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Top Chef Hugh Acheson on What Makes a Good Pickle

Top Chef Hugh Acheson on What Makes a Good Pickle

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Top Chef, restaurateur, and self-identified pot-stirrer (according to his Twitter bio) Hugh Acheson loves pickles, and it’s not a small love. Earlier this year, the chef released a whole “cookbooklet” of pickle recipes created in his kitchen, Pick a Pickle: 50 Recipes for Pickles, Relishes, and Fermented Snacks.

On Saturday, August 16, chef Acheson will host International Can-It-Forward Day, presented by Jarden Home Brands (the makers of your beloved Ball brand mason jars and home canning products) at the Brooklyn Borough Hall Farmers Market.

The event will be broadcast live on and viewers will be able to chat live with Hugh and have questions answered in real time.

In advance of Can-It-Forward Day, we had the chance to ask chef Acheson a few of our burning questions about the art of pickling.

What’s the most basic pickle recipe that you think people who have just begun to pickle should have in their arsenal?

Bread and butter or dill pickles are so simple to make and are what most people think of when they hear the word “pickle.” My new book, Pick a Pickle, has great recipes for both those varieties! I also love this recipe for Dilly Tomatoes. Tomatoes are great this time of year and people are always looking for new ways to preserve them. The brine is a pretty basic pickle brine, but people don’t always think to pickle tomatoes, so it’s sort of a twist on a classic.

To you, what makes a good pickle, and a bad pickle?

A great pickle has balance of natural sweetness to acidity. Bad pickles are too salty or too sweet or too acidic.

What are some underused spices that you think deserve a little more attention in the pickle world?

Coriander seed is a lively contender for my favorite spice right now. It’s great with cucumbers. And I adore the mix of fenugreek and tomatoes. But fenugreek is one of those spices where a little goes a long way.

From top to bottom, can you rank your favorite things to pickle?

Cucumber, okra, carrots, peppers… I can’t think of a good summer vegetable that I don’t like to pickle.

Do you think it’s possible to convert a non- pickle-lover with the perfect recipe?

With the right recipe, anything is possible! I’ll actually be converting all non-pickle lovers next Saturday, August 16th at Brooklyn Borough Hall Farmers Market, where I’ll be hosting International Can-It-Forward Day, presented by Jarden Home Brands. I’ll be demoing some of my favorite recipes that even novices can make, like the Dilly Tomatoes. If you’re not in the area or can’t make it to the market, the entire demo from 10 a.m.- to 2:00 p.m. will also be streamed live online at I challenge even the non-believers to tune in. They might learn something new!

For the latest food and drink updates, visit our Food News page.

Karen Lo is an associate editor at The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @appleplexy.

Pickled Cherries

This recipe comes to us from chef Hugh Acheson and his book Pick a Pickle. You can also try his recipe for Pickled Blueberries. Acheson discusses more things to consider when pickling fruits and vegetables with Francis Lam during the listener question segment of our episode "How Restaurants Are Dealing." He also suggests two great pickling and food preservation resources, the Ball Jar website and University of Georgia's National Center for Home Food Preservation.


1 1/4 pounds pitted cherries

1/4 cup white granulated sugar

1 1/2 cups white balsamic vinegar

Pack the cherries into the jars, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace at the top, and set aside.

Combine the salt, sugar, star anise, clove, vinegar, and water in a nonreactive saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes.

Carefully ladle the hot pickling liquid into the jars, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace in each. Cap with lids and bands, cool for 2 hours, and then either refrigerate or process according to the jar manufacturer’s directions.

The pickles can be refrigerated for 7 to 10 days if processed, they will keep for up to 10 months.

Recipe excerpted from Pick a Pickle by Hugh Acheson. Copyright © 2014 by Hugh Acheson. Published in the United States by Potter Style.

In the kitchen with: hugh acheson’s southern supper

After reader’s response to last week’s traditional Southern recipe with Top Chef favorite Kevin Gillespie, Grace and I could not resist offering a complete Southern meal to you. This week’s menu comes from Athens, Georgia-based chef Hugh Acheson. We were very lucky that photographer Rinne Allen reached out to us to offer to photograph the entire festivity so not only do you have three recipes (for fried chicken, cornbread, and Chess pies), but you have lovely photography to make you feel as though you were actually there. Hugh transmits such familiarity and enthusiasm for his style of food and the pure enjoyment of eating, I so look forward to his book coming out next year -Kristina

About Hugh: Hugh Acheson is the chef/partner of Five & Ten, the National, Gosford Wine and Empire State South (opening August 2010). Born and raised in Ottawa, Canada he started cooking at a young age and decided to make it his career after taking a very long time to realize that academics weren’t his thing. At age 15, he began working in restaurants after school and learning as much as possible. Acheson’s experience includes working under Chef Rob MacDonald where he learned stylized French cuisine, wine and etiquette at the renowned Henri Burger restaurant in Ottawa. He also worked in San Francisco as the chef de cuisine with Chef Mike Fennelly at Mecca, and later as opening sous-chef with famed Chef Gary Danko at his namesake restaurant, where he found a love of the simple, pure and disciplined.

CLICK HERE for all three recipes, more beautiful photos and more about Hugh after the jump!

Taking these experiences, Hugh developed a style of his own forging together the beauty of the South with the flavors of Europe and opening the critically acclaimed Athens, GA restaurant Five & Ten in March of 2000.

Since 2000, Hugh has gone on to open Gosford Wine in 2004 with sommelier Ben Giacchino, The National in 2007 with fellow chef Peter Dale, and will open an Atlanta based restaurant, named Empire State South in the summer of 2010.

Acheson’s fresh approach to Southern food has earned him a great deal of recognition including Food & Wine’s Best New Chef (2002), the AJC Restaurant of the Year (2007), a four time James Beard nominee for Best Chef Southeast (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010) and a 2007 Rising Star from Chef Mario Batali chose Hugh as one of the 100 contemporary chefs in Phaidon Press’ Coco: 10 World Leading Master Choose 100 Contemporary Chefs.

In addition to running two restaurants, a wine shop, and opening a new restaurant Hugh is writing a cookbook titled A New Turn in the South: The Cuisine of Hugh Acheson. This book is to be published by Clarkson Potter in the fall 0f 2011.

But that is to everyone outside of Athens. To Athens he is a guy who owns those restaurants, has one eyebrow, a wife far better looking than he is and two young children who are the apple of his eye.

For this summer supper, set outside in the garden next to Rebecca Woods’ Idea Shack, Hugh and wine director Steven Grubbs paired their menu with a selection of chilled Rieslings that perfectly suited the warmth (= humidity) of the June evening.

Fried Chicken Thighs over Stewed Pickled Tomatoes

4 Chicken Thighs
1 cup Buttermilk
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Pinch Cayenne
Pinch of Dried Mustard Powder
1 cup Flour
1 tablespoon Unsalted Butter
1 tablespoon minced Shallot
1 cup chopped ripe Red Heirloom Tomatoes
1 cup chopped Pickled Green Tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon chopped Serrano Chile
1 tablespoon chopped fresh Mint
1 tablespoon chopped Flatleaf Parsley
1 tablespoon Chicken Stock

Place chicken and buttermilk in a ziplock bag and seal tightly. Let sit in the fridge for 2 to 24 hours.
Place a large cast iron skillet on medium high heat and add enough shortening to have one inch of depth. Bring the shortening to 325°F and hold it at that temperature.
Combine the salt, cayenne and mustard powder in a small bowl and mix with a fork to combine. Remove chicken from bag and place in a colander over the sink. Discard bag and buttermilk. Place chicken on a sheet pan and dust evenly with the salt mixture.
Place the flour in a large paper shopping bag and then add the chicken. Fold over the top of the bag and Shake well to coat the chicken with the flour. Remove the chicken from the bag, shake off excess flour and set on a clean sheet pan.
Carefully place the chicken, skin side down, into the hot shortening. Cook for ten minutes and then turn over and cook for another ten minutes, holding the temperature at 325°F as consistently as possible. Remove the chicken from the pan and place on a cooling rack to drain any excess oil.
Melt the butter in a medium sized stainless steel frypan over medium high heat. Add the shallot and cook for two minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the red tomatoes and green tomatoes and cook for seven minutes. Add the serrano chile, mint, parsley and the stock and cook for another three minutes. Remove from heat.
Place a 1/2 cup of the tomatoes on each plate and then place a chicken thigh on each pile. Eat.

Serves 10-12

Note from Hugh: I don’t like sugar in my cornbread. That’s for sissies.

2 cups White Cornmeal
1/2 cup All-Purpose Flour
1 teaspoon Baking Powder
1 teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
3/4 cup Whole Milk
3/4 cup Buttermilk
1 large Egg
1/4 cup Bacon Fat
Preheat oven to 425° F
In a large bowl, mix together the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
In a separate bowl mix together the milk, buttermilk, and egg. Add this wet mix to the large bowl with the dry mixture. Stir well to combine.
Heat a 10 inch cast iron skillet over medium heat and add the bacon fat. When the fat and the pan are hot, add the hot fat to the batter and stir. Add batter to cast-iron skillet and place the skillet in oven. Bake for 20 minutes.
Remove from heat, let cool in the cast-iron skillet. Once slightly cooled, and turn the cornbread over onto a cutting board. Let cool. Slice into 10-12 slices.

Individual Lemon Chess Pies with Blackberry Ice Cream
by Shae Rehmel. Five & Ten

With this recipe, it may be easiest to make the dough and ice cream ahead of time to make sure that the pies are hot and the ice cream is nice and cold.

Pie Dough
3 cups All Purpose Flour
1 teaspoon Salt
2 sticks Butter (cut into small pieces and cold)
¼- ½ cup Ice Water
8 four-inch tartlet molds

Mix flour and salt together in a bowl and set aside. Cut the butter into small cubes and place in the fridge to stay cold
Put the dry ingredients in food processor and place butter on top. Mix until the butter is pea size and the mixture has a cornmeal consistency.
Mix water and ice together and then measure up the ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon. Add water to the food processor while on and let the dough come together . When it just comes together turn off and empty into a bowl. Give dough a couple of kneads to bring it together. Allow to rest for at least one hour or make a day ahead
Roll the dough out into ¼ inch thick and cut rounds with a 6-inch diameter for your 4-inch tartlet molds. Fill shells with dough, cut off an excess from the sides and refrigerate for 15 minutes.
Preheat oven to 370°F
Cut pieces of aluminum foil to cover each tartlet mold and delicately press into the shells . Fill with baking weights or beans and place on the middle rack in the oven. Bake for 10 minutes. Take tartlets out, remove pie weights and the foil, bake for another 8-10 minutes more, or until the edges are golden and the bottom of the crust is dry.

1 ¾ cups Sugar
3 tablespoons Lemon zest
1 stick Butter (soft)
Pinch Salt
5 Eggs
1/4 cup Corn syrup
1 cup Milk
1 tablespoon Cornmeal
2 tablespoons All Purpose Flour
¼ cup freshly squeezed Lemon Juice

Reduce heat in oven to 330°F
In a food processor, grind the sugar with lemon zest
In a large bowl beat the butter and the sugar and lemon zest mixture until well blended. Add the eggs and corn syrup. Add the milk. Add the cornmeal and flour. Add the lemon juice
Fill cooled prebaked shells with lemon filling and bake in the oven for 10 minutes. Rotate pies and continue baking until filling is set and top is slightly golden

Blackberry Ice Cream
2 cups Milk
¾ cup Heavy Cream
Pinch Salt
¼ each Vanilla bean
3 Egg yolks
½ cup + 2 tablespoons Sugar

In a medium bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugar together until pale, about a minute or two.
In a small saucepan over medium- low heat, scald the milk, cream, salt, and vanilla. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly. Once slightly cooled, slowly add the milk mixture to the yolks by drizzling the hot liquid into the egg yolk and sugar mixture while whisking. Mix in the entire warm liquid and then pour the mixture into a pot over medium heat. Over medium heat stir the mixture constantly until thickened to coat spoon. Once thickened, remove from heat. Chill.
Pour chilled mixture into an ice cream maker. Spin and freeze mixture according to ice cream maker manufacturer instructions.

Make Blackberry compote

Blackberry Compote
½ cup Sugar
¼ cup Sweet White Dessert Wine (moscato d’asti)
Pinch Salt
Pinch Cinnamon
3 Cups Blackberries

In a small saucepan, bring the first 4 ingredients to a simmer on the stove top and allow to simmer for 2 minutes. Add blackberries and allow to cook while stirring for 1 min. Turn off heat and pour into clean bowl and chill.
Fold into spun Ice Cream.

Spoon ice cream on top on individual chess pies and enjoy!

[Credits: Food by Hugh Acheson Wine pairings by Steven Grubbs Ceramics by r.wood studio Photographs by Rinne Allen Styling by field trip and beautyeveryday]

Why Hugh chose these recipes:

The menu was really put together to match with Riesling, which we adore. It was also hot as hell that day so we needed something pretty refreshing and not too rich. The chicken thighs with pickled green tomatoes and stewed red tomatoes was something really meant for the wine. Wine nerds always think Champagne or Rose with fried chicken but the Rieslings were fantastic. The stewed pickle part was kind of an ode to my summer quest to cook with a bunch of pickles… not common but really great! It’s also crazy tomato time here so we had to work them in somehow. The cornbread is kind of a staple of the outdoor meal and works with everything. Not revelatory but damn fine eating. The chess pie is a staple. Thought to be some mis-pronunciation of “Chest Pie”, like a pie in the pie cupboard, its a timelessly simple dessert that can play round with many garnishes, in this case blackberries.

For Hugh’s recipe for Georgia shrimp rolls from this supper and more background about the event, visit beautyeveryday.

Spring Cookbooks: Preview Hugh Acheson's 'Pick a Pickle'

If you are the type who likes to roll up your sleeves and pickle fruits and veggies once the weather gets warmer then arm yourself with Hugh Acheson's new cookbook.

Titled Pick a Pickle: 50 Recipes for Pickles, Relishes, and Fermented Snacks, the chef's unconventional cookbook fans out so it can be read like recipe cards. You'll find recipes for Southern favorites like pickled green tomatoes and pickled peaches. There are also instructions for popular condiments like cabbage kimchi, icebox dill pickles and much more.

With these easy recipes you'll be able to learn some of Acheson's secrets to creating amazing foods. The chef, who frequently appears as guest judge on Bravo's Top Chef, is a James Beard Award winner and partner of the restaurants Five & Ten, The National, and Empire South in Georgia.

Pick a Pickle was published by Potter Style and retails for $11.94 on Amazon. It would be a great compliment to our FDL guide to preserving summer fruit and our step-by-step guide to vegetable preservation.

Share All sharing options for: Hugh Acheson's Pickle Cookbook Hits Shelves in March

Chef and Top Chef judge Hugh Acheson is publishing a new cookbook. Acheson posted a photo of a booklet of pickle recipes to Instagram with the message: "We made a new book, Rinne and I. Comes out in march." Called Pick a Pickle: 50 Recipes for Pickles, Relishes, and Fermented Snacks, the book will be published by Potter Style, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group.

Pick a Pickle seems to be a collection of pickle-related recipe cards with photographs from Rinne Allen, who provided photographs for Acheson's A New Turn in the South. Pick a Pickle is listed on Amazon with a March 25, 2014 release date and is available to pre-order now.

Hugh Acheson on His Pickle Problem & Top Chef Boston

Today, Eater is covering the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen live from the Eater Lounge at the Limelight Hotel. Right now: chef Hugh Acheson

[Photo: Eater]

How's it going? What have you done in Aspen?
Not much. Went to those parties. Went to the Nell, hung out, drank rose. It was funny, I got to the Nell, crowded table, sitting down, there were not enough seats and suddenly this guy is bringing a chair over his head and it's great service and I was like, "Wait a minute. That's Bobby Stuckey." I was like, "That's awesome. Why is he doing that?" So that was fun and then ended the night pretty early. Was in bed by 12:30. No hard day this morning.

No 5K?
No 5K. Do I look like I runner? Can I run if chased? Yes. So now I've got a demo at 3:45 and then a Southern lunch tomorrow. Sean Brock just showed up, which is good, because he's participating, too. And then Mike Lata has yet to show up, but he's supposed to show up tonight. Jamie Bissonette decided not to come because he was so delayed. Man, all the delays yesterday screwed everyone up.

So I want to talk about your pickle problem. Your pickle book. Do you have a pickle problem?
Like, a pickle addiction? I have a pickle problem, yeah. We definitely have a pickle problem at Empire State South, where we make way too many pickles. We're still finding pickled ramps from two years ago. I don't know how the health department feels about that. But a problem, no.

Trying to bring back things that are quickly being forgotten in the world of Southern food is really important. Everybody says things like, oh, I remember canning with my grandmother. The problem is you don't remember canning with your mother. Because she didn't can with you. The era where we lost touch with food just eclipsed everything. So the pickle book is simple. There are very amazing pickle books out there that are far more scientific and have a lot more space to really espouse the beauty of pickling then a brief little book like that is going to. I don't even know if I can call it a book. But it was good. And I think it's got a lot of good reviews, so it seems to be doing well.

More in the pipeline like that? It's a fun format.
No. It is a fun format, but the price point and then the price they're paying us to fabricate the book is not really conducive to the amount of time we put into it. So if that can get shaped up a little bit, it'll work. But in that vein, there's a gazillion different things you could do. Single-topic cookbooks are really interesting to me, like Sam Sifton's Thanksgiving book was great, and beautifully written.

It's the true document of Thanksgiving.
It really is. And I love that, that becomes a historical document that you cite at that time of year. So hopefully the pickle book is something you bring out at that time of year, in the Spring when everything's abundant at the market and you're into the pickling idea.

Will we see like, a squash book for the Fall?
Yeah, no, I don't think we'll get that focused.

It is sort of a dream team: You were working with Francis Lam.
Yes, on the new cookbook, I'm working with Francis and the book sort of answers the question, "What the fuck do I do with kohlrabi?" That's actually not the working title. It's called The Broad Fork, as a working title. And it's just aimed at getting people to understand what's in their CSA box, what's at the farmers' market, and how to use it. Each ingredient has four recipes, two simpler and two more in-depth. So if it's leeks, or asparagus, everything's got four things. There are some foraged elements, too, but not too much. I'm a little worried we're going to forage the earth into nothingness very soon. Lichen. Do you like lichen? What's not to lichen?

They're clear-cutting ramps now.
They really are, no one knows how to cut ramps anymore, we're just ripping them all up.

So you're opening the Florence in Savannah?
Yeah, it looks like next week. And it's stunningly beautiful. It's a phenomenally beautiful restaurant. I'm really proud of it, the build-out's really good, and now comes the most difficult part of any concept: not designing and building it, but actually putting content into it every day. But we have a great team down there. And the idea is relatively simple at its core, it's just to show the similarity and ethos between Southern food and Italian food. They're both remarkably simple reactions to their growing environments. A lot of extruded pastas and hand-rolled pastas. There's a pizza oven, but it's not a pizzeria.

What's a Southern pizza?
Just made with Southern ingredients. Still utilizing the beauty of Italian cooking but then wrapping it in Southern ingredients. We're not the first to do it, Andy [Ticer] and Michael [Hudman] have been doing it in Memphis, and Tandy Wilson in Nashville. But Savannah is a really interesting town. It's so drop-dead gorgeous, and so nuanced. It has this wonderful, kind of creepy patina to it that's so cool. But it lacks a little in contemporary food culture. It's got a lot of great restaurants, they're just of a different time. So we're trying to bring something different to them, and I know a lot of chefs are sort of looking to us to see if we'll be successful there.

I think the conversation's started what we've seen in Charleston over the last 15 years has been mind-blowing. They took a city 20 years ago that was dedicated to serving tourists they'd never see again, and now suddenly they're a world-class dining city. That's a really amazing point in food culture, where they decide they actually care about the consumer coming back in the next week or next month.

And you have a restaurant in Athens.
I have three restaurants in Athens.

And then you're also in Atlanta. So why not open more in Atlanta?
Because it's not where I live. I love Atlanta, and I spend half of my time there, and it's a wonderful, growing city. Empire is a bit of a beast of a restaurant it's breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and it's seven days a week. So it draws most of our attention when we're there. We have a very strong team there, and great people who we'll elevate to other roles and potentially do other stuff with. It's just not on our radar right now. I wouldn't say Atlanta is saturated with food right now, in the style that we do, but it's getting there.

Do you find yourself driving around between all three cities?
Yeah. I drive a diesel, thank god, because the gas mileage is much better.

What kind of car?
A BMW Diesel, a 328, it's a simple car, a good car. It's a new car, I think it's three months old and it's got 16,000 miles on it. So yeah, I spend a lot of time in the car.

Do you listen to music, or podcasts, or what?
Yeah, I listen to music, some podcasts. I actually like Alton Brown's podcast. It's interesting, and it thoroughly encapsulates the goodness of him. He's got some strange attributes, too. He's a lovely man in a lot of ways but it helps when he's got a forum he can control. I'm not sure if Cutthroat Kitchen is that forum. But to each to their own, I'm sure it's well-watched. And I listen to a lot of music, and do a lot of phone calls. Bluetooth. But not the stupid little earpiece. At least it's in the car so I don't look like a moron.

So how does it work, with you constantly going from place to place?
You know, you have teams. This is not about me. I'm the figurehead and happily so. Right now I'm sitting here on a beautiful day in Aspen, and all of our restaurants are open for business. You empower people and make them believe in your vision, and you make sure the vision is considerate of their wants and aspirations and aptitudes, and you respect them. And they give a lot back to you. But I have to give a lot to them to get a lot back. I can't just be a dictatorial person who's never at the restaurants.

So I'm in the restaurants, but I rotate around. I'm usually there in some of the off-business hours to get them set up for the evening. At Five & Ten, four of five of the waiters have been there for more than 12 years. Three have been there for the full 16 years. I know I look young, but I've been doing this a long time. This is not my first rodeo. That means there's a backbone to the restaurant, and people that thoroughly believe in the systems and how they work, and thoroughly believe in the hospitality that we're meant to provide, which is kind of the natural basis for food in the South. They believe in it, and they do well by it. Some of them are partners, and some have just been there a long time. You've gotta build teams.

Top Chef Boston. How's it going?
It's good. Boston is really good. It's funny, you talk to some people in Boston and they're like, "I don't know, I'm from Boston, I eat chowder." It sounds like a generalization, but the people I met who said those things. you realize there's a Relais Chateaux restaurant right over there, right? You realize that Jamie [Bissonnette] and Ken [Oringer] are uber-James Beard Award-winning chefs? And Matthew Gaudet at West Bridge is doing phenomenal food. They have so much to offer. It's such an amazingly pedestrian city, with a lot to offer, like Tony Maws. There's some characters up there, there's a great backbone of food. I just think they're waking up to it. That's America, though, it's not just them. Look at L.A., they thought they were a crappy food city, and now they're arguably the best food city in North America.

I would say. You know why? There's not a lot of super high-end there. They don't go for that, as much money as Hollywood and Beverly Hills have, look at the number of really super-high-end places. There just aren't that many. So there's tons of food for the people, which is great. They revel in the taqueria. They revel in all points of dining. The only other city I can really think of like that is Austin. Austin is that way to the core. I can't think of a super high-end restaurant in Austin, either. What would it be?

Hmm. There's some fancy white-tablecloth places. Jefferey's re-opened.
So there are some, but there's not a real push for it. The push is for variety, for food for everyone.

OK, last question, we're asking all the chefs this question. What's the craziest thing you've ever said no to?
I don't know if that's confidential or not! I got offered to be a spokesperson for a very major poultry company. My agent was like, "I know you're going to say no to this, BUT. it may be a LOT of money." But look. We do fine. I will not sell my soul for anything. I'll do stuff quietly that's great. And even if a big company like that came to me and said, "This is our path to the future, these are the sustainability measures that we're taking, this is the new ethical treatment plan for the animals, this is our new butchery practice, these are the steps we're trying to take." You give me something I can defend your company with? Great. They gave me nothing. So yeah, we say no to things like that. And we have to.

Top Chef recap: Pike Place Pickle

Hello, Top Chef lovers! I’m filling in for the lovely Stephan this week, so I hope you’ll forgive me since I haven’t been watching this season quite as religiously as I should have. Boy, did this episode show me what happens when I start slacking! No challenge winner? That’s just nuts. Like Stephan, I’ve been worried that this season might be a bit of a 𠇍rama fest” (as Josh so eloquently put it), and for an instant at the end of “Pike Place Pickle,” I dared hope that we𠆝 be getting rid of the mustachioed menace and focusing on food instead of diabolical lip hair (no offense to mustaches, of course). Alas, he lives to fight another day. SERENITY NOW! But I get ahead of myself.

This episode opened on everyone reminiscing about the dearly departed Carla. “She’s the only person in my room,” Eliza announced pityingly. “I’m all by myself now.” “Need a roommate?” Josie offered. Eliza got crazy eyes and quickly backtracked. “No, I’m good.” You could practically feel her blood pressure spike. Meanwhile, Stefan lived in fear of the 𠇋irthday curse” — he turned 40 this episode and as everybody knows, people rarely survive elims on their b-days. Also: Josh was depressed. Awww. He’s excelled at the Quickfires, but bottomed out in the Elimination Challenges. Too bad “Pike Place Pickle” wasn’t any different.

The alarms went off bright and early at 3:45 a.m. and the gang headed out for the titular Pike Place Market, one of the oldest farmer’s markets in the US and where Eliza was proposed to. Eliza’s husband, I judge you. There, they met Padma, as well as Daisley Gordon, Chef Partner at Seattle’s Marché. And what was this week’s Quickfire Challenge, pray tell? Making breakfast to go for the vendors of Pike Place Market. Doesn’t sound too bad, right? But then Padma dropped this bombshell: “On. A. Stick.” Dum, dum, duuum. Maybe it’s just the fact that my so-called refined palette consists of distinguishing between McDonald’s and Five Guys, but breakfast on a stick doesn’t seem too hard. The chefs looked repulsed, though, and WTFs abounded. They split into teams of two, some happily and some not so happily, then bolted for their supplies.

NEXT: What makes a good breakfast food? Discuss.

Breakfasts ranged from speared berries to bacon in a waffle (guess which one I𠆝 rather eat). Overall, Padma and Daisley were impressed with the turnout, singling out Sheldon and Bart’s green egg breakfast sandwich and Josh and John’s breakfast taco (which included quail eggs — readers, I’m skeptical). Meanwhile, the meals I thought looked good (such as the ricotta sausage pancake) were deemed less than stellar. In fairness, Padma’s soft pancake did not stay on the stick when she tried to eat it, which was the point of the challenge, but let’s be real here: when confronted with a bacon waffle and a quail egg, which would you rather eat? Padma and Daisley did get one thing right, however. Danyele and Lizzie’s bacon-wrapped fruit just felt downright lazy to me. These vendors are on their feet all day! Three berries and a slice of bacon do not a breakfast make. Also, I feel compelled to point out CJ and Tyler’s crepe-wrapped salmon. Now, I’m not a fish fan, but that seems more like a light lunch than a breakfast.

Ultimately, the win went to Sheldon and Bart’s breakfast sandwich. “It feels good to get one under the belt,” Sheldon said. Well, what really feels good is knowing you’re safe from elimination. Particularly given the disastrous Elimination Challenge that followed. It was an especially rough one for some chefs — after spending the morning working in pairs, they were forced stick with their partners for Round 2. Lizzie was peeved — she and Danyele hadn’t found their rhythm in the a.m. and she had low hopes for the afternoon. Meanwhile, Eliza just wanted to meet Josie halfway. You know, if you hate each other so much, why didn’t you make better friends with other people in the first place? That way you wouldn’t have to be paired together. Just food for thought.

Following up on the Pike Place Market theme, the Elimination Challenge required the chefs to draw knives emblazoned with a speciality ingredient made by a vendor of PPM. I have to admit, I felt a little uneasy watching them stand around with their faux cleavers. With all the drama queens in this group (cough, Eliza, cough), there’s no telling when one will go psycho. Thankfully, the chefs kept their knives to themselves. Ingredients ranged from pickles to cheese curds (yum), but by far my favorite reaction was when Stefan pulled rose petal jelly. “It’s like rose water. It’s a perfume kind of thing. Women in the 1500s put it on them because they were smelling.” Could you make your eventual meal sound any more appetizing?

NEXT: Let me count the ways to serve a pickle that doesn’t include a burger.

At its heart, the challenge asked the contestants to make a dish that highlighted their chosen ingredient. The teams split up and discussed their plans of action. Some chose to truly make their ingredient the center of their dish, like Lizzie and Danyele, who took coconut curry chocolate and made some sort of chocolate dessert (never mind that they were supposed to be making lunch). Others just used their ingredient as a garnish. CJ and Tyler, a burger with pickles? How inspired! Not. And that was the problem with this challenge as a whole. No one was especially creative. And when the groups did get imaginative, they also got weird. Now I know there’s not a lot you can do with rose petal jelly, but dousing duck and cabbage with it doesn’t seem like the best idea.

Another issue was the fact that no one wanted to speak up for themselves. I get that there’s tension within the groups and no one wants to cause a problem, but come on! Tyler wanted to use the spicy dill pickles to make an oyster dish, which sounds absolutely revolting to me, but at least it’s more creative than his partner CJ’s pork burger. CJ may be a veteran of Top Chef, but that does not make him better than you Tyler. Speak up for yourself! Similarly, John was concerned that Josh wasn’t properly searing the pork, while Josh opposed cutting the pork into medallions in the first place. But neither said anything and then they were later called out on both by the judges. Why didn’t they just talk to each other? Readers, it stresses me out.

The moment of truth came: the judges — Hugh Acheson, Tom Colicchio, Gail Simmons, and, of course, Padma — and vendors assembled. Four dishes were brought out first. Brooke and Stefan‘s rose petal jelly-based duck was deemed too sugary, while the duck was labeled “tough.” John and Josh‘s pork medallions and popcorn grits were just as unpopular. “Those grits suck,” Hugh said bluntly. The meat wasn’t a hit either, with judges criticizing both the shape and the cooking. Micah and Kristen‘s cheese curds fared no better, while Bart and Sheldon‘s candied salmon salad was tasty, but lacking in its central ingredient.

The next three dishes did even worse. CJ and Tyler‘s burger was “soggy” and would have worked better as a slider. Its biggest strike was the lack of creativity in using the spicy dill pickles. Eliza and Josie brought out the cardamom bitters’ flavor in their fishy broth, but the dish was thought to be too salty. Tom seemed especially disappointed with Lizzie and Danyele‘s coconut curry chocolate dessert, complaining about its lack of firmness (specifically using the word “squirt” — ew). Ladies and gentleman, challenge failed.

NEXT: Nobody likes a whiner.

The judges were so put off by the seven meals that they decided not to elect a winner. “I don’t have a favorite,” Tom declared. “They’re all so bad.” Instead, they sent a whole team (two people!) home. While they waited for the ultimate decision, the contestants turned to a tried and true cure-all: alcohol. It was during this moment of crisis that Josh delivered perhaps one of the most idiotic phrases I’ve ever heard uttered on TV: “Stefan and I, we click. We’re both a little on the arrogant asshole side, but at the same time we’re both pretty likable.” Name one person who likes you, Josh. Also, likable arrogant a-holes tend to not have a mustache with twirled ends.

Three teams were summoned before the Judges’ Table — Josh and John, CJ and Tyler, and Brooke and Stefan. Of course, the Jo Bros immediately threw each other under the bus. Josh complained about the pork medallions’ shape, John blamed Josh for the undercooked meat, etc., etc. But the problem wasn’t just that the dish was poorly cooked, it’s that the meal looked “like someone who has to feed their family and really hates cooking.” I can guarantee that family probably doesn’t like popcorn grits either.

CJ and Tyler received strong criticism as well, with the judges saying the boys probably should have thought less about what goes well with a pickle and more about what you could make with a pickle. (It didn’t help that the burger sucked.) When CJ tried to deflect the judges’ harsh words by pointing out that Lizzie and Danyele’s dessert was awful as well, Hugh promptly responded: “Your burger was even worse.” Zing. I think CJ’s remark may singlehandedly be responsible for… well, you’ll see, won’t you?

Brooke and Stefan’s meal was overly sweet, but the judges didn’t seem nearly as critical of them as they were of the other two teams. When the time to vote came, Hugh, Tom, and Padma each singled out a different team that they thought had the worst dish. So, the tiebreaker vote came down to Gail, and she chose… (oh, you can guess by now, can’t you?) CJ and Tyler. CJ handled it like a gentleman, complaining about not having been judged fairly. Well, that’s what happens when you don’t keep your mouth shut about other people. Meanwhile, Tyler took it like the pushover he is, saying he was happy to have been on the show this long. I actually did feel bad for him — he just needs more backbone next time!

So, what are your thoughts on “Pike Place Pickle”? Did anyone notice the innuendo (“sausage on a stick”)? Are the judges going hungry from the bad food? Should Josh have been eliminated? Would you eat a quail egg? Should someone be proposed to in a market? These and more are the opinions I want to hear. Let the comments begin!

Spaghetti Squash Caponata

1 spaghetti squash (about 1 lb)

freshly cracked black ­pepper, to taste

1 stalk peeled celery, thinly sliced

1. Preheat the oven to 325°F.

2. Cut the spaghetti squash in half lengthwise. Remove the strings and seeds. Drizzle the inside of the squash halves with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and season with salt and black pepper.

3. Place seasoned squash, cut side down, in a roasting pan and roast 45 minutes or until cooked through. Remove squash from the oven, flip over, and set aside to cool to room temperature.


4. Place a medium saucepan over medium heat and add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Add bell pepper and celery, and lightly sweat for 5 minutes. Add the honey and vinegar to the pan, raise the heat to high, and reduce liquid by half, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.

5. Using a fork, carefully flake the squash strands out of the shells onto a cutting board. Chop squash into shorter strands and put them in a large bowl. Add the pepper, celery mixture, currants, and capers. Mix well, and adjust seasoning with more kosher salt and cracked pepper, if desired. Serve at room temperature, or store for up to a week in a sealed container in the fridge.

Per serving 133 calories, 1 g protein, 17 g carbohydrate, 8 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 1 g fiber, 10 g sugar, 439 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 52%

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Hugh Acheson, chef author, The Broad Fork, Clarkson Potter, 2015.

Chris "CJ" Jacobson

Orange County-born C.J. Jacobson grew up relatively indifferent to food but his rich life experiences eventually converged to create an intense dedication to cooking. His craft is best described as "rustic-refined" and revolves around a profound respect for the hyper-seasonal, local ingredients he brings into his kitchen at Girasol in Studio City, CA, which he conceptually collaborated on with Jorge Pultera, former manager at The Ivy, Koi and Red O.

Jacobson has always been one for a good competition, even before starring on Top Chef. He attended Pepperdine University in Malibu on a volleyball scholarship, made the U.S. National Volleyball Team, and just missed an opportunity to compete in the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. But a professional volleyball career took him to Belgium, Israel, and the Netherlands, where he discovered food could be exciting and inspiring. Returning to L.A. after his volleyball career, Jacobson did a three-day immersion at Mélisse, the Michelin two-star restaurant in Santa Monica where he realized the kitchen would be the next arena in which he would compete. He enrolled at the Le Cordon Bleu-affiliated College of Culinary Arts in Pasadena, graduating in 2004. Jacobson's first professional job was cooking at Axe, a highly regarded restaurant with an ingredient-driven California menu. He went on to work throughout Los Angeles and as a private chef for VIPs such as Arianna Huffington and Guess clothing's Marciano family.

A bout with cancer didn't slow Jacobson down but fueled his intensity for cooking and love of life. After his first appearance on Top Chef in 2007, he assumed the position of executive chef at The Yard, a gastropub in Venice. The following year, Jacobson participated in the renowned James Beard Celebrity Chef Tour. In 2012, he staged at the world-renowned Copenhagen restaurant Noma.

When he's not in the kitchen, Jacobson enjoys music and has recently rediscovered his passion for the game of volleyball. But leisure time is scarce, as the dedicated 37-year-old chef is consumed by the study and preparation of food.

Curtis Stone

Curtis Stone

Curtis Stone ( is an internationally known chef, TV host, entrepreneur and New York Times bestselling author. His philosophy to cook as Mother Nature intended inspires Curtis to keep his recipes simple, using local, seasonal and organic ingredients and allowing the food to speak for itself. Curtis is recognized around the globe for his ability to help home cooks find confidence in the kitchen with delicious, doable recipes and easy cooking techniques.

Born in Melbourne, Australia, Curtis first found his passion for food whilst watching his grandmother make her legendary fudge and his mother roast her perfect pork crackling. He quickly learnt to appreciate the beauty of creating -- and eating -- homemade food and cherished the way it brought people together. That early lesson would ultimately become Curtis' ethos and the foundation of his culinary career.

After finishing culinary school, he took a job cooking at the Savoy Hotel in Melbourne before heading to London, where he honed his skills under legendary three-star Michelin genius, Marco Pierre White, at Café Royal, Mirabelle. and the highly revered Quo Vadis.

Curtis opened a multi-functional culinary headquarters in Beverly Hills in January 2014, featuring a test kitchen and his dream, little restaurant, Maude (

While living in London, Curtis appeared in several UK cooking shows before catching the eye of television producers in Australia. At the age of 27, he became the star of a new cooking series called Surfing the Menu. It was an international hit that led to his first American show, TLC’s Take Home Chef in 2006 -- the same year the blondhaired, blue-eyed young gun was named one of People magazine's Sexiest Men Alive. Curtis broke into US primetime network television with appearances on NBC's Celebrity Apprentice, America's Next Great Restaurant and The Biggest Loser. In 2012, Curtis co-hosted Bravo’s Around the World in 80 Plates and reprised his role as host of the network's popular culinary competition Top Chef Masters, which returned for a fifth season in 2013. In addition to this, Curtis is host of the new edition of the Top Chef franchise, Top Chef Duels, scheduled to air this summer. As a frequent guest since ABC’s The Chew's launch in September 2011, Curtis officially joined the ensemble cast as a regular guest co-host in November 2013.

As the author of five cookbooks, Curtis has shared his culinary know-how with readers around the globe. Surfing the Menu and Surfing the Menu Again (ABC Books 2004, 2005), penned with his friend and fellow Aussie chef Ben O’Donoghue, were followed by Cooking with Curtis (Pavilion 2005), a solo effort that celebrated seasonal fare and brought his chef's expertise down-to-earth for the home cook. Setting out to prove that good food doesn't need to be fussy, Curtis then released Relaxed Cooking with Curtis Stone: Recipes to Put You in My Favorite Mood (Clarkson Potter 2009).

Curtis launched his fifth cookbook, a New York Times best-seller: What's For Dinner?: Recipes for a Busy Life in April 2013 (Ballantine). His sixth cookbook is set for release in April 2015. Curtis also contributes to a variety of food and lifestyle magazines. He is a food columnist for the wildly popular O Magazine, contributing on a bimonthly basis. His debut column was published in the October 2013 issue.

Curtis developed Kitchen Solutions, a line of sleek and functional cookware, in 2007 after spending thousands of hours with home cooks in their own kitchens. The goal is to bring confidence to the kitchen with tools that help make cooking inspired and effortless. The first chef to debut an eponymous product line at Williams-Sonoma, Curtis has expanded the range to include close to 250 items, which in addition to Williams-Sonoma are available at HSN, Bloomingdales, Dillard's, Chef's Catalog, Belk and fine specialty retailers throughout the US, Canada, Mexico, Australia, Singapore and Belgium.

Curtis' restaurant Maude ( is the culmination of all his life and career experiences captured into an intimate setting. Curtis always dreamed of opening his own restaurant so when the perfect space in Beverly Hills became available, he jumped at the chance to make it his own. Curtis' passion project Maude, named after his grandmother, offers a market driven, prix-fixe monthly menu designed to create an intimate chef's table experience for the entire dining room, where every seat is within a comfortable distance to the open kitchen. Each month a single ingredient inspires a menu of nine tasting plates, and this celebrated ingredient is creatively woven, to varying degrees, through each course.

Curtis has fostered long-term relationships with charities around the world, including Feeding America in the US and Cottage by the Sea and Make-A-Wish in Australia. He currently lives in Los Angeles with his wife, actress Lindsay Price, two-year-old son, Hudson, and golden retriever Sully. In his spare time he enjoys hiking, gardening, surfing -- and cooking. For Curtis, cooking always brings fun. "There really is no better gift than a home-cooked meal and enjoying a good laugh around the table."

Gail Simmons

Gail Simmons

Gail Simmons is a trained culinary expert, food writer, and dynamic television personality. Since the show’s inception in 2006, she has lent her extensive expertise as permanent judge on Bravo’s Emmy-winning series Top Chef, currently in its 18th season. She is also the host of the upcoming series Top Chef Amateurs, giving talented home cooks the opportunity of a lifetime to test their skills in the illustrious Top Chef kitchen. A familiar face in the Top Chef franchise, she served as head critic on Top Chef Masters, hosted Top Chef Just Desserts and was a judge on Universal Kids’ Top Chef Jr. Gail hosts Iron Chef Canada and was co-host of The Feed on FYI.

Her first cookbook, Bringing It Home: Favorite Recipes from a Life of Adventurous Eating, was released by Grand Central Publishing in October 2017. Nominated for an IACP award for Best General Cookbook, it features accessible recipes and smart techniques inspired by Gail’s world travels. Gail’s first book, a memoir titled Talking With My Mouth Full, was published by Hyperion in February 2012.

From 2004 to 2019 Gail was Special Projects Director at Food & Wine magazine. During her tenure she wrote a monthly column, helped create the video series #FWCooks and worked closely with the country’s top culinary talent on events and chef-related initiatives, including overseeing the annual F&W Classic in Aspen, America’s premier culinary event. Prior to working at Food & Wine, Gail was the special events manager for Chef Daniel Boulud’s restaurant empire.

Born and raised in Toronto, Canada, Gail moved to New York City in 1999 to attend culinary school at what is now the Institute of Culinary Education. She then trained in the kitchens of legendary Le Cirque 2000 and groundbreaking Vong restaurants and worked as the assistant to Vogue's esteemed food critic, Jeffrey Steingarten.

In 2014, Gail and her business partner Samantha Hanks, founded Bumble Pie Productions, an original content company dedicated to discovering and promoting new female voices in the food and lifestyle space. Their first series, Star Plates—a collaboration with Drew Barrymore’s Flower Films and Authentic Entertainment—premiered in Fall 2016 on the Food Network.

In addition, Gail is a weekly contributor to The Dish On Oz and makes frequent appearances on NBC’s TODAY, ABC’s Good Morning America, and the Rachael Ray Show, among others. She has been featured in publications such as People, New York Magazine, Travel + Leisure, Conde Nast Traveler, GQ, Entertainment Weekly, US Weekly, Los Angeles Times, and was named the #1 Reality TV Judge in America by the New York Post.

In February 2013, Gail was appointed Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Babson College, a mentoring role where she works with student entrepreneurs, helping them develop food-related social enterprises. In April 2016, she received the Award of Excellence by Spoons Across America, a non-profit organization dedicated to educating children about the benefits of healthy eating. She is an active board member and supporter of City Harvest, Hot Bread Kitchen, Common Threads, and the Institute of Culinary Education.

Gail currently lives in New York City with her husband, Jeremy and their children, Dahlia and Kole.

Hugh Acheson

Hugh Acheson

Hugh Acheson returns as a judge for for the twelfth season of Top Chef as a series judge. A competitor on Top Chef Duels as a series judge. A competitor on Top Chef Masters Season 3, Hugh is the chef/owner of Five & Ten, The National, Cinco y Diez, Empire State South and The Florence. In addition, Acheson also serves as a series judge on Bravo's newest culinary competition series, Top Chef Duels.

Born and raised in Ottawa, Canada Hugh started cooking at a young age and decided to make it his career. At age 15, he began working in restaurants after school and learning as much as possible. Today, Hugh's experience includes working under Chef Rob MacDonald where he learned stylized French cuisine, wine and etiquette at the renowned Henri Burger restaurant in Ottawa as well as in San Francisco as the chef de cuisine with Chef Mike Fennelly at Mecca, and later as opening sous-chef with famed Chef Gary Danko at his namesake restaurant.

Taking these experiences, Hugh developed a style of his own forging together the beauty of the South with the flavors of Europe and opening the critically acclaimed Athens, GA, restaurant Five & Ten in March of 2000. Hugh went on to open The National, with fellow chef Peter Dale, in 2007. His Atlanta-based restaurant Empire State South opened in 2010 and most recently, in 2014 Hugh opened both Cinco y Diez, in Athens, and The Florence in Savannah.

Hugh's fresh approach to Southern food has earned him a great deal of recognition including Food & Wine's Best New Chef (2002), the AJC Restaurant of the Year (2007), a 2007 Rising Star from and winner of their Mentor Award in 2012, and a six-time James Beard nominee for Best Chef Southeast (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012) and winner in 2012. Chef Mario Batali chose Hugh as one of the 100 contemporary chefs in Phaidon Press' Coco: 10 World Leading Master Choose 100 Contemporary Chefs.

In addition to running three restaurants, Hugh has published two cookbooks. His first, titled A New Turn in the South: Southern Flavors Reinvented for your Kitchen, was published by Clarkson Potter in the fall of 2011 and won the James Beard Award for Best American Cookbook in 2012. His second, titled Pick a Pickle: 50 Recipes for Pickles, Relishes and Fermented Snacks came out in the spring of 2014. He is in the process of writing his third, which is due out in 2015.

Wolfgang Puck

Wolfgang Puck

The name Wolfgang Puck is synonymous with the best of restaurant hospitality and the ultimate in all aspects of the culinary arts. The famous chef has built an empire that encompasses three separate Wolfgang Puck entities: Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group, Wolfgang Puck Catering, and Wolfgang Puck Worldwide, Inc.

Puck began cooking at his mother's side as a child. She was a chef in the Austrian town where he was born, and with her encouragement, Wolfgang began his formal training at 14 years of age. As a young chef he worked in some of France's greatest restaurants, including Maxim's in Paris, the Hotel de Paris in Monaco, and the Michelin 3-starred L'Oustau de Baumanière in Provence. At the age of 24, Wolfgang took the advice of a friend and left Europe for the United States. His first job was at the restaurant La Tour in Indianapolis, where he worked from 1973 to 1975.

Wolfgang came to Los Angeles in 1975 and very quickly garnered the attention of the Hollywood elite as chef and eventually part owner of Ma Maison in West Hollywood. His dynamic personality and culinary brilliance that bridged tradition and invention made Ma Maison a magnet for the rich and famous, with Wolfgang as the star attraction. He had an innate understanding of the potential for California cuisine, and was pivotal in its rise to national attention during the late 1970s.

From Ma Maison, Wolfgang went on to create his first flagship restaurant, Spago, originally located in West Hollywood on the Sunset Strip. From its opening day in 1982, Spago was an instant success and culinary phenomenon. His early signature dishes, such as haute cuisine pizzas topped with smoked salmon and caviar, and Sonoma baby lamb with braised greens and rosemary, put him and Spago on the gourmet map, not just in Los Angeles but throughout the world. Wolfgang and Spago earned many accolades during its popular 18 years in West Hollywood, including winning the prestigious James Beard Foundation Award for Outstanding Chef of the Year, twice, in 1991 and 1998, and the James Beard Foundation Award for Restaurant of the Year in 1994. Wolfgang is the only chef to have won the Outstanding Chef of the Year Award two times.

In 1983, following the success of Spago, Puck went on to open Chinois on Main in Santa Monica. His early exposure to Southern California's multicultural population intrigued him, inspiring him to fuse the Asian flavors and products of Koreatown, Chinatown, and Thaitown with his French- and California-based cuisine in a fine dining setting. Chinois on Main brought diners a fresh and imaginative Asian-fusion menu that laid the groundwork for fusion cooking in America.

In 1989, Wolfgang opened his third restaurant, Postrio, in the Prescott Hotel off San Francisco's Union Square. Postrio also draws upon the multi-ethnic nature of its surroundings. Its contemporary American cuisine, with its emphasis on local ingredients, continues to draw rave reviews in Northern California's highly competitive culinary market.

In 1997, Wolfgang moved Spago to an elegant setting on Cañon Drive in Beverly Hills. His Beverly Hills menu blazed new ground, with a combination of updated Spago classics and newly conceived items created by the award-winning talents of Managing Partner/Executive Chef Lee Hefter and Executive Pastry Chef Sherry Yard. The seasonal menu also draws from Wolfgang's favorite childhood dishes, offering a selection of Austrian specialties such as Wienerschnitzel and Kaiserschmarren. Spago Beverly Hills recently garnered two coveted Michelin Stars, one of only three Los Angeles restaurants to achieve this accolade.

In 2006, Wolfgang opened CUT, a sleek, contemporary steakhouse at the acclaimed Beverly Wilshire, a Four Seasons Hotel. After only one year, CUT earned a prestigious Michelin star. Wolfgang has changed the way Americans cook and eat by mixing formal French techniques and Asian- and California-influenced aesthetics with the highest quality ingredients. He also has changed the face of dining in cities throughout the nation, first in Los Angeles, then in Las Vegas, where he was the first star chef to create a contemporary fine dining restaurant, paving the way for other celebrated chefs and the city's metamorphosis into a dining destination.

After opening Spago in the Forum Shops at Caesars in 1992, Wolfgang went on to open five additional restaurants including Chinois in the Forum Shops at Caesars in 1998, Postrio at The Venetian and Trattoria del Lupo in the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in 1999, Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill at MGM Grand in 2004 and CUT at The Palazzo in 2008.

Since 2001, Wolfgang and his Fine Dining Group have opened restaurants across the United States from Atlantic City (Wolfgang Puck American Grille at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in 2006) to Maui (Spago at the Four Seasons Resort in 2001). These also include The Source in Washington, DC (2007), Wolfgang Puck Grille at MGM Grand Detroit (2007), Spago at The Ritz Carlton, Bachelor Gulch in Colorado (2007), Five Sixty by Wolfgang Puck at Reunion Tower in Dallas (2009) and Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill at L.A. Live (2009).

Antonia Lofaso

Antonia Lofaso

Best known for her role on Top Chef Season 4, Antonia Lofaso is one of America's most loved chefs and shows off her culinary skills with her feisty Italian personality on Top Chef: All Stars.

Most recently Lofaso has gone from television personality to business owner and is currently executive chef and owner of Black Market in Studio City, California. Fans of her restaurant on the west side can now experience her creations closer to home as her brand new restaurant Scopa currently opened its doors in Venice, California.

With a lifelong passion for cooking, Lofaso chased her dreams and has managed to balance her busy career with being a single parent. She shares her secrets and tips in her book The Busy Mom's Cookbook re-released in paperback.

Lofaso attended the prestigious French Culinary Institute, and upon graduating was hired at Beverly Hills' best known restaurant, Wolfgang Puck's Spago. Under the mentorship of Executive Chef Lee Hefter, Lofaso refined her skills and technique, and spent six years working at the famed L.A. hotspot. After mastering the cuisine at Spago, Lofaso made the difficult decision to leave and pursue a new adventure. Within weeks, she was hired by SBE to run the kitchen at their new upscale L.A. supper club, Foxtail. Upon starting her new role at Foxtail, Lofaso's career encountered a monumental boom when Bravo came calling and recruited her for Season 4 of its highly acclaimed cooking competition show Top Chef. In addition to her restaurant and television experience, Lofaso can also include private chef to some of Hollywood's biggest stars in her repertoire.

She currently resides in Los Angeles with her daughter Xea.

Art Smith

Art Smith

Returning to Top Chef Masters, Chef Art Smith is the executive chef and co-owner of five restaurants, including Table fifty-two, Art and Soul, LYFE Kitchen, Southern Art, and Joanne Tratorria. Once day-to-day chef to Oprah Winfrey, the two-time James Beard Award recipient has made regular television appearances on programs such as Iron Chef America, The Today Show, Nightline, Fox News, Extra, BBQ Pitmasters, Dr. Oz, Oprah, Top Chef, and Top Chef Masters. A contributing editor to O, the Oprah Magazine, Smith is also the author of three award-winning cookbooks: Back to the Table Kitchen Life: Real Food for Real Families and Back to the Family. In addition to food, philanthropy is one of Art’s passions. In 2007 he received the Humanitarian of the year award from the James Beard Foundation. After watching himself on Top Chef Masters Season 1 and being diagnosed with diabetes, Smith underwent a complete transformation and dropped 100 pounds. Smith now watches what he eats -- six small meals a day -- and has run multiple marathons.

Brooke Williamson

Brooke Williamson

Born and raised in Los Angeles, California, Brooke Williamson has carved out an impressive résumé of leading roles and achievements, including being the youngest female chef to ever cook at the James Beard House, winning Top Chef Season 14 in Charleston, and most recently, being crowned the first winner of Tournament of Champions in spring 2020. Brooke was the runner up on Top Chef season 10 in Seattle and also competed on Top Chef Duels.

Brooke began her career as a teacher’s assistant at the Epicurean Institute of Los Angeles, followed by her first kitchen position as a pastry assistant at Fenix at the Argyle Hotel, under the tutelage of Michelin-starred Chef Ken Frank. Next, she worked her way up to sous chef at Chef Michael McCarty’s Michael’s of Santa Monica. She later staged at the renowned Daniel restaurant by Daniel Boulud in New York City. Two years later, Williamson was appointed her first executive chef position at the notable Los Angeles restaurant Boxer. Then, she opened the Brentwood eatery Zax as Executive Chef, where she began to develop her signature California-inspired cuisine and met her husband and business partner, Nick Roberts.

In 2014, the couple debuted a unique four-in-one-concept, Playa Provisions, featuring a grab-and-go marketplace, King Beach an artisanal ice cream shop, Small Batch a seafood dining spot, Dockside and an intimate whiskey bar, Grain.

Brooke works alongside Roberts creating new menus and running the front and back of house, takes her chef talents on the road to local and national food events and festivals, and regularly participates in philanthropic efforts with No Kid Hungry.

Chris "CJ" Jacobson

Chris "CJ" Jacobson

Orange County-born C.J. Jacobson grew up relatively indifferent to food but his rich life experiences eventually converged to create an intense dedication to cooking. His craft is best described as "rustic-refined" and revolves around a profound respect for the hyper-seasonal, local ingredients he brings into his kitchen at Girasol in Studio City, CA, which he conceptually collaborated on with Jorge Pultera, former manager at The Ivy, Koi and Red O.

Jacobson has always been one for a good competition, even before starring on Top Chef. He attended Pepperdine University in Malibu on a volleyball scholarship, made the U.S. National Volleyball Team, and just missed an opportunity to compete in the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. But a professional volleyball career took him to Belgium, Israel, and the Netherlands, where he discovered food could be exciting and inspiring. Returning to L.A. after his volleyball career, Jacobson did a three-day immersion at Mélisse, the Michelin two-star restaurant in Santa Monica where he realized the kitchen would be the next arena in which he would compete. He enrolled at the Le Cordon Bleu-affiliated College of Culinary Arts in Pasadena, graduating in 2004. Jacobson's first professional job was cooking at Axe, a highly regarded restaurant with an ingredient-driven California menu. He went on to work throughout Los Angeles and as a private chef for VIPs such as Arianna Huffington and Guess clothing's Marciano family.

A bout with cancer didn't slow Jacobson down but fueled his intensity for cooking and love of life. After his first appearance on Top Chef in 2007, he assumed the position of executive chef at The Yard, a gastropub in Venice. The following year, Jacobson participated in the renowned James Beard Celebrity Chef Tour. In 2012, he staged at the world-renowned Copenhagen restaurant Noma.

When he's not in the kitchen, Jacobson enjoys music and has recently rediscovered his passion for the game of volleyball. But leisure time is scarce, as the dedicated 37-year-old chef is consumed by the study and preparation of food.

Dale Talde

Dale Talde

Chef Dale Talde has competed twice on Top Chef in season four in Chicago, and season eight, All-Stars in New York City. He also went back to the kitchen to compete on Top Chef Duels. Dale’s passion for cooking began at a young age in his native Chicago where he learned to prepare meals alongside his mother in the kitchen. The proud son of Filipino immigrants, he grew up immersed in his family’s cultural heritage, while also enjoying the life of a typical American kid.

Dale applies this distinct Asian-American experience to his menus and hospitality concepts. His tie to culture and the arts is a strong and subtle thread in all his creations. In September of 2015, Dale’s released his first cookbook, Asian American, to rave reviews. Beyond Asian American food, he has opened and consulted on projects focused on Cantonese cuisine, Japanese cuisine, Italian cuisine, traditional bar and grills, rooftops, and nightclubs. A builder and inventor at heart, he drives the creative process for his company Food Crush Hospitality. In 2019, Dale opened Goosefeather at the Tarrytown House Estate in New York, and in the following year, it was named one of Esquire’s Best New Restaurants in America. One of his upcoming projects includes the opening of Talde Noodle and Dumpling in LaGuardia Airport’s newly renovated Terminal B Headhouse.

He has also competed on Chopped, Iron Chef America, Knife Fight and was also head judge on Knife Fight season 4, as well as guest judge on both Chopped and Beat Bobby Flay. With a strong connection to media, Dale goes beyond creating brick and mortar concepts and writes screenplays, develops show treatments, and builds creative content for social media platforms and more.

David Burke

David Burke

Blurring the lines between chef, artist, entrepreneur and inventor, David Burke is one of the leading pioneers in American cooking today. His fascination with ingredients and the art of the meal has fueled a thirty-year career marked by creativity, critical acclaim and the introduction of revolutionary products and cooking techniques. His passion for food and for the restaurant industry shows no signs of slowing down.

Burke graduated from the Culinary Institute of America and soon thereafter traveled to France where he completed several stages with notable chefs such as Pierre Troisgros, Georges Blanc and Gaston Lenôtre. Burke's mastery of French culinary technique was confirmed when, at age 26, he won France's coveted Meilleurs Ouvriers de France Diplome d'Honneur for unparalleled skill and creativity with his native cuisine. Burke returned to the U.S. as a sous chef for Waldy Malouf at La Cremaillere and then for Charlie Palmer at The River Café, where he ascended to executive chef and earned three stars from The New York Times.

In 1992, Burke opened the Park Avenue Café with Smith & Wollensky CEO Alan Stillman, and then, in 1996, he became vice president of culinary development for the Smith & Wollensky Restaurant Group. Burke has been honored with Japan's Nippon Award of Excellence, the Robert Mondavi Award of Excellence and the CIA's August Escoffier Award. Nation's Restaurant News named Burke one of the 50 Top R&D Culinarians and Time Out New York honored him as the "Best Culinary Prankster" in 2003. In May 2009, Burke was inducted into the Who's Who of Food & Beverage in America by the James Beard Foundation. In that same month, he also won the distinctive Menu Masters award from Nation's Restaurant News, naming him one of the nation"s most celebrated culinary innovators.

In February 2012, Burke was honored by the culinary school at Johnson & Wales University with the Distinguished Visiting Chef Award, which is given to the world's most influential and celebrated chefs. In November 2012, he was named Restaurateur of the Year by the New Jersey Restaurant Association. In the same month, he was honored with a Concierge Choice Award, celebrating the best in New York City hospitality, winning the best chef award. In 2013, Burke was nominated to "Best Chefs America," a new benchmark in American cooking whereby chefs name the peers who are the most inspiring and impressive in the business. In 2013, the David Burke Group was recognized by Restaurant Hospitality magazine as having one of the "Coolest Multiconcept Companies in the Land." The article highlights restaurant corporations with an enviable business concept that others can't wait to replicate. In addition, it cites the numerous incarnations of Chef Burke's creative vision, from David Burke Townhouse to David Burke Fishtail, from Burke in the Box to David Burke's Primehouse.

Chef Burke's vast talents have been showcased recently on television, including season two of Top Chef Masters, a guest spot on the Every Day with Rachael Ray show and as a mentor to Breckenridge Bourbon distiller Bryan Nolt on Bloomberg's small-business television series The Mentor. In 2013, he returned to season five of Top Chef Masters.

Burke's visibility as a celebrity chef has also led to consultant positions with hotels, cruise lines and food experts. Most recently, he was invited to join the Holland America Line Culinary Council alongside renowned international chefs Jonnie Boer, Marcus Samuelsson, Jacques Torres, Charlie Trotter and Elizabeth Falkner. In this capacity, Burke will consult on the cruise line's culinary initiatives, including the Culinary Arts Center enrichment program, and provide signature recipes which will be featured on all 15 ships. In 2003, Burke teamed up with Donatella Arpaia to open davidburke & donatella (now known as David Burke Townhouse, of which he has sole ownership). In 2005 came David Burke at Bloomingdale's, a dual-concept restaurant offering both a full service Burke Bar Café on one side and a Burke in the Box eat-in concept on the other.

In 2006 Burke opened up David Burke’s Primehouse in The James Hotel Chicago. His restaurant collection continued to grow that same year when he purchased culinary career began under founders Markus and Hubert Peter. His next ventures included David Burke Prime at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut and David Burke Fishtail in Manhattan, both of which opened in 2008. In February 2011, he opened David Burke Kitchen at The James Hotel New York in SoHo, bringing his signature whimsical style to downtown Manhattan.

In 2013, Burke made great strides in expanding his restaurant empire and enhancing his partnerships with other reputable companies. In the summer of 2013, he opened Burke's Bacon Bar in the James Hotel Chicago, a high-end sandwich and "to-go" concept featuring artisan and top-notch bacons from around the country. BBB features Burke's signature "Handwiches" -- palm-sized sandwiches packed with creative combinations of fresh ingredients -- as well as salads and sweets, all featuring bacon, in some form, as an ingredient. In 2014, Burke will bring his SoHo concept, David Burke Kitchen, which features modern takes on farmhouse cuisine, to the ski resort town of Aspen, Colorado.

During his tenure at The River Café, Burke began experimenting with interesting ingredients and cooking techniques. His first culinary innovations, including Pastrami Salmon (now available through Acme Smoked Fist), flavored oils and tuna tartare, revolutionized gastronomic technique. During his 12-year period at the Park Avenue Café, Burke created GourmetPops, ready-to-serve cheesecake lollipops. His Can o' Cake concept, where cake is mixed, baked and eaten from a portable tin, is used throughout his restaurants. Most recently, he teamed with 12NtM to create two non-alcoholic sparkling beverages, available in gourmet retailers such as Whole Foods and at his New York locations. Additionally, Burke is actively involved with culinology, an approach to food that blends the culinary arts and food technology. To that end, he is the chief culinary advisor to the Skinny Eats line of flavor-enhancing produtts.

In 2011, Burke received the ultimate honor presented to inventors: a United States patent. It was awarded to him for the unique process by which he uses pink Himalayan salt to dry-age his steaks. Burke lines the walls of his dry-aging room with brickes of the alt, which imparts a subtle flavor to the beef and renders it incredibly tender. Burke's steaks can be dry-aged for anywhere from 28 to 55, 75, or even as long as 100 days using this process.

Burke's first cookbook, Cooking with David Burke, and his second, David Burke's New American Classics launched in April 2006. He is currently working on his third book, due out in 2015.

Chef Hugh Acheson Explains Southern Cuisine’s Complex Simplicity

Anyone who has observed Hugh Acheson as a judge on Top Chef can attest the award-winning toque is not only a culinary powerhouse, but also a charming and witty force to be reckoned with. The Canadian-born chef started off as a dishwasher at the age of 15 before going on to train at a variety of well-known restaurants, including Quebec’s historic Café Henry Burger, where he learned French cuisine, wine and etiquette from chef Rob McDonald.

After working in sous chef and chef de cuisine roles in San Francisco, Acheson moved with his wife, Mary Koon, to her hometown of Athens, Georgia, where he opened his first restaurant, Five & Ten, in 2000. He has since gone on to open The National (and the now-shuttered Cinco y Diez) in Athens, Empire State South in Atlanta, and The Florence in Savannah. In between tending to all of these kitchens, Acheson has competed on season three of Top Chef Masters and served as a judge on seasons 9 through 12 of Top Chef, as well as Top Chef Duels.

His first cookbook, A New Turn in the South: Southern Flavors Reinvented For Your Kitchen, was awarded the 2012 James Beard Foundation award for best cookbook in the field of “American Cooking.” (Acheson was also a James Beard co-winner of “Best Chef: Southeast” in 2012.) Acheson’s second work, Pick a Pickle: 50 Recipes for Pickles, Relishes, and Fermented Snacks, came out last spring.

Chef Acheson’s Take On A Classic Pimento Cheese Sandwich, Photo Courtesy of Rinne Allen

After leading a demo in cooking with fava beans at the 2015 Austin Food & Wine Festival, the father of six (two children and four restaurants) chatted with us about his latest projects — revamping the home economics curriculum in his local school district, releasing his third cookbook, The Broad Fork: Recipes for the Wide World of Vegetables and Fruits, and spreading the word that Southern cooking goes much farther than fried chicken and biscuits.

You started working in kitchens at a very young age. Did your love of food begin at home?
Yes, when I was 15, I started working after school in various restaurants. Not always great restaurants, but you learn something everywhere you are. It was just a job, really, but it flourished into what I really love. I wasn’t raised in much of a gastronomic household. There were little fits and spurts of goodness in the food, but I was pretty much raised by a single father, so we ate a lot of canned yellow wax beans and fish sticks. And I have three older sisters. We got by, but I wouldn’t say we were feasting on the real delicacies of life.

Has growing up in Canada been a big influence on the food you make?
It definitely has. I think the biggest thing that’s still very apparent in Canada, where I’m from in Ottawa and Montreal, is that the seasons really matter. I think seasonality became imprinted on my food and the style of food that I do very early. And that’s just so important in the world of ingredients — making sure you’re understanding what the seasons are bringing in. There’s abundance in this world all the time, but I think we really have a connection to food when we pick a tomato at its ripest point in time in August and wait eagerly for a local apple in October.

Do you get to return often to Canada to visit?
I do. My dad still lives there so I go up there and visit. Just north of Toronto, we have a family cottage where we spend some time each summer. And I try to get Montreal at least once each year, and Toronto and Quebec City. I spend a little time out west in Vancouver and Calgary. It’s great up there. I’ve lived down here for a long time but I still have a lot of love for Canada.

Are there any Canadian culinary traditions you wish the States would adopt?
Quebec has an amazing tradition of great cheeses. I think the States is getting so much better with artisanal cheese and supportive of smaller farmers and dairies doing great things. But they have a lot of great unpasteurized cheese in Quebec that you can’t buy pretty much anywhere else in North America because of restrictive health regulations.

The Florence, Photo Courtesy of Emily B. Hall

How would you say you’ve seen Southern food culture change through the years?
You know, I got here 20 years ago and I didn’t know much about Southern food. But the beauty of Southern food is it has amazing depth to it. It’s documented and storied and it’s got history to it. It’s not always beautiful history — it’s a lot of harsh history. A lot of what we call Southern food was brought here on the backs of slaves. But I’ve learned to really respect the cadence of the agrarian environment in which we live and the Southern historical merit our food is based around. But I also firmly understand that Southern food is still being explored and it’s still being defined. But I think the truest idea is giving respect to the history of food but making sure you’re always invested in your local sphere.

How would you personally define Southern cuisine?
That’s a big one. It’s so regional and I think that we’re beginning to see the regionalism really defined more concretely. That Acadian and Cajun and Creole food is all very different within its own geographical area. And low-country Georgia is different from low-country South Carolina and upland Georgia, verging on the low Appalachians where I live, is going to be defined by different dishes there. So Southern food, to me, is really a reaction to what’s out there in the field and it’s always been a cuisine based on survival and smartness and simplicity. But cooking simple food is a very, very difficult thing. So making beautiful collard greens is not the easiest task, but it’s relatively simple in its inspiration. What Southern food isn’t is a bucket of fried chicken and a bucket of biscuits. That’s just convenience food across the nation. Maybe it’s somewhat inspired by a couple of things in Southern food, but that’s not what people ate 150 years ago. And, if they did, it was balanced with a lot of greens and sliced tomatoes and succotash and purloo [a thick stew] and all these different things that would make it a rational meal — not just protein and flour-based stuff.

In the past couple of years, the rest of the world has been coming around to Southern cuisine more than ever. To what would you attribute that?
I think there’s a third rail in everything that’s happening right now. It’s a really exciting time. We went through a really long period of time in food where there was a reverence for French cuisine and Italian cuisine and Japanese cuisine, but now we realize that, in our own backyard, there’s a really rich culinary history for us to explore that can stand on its own merits. And we can produce products that rival anything in the world. And I think that we got through the difficulties of fusion food and wasabi mashed potatoes and things like that and now we’re thoroughly enjoying exploring our own cuisine and what American food truly is.

The National, Photo Courtesy of Rinne Allen

What are your food trend predictions for this year?
I think that we’re seeing vegetables play a more center role. I think we’re getting away from just the pure idea of a vegetarian meal and moving toward a vegetable-centric meal. That means vegetable solids are in the center of the plate but there can still be meat on there. I think that’s a really forward-thinking idea. I think it forces us to eat more seasonally and it forces us to encourage good farming practices and it encourages us to eat a little less meat. And I’m definitely not anti-meat. I totally love a good steak and chicken and things like that, but I think our doctors are going to thank us for eating just a little bit less than we used to, portion-wise, and I think the farming system is much more sustainable, in the long term, if we can start relying a little less on meat-based protein in our diet.

What’s next on the horizon for you?
I’ve got a book coming out in May called The Broad Fork (May 12) and that’s a look at vegetable-centric food and how to use everything in your CSA [community-sorted agriculture] box. It’s a lot of looking at how to use all of your turnip stems and different ways of cooking with things like kohlrabi that people get in their box and then they forget that they’re there and they go bad in their produce drawer. It’s just an encouraging way to look at everything that would ever be in your produce box or at the farmer’s market and try to get people cooking with all of it. So, beautifully charred and blistered asparagus with a poached egg and romesco and stone-ground grits — that’s a meal. It’s more than just a simple plate of asparagus. It can be morphed into this beautiful full dinner pretty easily.

And then, I’m working on a revamping of “home ec” curriculum and figuring out what life skills kids really need and can learn at 10, 11 and 12. And what skills are going to stick with them that they can rely on when they’re 20, whether that means perfectly poaching an egg or making a salad dressing from scratch or learning how to hem a pair of pants. Just simple life skills. It’s really using the current home economics curriculum but making it for a new generation. Because I think that a lot of those skill sets kids forget. Just like I forget algebra, they forget what they learned in home ec. I just want to give them some life skills that will create a generation that really knows how to do some stuff.

And is this a program you’ve hoping to roll out nationally?
In the beautiful big picture, yes. Right now, we’re hopefully going to be rolling it out in the Athens-Clarke County School District. We’ve got an amazing school district here. They’re very forward thinking and we’re just trying to make some inroads into our community first and then branching out from there. When I was 20 years old and struggling on a small budget at university, I used to cook for a lot of people because I knew how. And I want to make sure that pretty much everybody in society can figure out that pure and really good food that’s good for you and from scratch is actually really economically attainable. And that cooking it is not that difficult and that spending time in a kitchen with your friends and family is actually some of the best times you’ll ever have.

Watch the video: Hugh Acheson: Top Chef (May 2022).