Every so often it happens as a food or entertainment writer that you go to a meeting or an event that won’t become important until later. So it was a few months back at Sundance, where I attended a cooking demo at the Chase Sapphire Lounge on Main Street in Park City hosted by Top Chef Season 15 winner Brooke Williamson.
At the time, me getting to eat biscuits and lobster gravy on a cold day was pretty great for me, but maybe not so thrilling for you, the reader. But now, with Top Chef returning this Thursday (for “All Stars LA”), and everyone cooped up indoors trying to cook for themselves and their families, suddenly Top Chef content is much more current and a fresh recipe to try out isn’t so bad. Williamson also reminded me that I’d nicknamed her “Biscuits” in my power rankings right after her biscuit demo. So you know, synergy.
First, the show. This season, Top Chef‘s seventeenth, will be the second all-stars season (see also, season 8 in 2010, won by Richard Blais), though every season seems to bring back a few familiar faces, so maybe it’s more accurate to say this is their second all all-stars season.
Anyway. Here’s the list of contestants:
- Eric Adjepong (Season 16: Kentucky) Nicknames: Ghana, Thesis, Student Body Prez
- Karen Akunowicz (Season 13: California)
- Jennifer Carroll (Season 6: Las Vegas, Season 8: All-Stars, and Last Chance Kitchen Season 7)
- Stephanie Cmar (Season 11: New Orleans)
- Lisa Fernandes (Season 4: Chicago)
- Kevin Gillespie (Season 6: Las Vegas)
- Gregory Gourdet (Season 12: Boston)
- Melissa King (Season 12: Boston)
- Jamie Lynch (Season 14: Charleston) Nicknames: Rodman, Midnight Oil
- Brian Malarkey (Season 3: Miami)
- Nini Nguyen (Season 16: Kentucky) Nicknames: Brooklyn, Bad Cop
- Joe Sasto (Season 15: Colorado) Nicknames: Mustache Joe, Joey Crystals, Rollie Fingerlings, Freddy Mercurioli, Joey Sauce, Stoney Whiplash, Quartz
- Angelo Sosa (Season 7: Washington D.C., and Season 8: All-Stars)
- Bryan Voltaggio (Season 6: Las Vegas)
- Lee Anne Wong (Season 1: San Francisco, and Last Chance Kitchen Season 7)
We look forward to assigning nicknames to all the contestants who appeared before we started doing Power Rankings.
As for the biscuits with lobster gravy, which Williamson prepared with her sous chef, chef Casey Thompson, from Top Chef seasons 3 and 16, I can confirm that they were indeed delicious. Here was our chat after, followed by the recipe.
BROOKE: I feel like you’ve written about me a few times. Were you the one who gave me the nickname Biscuits? That was you?
Yeah. Yes, wow, I forgot how accurate that was —
You literally gave me the nickname Biscuits. It could’ve been way worse, so thank you.
Yes, well I’ve given way meaner ones than that.
You’ve given way meaner ones. “Brooke, aka Biscuits.” I screenshotted a lot of your screenshots from the show to make fun of myself on my own Instagram. Like, note to self: there are people who can screenshot you no matter what you look like.
Yeah, they’re going to stop giving me those screeners eventually. Do you have any predictions for this season?
[Feigning surprise] Whaaat? Well, I may have been a guest judge on a couple of episodes, so yes, I did have my own predictions, but I’m not going to share them. Honestly, going into it, I would say that it was a total gamble of who would excel at this point in their careers, doing something that they haven’t done maybe in years. But you knew that they all had a level of comfort going into the competition, that they could excel. I had a couple of go-to/ I-have-a-feeling-these-people-will-make-it-to-the-finale contestants, but I can’t tell you whether I was right or not.
Okay, fair enough. Are they doing anything to keep the format from getting stale?
Well, one, I feel like this season of All-Stars is bringing back people that people want to watch. Like whether it be personality or skill level, or a combination, I think all of the chefs that they chose for this season really bring something to the table, and were chosen for great reasons. And I think that alone will make this season really special. I don’t know what they have planned for the following season. Honestly, when I did season 10 I thought it would be the last season. But there’s this like cult following of people who just get so excited for the next season. For me, it’s not something I want to watch because of anxiety purposes, but I am 100% going to watch this whole season because I feel like it’s people I know. People I’m totally invested in on a personal level, and I’m really excited that they decided to be in it.
Okay, so biscuit-specific questions. Does the type of flour matter? I read a thing from a southerner about how you had to get a specific flour from softer wheat —
Like double 0 flour? [No, not exactly] I use AP [all-purpose] flour for demos, because it’s just what people have in their kitchens. And you know what? They’re great with AP flour. Sometimes I switch it up with like a rye flour or whatever, but honestly, I feel like for the most tender, moist biscuits in the easiest form, AP flour is totally acceptable.
I know you’re a whiskey drinker, do you have anything that you’ve been enjoying lately?
I’ve been working with a lot of brands that I’ve worked with for years. I work with all the seven major distillery families. We’ve been doing a lot of our own blends and barrelled bottlings specifically for our whiskey bar. So we work with Angel’s Envy, Buffalo Trace… I mean, I don’t know, I’m always a big lover of Japanese whiskey… It really depends. We have a great cocktail program and I feel like every whiskey is so individual that they lend themselves to certain things.
I love a rye, but I think my go-to at home is Basil Hayden’s, because I can just like drink it neat, and it’s not like super harsh.
Anything that’s like “so hot right now,” either a blend or a specific label?
I don’t even follow those. People ask me like what are the hot trends or fads in food and beverage, but that’s a really hard question for me to answer because I try to cook and serve food and beverages that I like and am passionate about, regardless of what’s hot right now.
Recipe: Biscuits and Lobster Gravy
Some advice I remembered from the demo included:
- Separate your lobster claws from the body before you cook, because the claws take a few minutes longer.
- Don’t overwork your dough
- Big chunks of butter are good.
- 1 and 1/3 lbs all-purpose flour
- 1 and 1/4 oz baking powder
- 1/2 oz salt
- 5/8 oz sugar
- 7 oz butter, cold and cubed
- 1 and 1/3 cups cream, plus more if needed
- 1 and 1/4 cups buttermilk
- Maldon salt for sprinkling
- Cut small biscuits with #3 cutter, 3/4ths inch thick
Combine all dry ingredients and whisk well to distribute leavening. Add cold butter chunks to bowl and smash each into the the flour with your fingers; some large chunks are okay.
Pour in cold cream and buttermilk, and gently toss to combine, never pressing the dough, it should be a shaggy dog mess.
Turn out onto a lightly floured table and gently press into a rectangle then fold once like a business letter. Re-flour the table and roll out dough to 1-inch thick.
Using a floured cutter, cut biscuits, re-flouring each time and never twisting while you cut (this compresses the edges and keeps them from rising evenly). Freeze.
Bake at 400 degrees from frozen. Brush first with cream and sprinkle with Maldon salt. Small biscuits take 8-9 minutes.
- 1/4 lb butter
- 11.5 fluid oz clam juice
- 2.5 sprigs tarragon
- 1/2 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
- 1/4 gram heavy cream
- 1/2 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- 1 medium carrot, diced
- 1/4 bulb fennel, diced
- 3/4 celery stalk, diced
- 1 large shallot, diced
- 5 cloves peeled garlic
- 1/4 red jalapeño, seeded and diced
- 1/2 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1/2 whole cooked lobster, cleaned, meat removed, diced and reserved; shells and legs reserved
- 1/4 bottle white wine
- 1/4 lb Dungeness crab, cooked, and cleaned
In a large saucepot, sweat all vegetables in butter until translucent. Add tomato paste and stir to combine. Add white wine and reduce until almost dry. Add 11.5 fluid oz clam juice, 1-2.5 sprigs tarragon, 2 teaspoon Old Bay, 1/4 g heavy cream, and lobster shells and legs.
Simmer over low heat for 45 min. Remove shells and legs from the mixture with a bit of the liquid and pulse them in a food processor until slightly crushed. Return contents from the food processor back into the saucepot with the remainder of the sauce and cook for another 20 minutes over low heat. Strain twice through a fine-mesh chinois.
In a stainless steel pot add 1 and 1/4 oz melted butter, 1/2 tablespoon all-purpose flour, 1/4 lb cooked and cleaned Dungeness crab, and salt.
Whisk melted butter and flour together to make a roux and cook for about five minutes, whisking often. Add the strained lobster sauce to the pot with roux and whisk until incorporated. Cook for 5 minutes on medium heat, whisking occasionally to ensure that it does not become lumpy. Season with salt.
When ready to serve, add the diced cooked lobster and 1/4 lb cleaned, cooked Dungeness crab.