Top Chef in Irvine

Yesterday, I went to see Bravo’s Top Chef Tour at the Irvine Spectrum. The tour had started in April but was dwindling down to the last two stops of the tour…my old stomping grounds, good ole Irvine! At each tour stop, there were 2 Top Chefs that would give a cooking demonstration and answer questions about everything and anything. One of the tallest chefs in history (he’s 6’8) – Top Chef – CJ Jacobsen, from season 3, was one of the chefs there that day. He is actually from the OC, and he graduated at El Toro High School. That’s where most of my mom’s family went to school, and my little cousin will be graduating there next week!  Another favorite chef of mine, Top Chef – Richard Blais from season 4 was there as well. I really wanted him to win that season, but some things happen for a reason. Richard is a big promoter of the sous vide machine and his latest creation is a liquid nitrogen, nutella and marshmallow shake. Hmmm, sounds interesting and tasty!

CJ had prepared a salmon dish and started off by preparing some dashi and ghee. The fresh aroma of warming ghee was a delightful tease for the dish. He used some fresh and interesting ingredients like fresh apricots and goat butter, which he said is something similar to goat cheese but it’s butter. I didn’t get to sample the dish because I wasn’t one of the lucky people who rsvp’d for seats, but I was a happy bystander. A girl nearby let me take a picture of her dish for my food-frenzy paparazzi-ness.

Hmmm, maybe I’ll have to stop by his restaurant, The Yard, again to see if this dish is available.

After the cooking demo was finished, then the question and answers began. We weren’t allowed to videotape anything but cameras were allowed. I did my best to remember all the questions and answers, but with 30+ people asking away – there were so many!

Q: How hot was Padma Lakshmi in real person?

A: CJ – VERY HOT in real person!

Q: What were some of the hardest challenges/quickfires?

A: CJ – Where we had to make something in 10 minutes? Come on, are you serious? Richard – The improv challenge where we had three words “Green Perplexed Tofu.” It seemed impossible but we made a Tofu steak marinated in beef fat with green curry – if vegetarians can make “soysauge,” I can certainly cook tofu in beef fat. Q: Who was your least fave Chef? What chef do you most get along with? A: CJ -This question always is asked…are you the person that comes around and asks this every time? Well if I have to choose someone it has to be Hung during the season, but now he’s so easy-going and nice. Lia is my favorite. Richard’s response: Lisa personality was pretty much as you see it, so it was hard to get along with. Antonia is my favorite – she’s up here in LA. Q: What was the craziest things you guys did in the stew room? A: CJ – Blow up gloves to be balloons? We’re in the stew room for hours sometimes 6 to 9 hours at a time…it’s one of the times that you get to drink the most alcohol, and you just kinda lose it. That’s why at judging’s table you see us crying! Richard – Mark wanted to be the gladman and we wrapped him in plastic except for his lip. It was pretty fun in that stew room.

My question that I asked and kinda directed it to CJ: “From your restaurants, what would you say is your signature dish because I’ve actually been to your restaurant – The Yard?” They both nodded their heads in disagreement because they both couldn’t give me an answer…saying that they avoid signature dishes. They are non-signature dish kind of people, and that I’m a nice girl for coming to his restaurant. I blushed of course, but it’s a honest answer.   After the questions, we got to meet them and I got autographs from both of them. I was first in line and ready for my photo-op with the Top Chefs. I was mad at myself for not bring my Top Chef cookbook, but it was a last minute decision. They had “free” photographs for us as handouts. My cool autograph from Richard, he drew me a pork belly with some garnishments on the plate.

Thank goodness, CJ was sitting down for this one, because I would have felt really short! I did ask him when he would be in house for his restaurant so I can see him in action. He told me all this week he would be out of town and in Phoenix for the last stop for Top Chef.

What an awesome experience, and I wasn’t as star-struck meeting these Top Chefs as when I met Fabio last year at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. I didn’t want to seem like a crazy foodie-fan, but I am! Can’t wait to watch the new season of Top Chefs!

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