAY PARK home of the Boston Red Sox!  I’m still too excited about that not to type it in caps.  The cheftestants must use a classic ballpark snack as inspiration (peanuts, popcorn, pretzels, friend dough) to make a fine dining dish to serve at Fenway.

Tom, Richard Blais, Hugh Acheson, Padma, Ming, and guests Dennis Eckersley and Dan Shaughnessy sit below the green monster and are served the following:

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Back at the judges’ table, Ming accompanies our regulars.  The favorites are Gregory, Melissa, and Katie.  Gregory takes the win, again!  I’m really starting to like him after hearing more of his backstory.  On the bottom, we have Ron, Kerriann, and Katsuji.  None of these are people I wanted to go home.  Ron ends up packing his knives.  I would’ve liked to see more from him; he seemed like a genuinely good guy.

NEXT WEEK THOUGH features one of my absolute favorite shows, CHEERS!  Special guests include George Wendt (say it with me, Norm!  Did you know I’m the world’s oldest 25-year-old?) and Shameless’s Emmy Rossum!  Every preview just gets me more and more excited about Top Chef Boston!

If you watch in the Eastern time zone, remember to tweet with me next week! @nikkisee

What did you guys think of this week’s episode and the results?!

Top Chef Boston: I eat it; I don’t die instantaneously.

“You say we’re not going to do anything crazy, yet we’ve been here for 48 hours and two people are gone.”

We spend a little time with the cheftestants and see James’s AMAZING Patrick Swayze tattoo.  I love that Patrick Swayze inspired him.  I’ve been nursing a resurgent obsession with Dirty Dancing as of late (more for Jennifer Grey than Swayze, but whatevs) so I especially appreciated this moment.

Soon, it’s Quickfire time!  The lovely Padma Lakshmi and Boston restauranteur Todd English come out to announce it.  Boston is home to the Old North Church and Paul Revere’s famous midnight ride.  If you know the poem, you know the famous line: one if by land or two if by sea.  It refers to lanterns in the Old North Church, but in this challenge, one lantern lights up for the land table and two for the sea table in a surf and turf quickfire.  No immunity is offered, but the winner gets $5,000!

The land light signals twice before the sea lights.  If you’re not observant, you could miss out on good ingredients.  This was the fate of Aaron who missed the sea lights and ended up with dried crab snacks.  It works out for him, and we get the quote that titles this post when he tries some.

Katsuji and James get top marks from Todd English, but James ends up winning the quickfire.

Padma then announces the elimination challenge: cooking for Boston’s finest!  The Boston Police Commissioner, Bill Evans, and the Boston Fire Commissioner, John Hasson bring their fabulous Boston accents out and help explain the challenge.  This is near and dear to my Bostonian heart, with all they’ve done for us through the marathon and a scary fire in Back Bay last year.  The cheftestants draw knives to break into teams to cook ~something~ for Boston’s finest.

  • Team 1, the Red Team: Katsuji, Mei, Katie
  • Team 2, the Blue Team: Rebecca, Adam, Gregory
  • Team 3, the Gray Team: Doug, James
  • Team 4, the Yellow Team: Joy, Ron, Melissa
  • Team 5, the Green Team: Kerriann, Stacy, Aaron

This is the order they will serve, and also the order they will pick their mystery boxes to cook.  No planning is involved because they don’t know what ingredients they’ll get.  In spite of that, there’s plenty of fighting on Green between Kerriann and Adam.

Here’s what the teams make happen:






Tom, Gale, Padma, and Boston’s finest enjoy the first three.  It’s not until we get to Yellow, when the vanilla conditions you to want sweet, but doesn’t deliver.  There’s also an issue with the veal chops being undercooked.

Green is just as flustered in the kitchen as they were before they saw their ingredients.  Kerriann and Adam are so concerned about Stacy’s chicken, which ends up being cooked perfectly.  Tom goes as far as to say that Stacy should be angry with her teammates.  Kerriann’s corn salad and Aaron’s jam do not go over well with the judges.

Red & Blue come out of top, but Blue takes the win!

Green & Yellow, predictably, are on the bottom.

Padma announces that Kerriann and Aaron should really thank Stacy for saving their team with her perfect chicken.  Joy’s undercooked veal sent her home.

While it’s always sad to see someone go, I’m proud of Stacy– my hometown girl– for doing something great for Boston’s finest and saving her team.  What did you guys think of this week’s episode?

I’m so looking forward to next week’s episode when we see Fenway Park and Hugh Acheson!

* * *

Also, bad news if you’re in the Tom’s Glasses Fan Club with me:

quel dommage!

quel dommage!


Tweet along with me every Wednesday at 10!

Top Chef BOSTON, baby!

The best judges: Emeril, Padma, Gail, Tom, (with the best dance moves,) and Hugh!

The best judges: Emeril, Padma, Gail, Tom, (with the best dance moves,) and Hugh!

When I first heard the rumor that Top Chef season 12 would be set in Boston, I was excited.  However, you have to take that as what it is: a rumor.  This week, though, my wildest dreams came through when it was confirmed!

To have one of my favorite shows in my favorite city, the city I live in, is news I can’t even begin to comprehend.  When the confirmations were coming out left and right on Wednesday, it was literally all I could think about all day.

Now I’m working on how I can eat the cheftestants’ food this spring/summer…

In light of the good news of what I’m hoping will be my new favorite season, I wanted to revisit my other favorite Top Chef locations, in a top 3 list.


3. Season 11 – New Orleans

American Horror Story and Top Chef were both on at the same time, and both were set in New Orleans, so I was all about New Orleans!  I had a couple of favorite contestants this time around including my hometown hero, the wonderful and kind Stephanie Cmar.  Humble brag: I’ve had the pleasure of having coffee with her, and she personally introduced me to season 10 winner Kristen Kish.  Stephanie is awesome in real life and on screen.  My other favorite was the adorable Janine Booth, who I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting but I have tweeted back and forth with her, and that’s nice too.  The great thing about the New Orleans location was the utilization of new-ish judge Emeril Lagasse.  New Orleans is where he made a name for himself.  Emeril, who I used to watch on TV with my parents when I was growing up, gives me a nostalgic feeling that’s nice.  Also, he kind of looks like my uncles.

2. Season 8 – New York City

The second time Top Chef made New York its home was for the All-Stars season.  That it itself is enough to make this one of the best seasons.  Most of my favorites are all thrown together in one season including the  fierce Jen Carroll, hilarious Carla Hall, the joyous Tiffany Derry, and a man whose quotes liter my twitter feed endlessly, Fabio Viviani.  These are literally some of my favorite cheftestants period, so seeing them all in one episode is pure magic.  Fabio is always pure magic and watching his budding bromance with Richard Blais is fantastic.  I laugh every time I rewatch this season.  Actually, all of the contestants on this season were people I liked, so it can sometimes be a bit hard to watch your favorites pack their knives again.  But with so many fan favorites on one season, what’s not to love?

1. Season 6 – Las Vegas

Love those Voltaggios!  Forever my favorite season, Vegas is tied to my memories more so than any other season.  I can tell you what year of college I was in without looking up the year; I can tell you exactly where I was living.  This is the first season of Top Chef (and maybe the first show ever) I live tweeted.  Twitter has been instrumental in my Top Chef experience, and I tweeted through that finale like a fiend!  This is the first time my chosen contestant won the title of Top Chef.  Yes, I cheered for Michael Voltaggio.  The man is unstoppable!  Really, so was Bryan.  The two brothers both had such consistent success throughout the season, and it was amazing to watch.  Vegas, like New Orleans, opened my eyes to a culinary city I never would have expected.  Now whenever someone mentions Las Vegas, I say, “I want to go there!  But to eat!”


Here’s hoping Boston is the best season ever!  We have three cheftestants here– Tiffani Faison, Kristen Kish, and Stephanie Cmar.  I’d love to see them pop up on the new season.  I’d also love to see another Boston chef vying for the title.  Mostly, I hope to see Padma or Tom in my city soon!


photo via Bravo