Last night's episode of "Top Chef" saw the contestants prepare a concession food-based dinner on the field of Fenway Park. We won't spoil the results, other than to say: Someone hit a home run, and someone, sadly, struck out.
But before the episode aired, Bravo hosted a special screening at Fenway that reunited local guest judges and alums of the series (like Sweet Cheeks Q chef and two-time runner-up Tiffani Faison) alongside "Top Chef" personalities like restaurateur/judge Hugh Acheson and Season 11 breakout Nina Compton. (Pictured above: Chef Michael Schlow with Compton, Faison, and Dennis Eckersley, the former Red Sox pitcher and National Baseball Hall of Fame-r who served as a guest judge on the episode.)
Naturally, we took the opportunity to query the culinary stars in attendance about the show, our city, and their favorite local restaurants.
HUGH ACHESON on what most surprised him about Boston's dining scene: "I think these days in any city, Boston being another example, there's amazing food everywhere you go. I think we're on this third rail notion of restaurants where people are trying really hard; there's all these little indies that are great. I think the amount of really good sushi in this town was amazing: like Oishii and O Ya. The amount of Italian food was spectacular. Coppa was great. Everything Jamie and Ken Oringer touch is so smart. And it's not just that they have a gift for design; they have a gift for working their asses off."
HUGH ACHESON on the athlete he most relates to as a chef: "There was an amazing pitcher back in the day: Bill "Spaceman" Lee. He was the craziest baseball player of all time, but an amazing pitcher. I like a little crazy! That's good. But he was a hard worker on the mound."
NINA COMPTON on her first impressions of Boston's food scene: "This is my first time in Boston. I love it! It's a small city but it's so diverse. I went to Asta last night for dinner. I'm jealous of that kitchen; that's my dream restaurant, right there! We went from there to Coppa. Everything is so different, but so personable. The people are very friendly and embracing, all about eating and having a good time. I want to move here!" [Among the other recommended spots she'd love to hit: Backbar, Craigie on Main, Drink, Row 34]
DENNIS ECKERSLEY on his favorite local restaurants: "I was a steak guy for the longest time, so I used to go to The Capital Grille. I still go to the one out where I live; I'm a Capital Grille guy! I went to Grill 23. When I was here years ago, I went out to a lot more places. But I live in the boonies, man. And I don't like to go out all that much. I just went to Steve DiFillippo's place Davio's [in Lynnfield]. I know him, and he's got good food!"
DENNIS ECKERSLEY on his favorite memories from Daisy Buchanan's, the legendary sports bar that closes next week after 44 years: "I don't have any memories. I was messed up all the time."
TODD ENGLISH on his advice to "Top Chef" alums-turned-restaurateurs: "It's a very humbling business. We are only as good as our last meal. We have to remember that we're judged every day. It's like a performance, like putting on a play, and you have to be on every night. So humility, working hard, being true to yourself, discovering what it is about who you are and what you like to cook, and putting your personality on a plate. ... My advice to younger chefs is to define what you want to be in your mind, and never stop learning or trying to grow."
TIFFANI FAISON on which local chef she'd love to see take on "Top Chef": "I would love to see Tim Maslow [Ribelle, Strip-T's] on 'Top Chef.' I think Tim could win it all! And I think he'd be a really compelling person to watch on the show. Not just because he's a dynamic guy, but to have the insight of how his brain works. There are a lot of people, but it's interesting: it ['Top Chef'] comes at a certain point in your career, and sometimes your career is past the point of going on the show. He might be there. But there's a lot of seasons that really abut "Masters." But there are people I want to see think out loud, and he's one of them."
TIFFANI FAISON on her advice to local contestant Stacy Cogswell (The Regal Beagle) about "Top Chef" fame: "The advice I would give anyone is: keep your feet on the ground. It doesn't make you a better person or a better chef. It doesn't mean you're ready to do anything you weren't ready to do before you stepped on to a television show. It's a television show. If you weren't ready to open your own restaurant, or you weren't yet the manger you want to be, this experience doesn't make you that person. It shows you what you're made of! But it doesn't make you the person you want to be."
MICHAEL SCHLOW on his favorite new restaurants: "That's a good question, because I sometimes find myself going back to my tried-and-true. Like anyone else, I like knowing what I'm going to get! But in terms of new places that I absolutely love, my former sous at Via Matta, Mike Pagliarini, is doing a really great job at Giulia. I just went to Alden & Harlow, and Michael Scelfo is doing unbelievable food there. I'd say those two really stand out."
MICHAEL SCHLOW on his favorite Fall comfort foods: "Sadly, one is now gone: Hamersley's Bistro. [Note: This week marked the decades-spanning stalwart's final dinner service.] Few restaurants spoke to me on a seasonal basis more than that restaurant. Boston owes Gordon an incredible debt of gratitude. I want that chicken right now! Another place I love is Harvest. They do a really good job, and it's a very intimate, cozy place for Fall."
JASPER WHITE on whether he'll open future Summer Shack locations or new restaurants: "We'll cross that bridge when it comes to it, but right now I'm pretty happy. I have four restaurants, a wholesale seafood company, and I'm 60 years old. I don't know. I don't think I'm going to keep adding more work. I'm trying do do less work!"