Monday, April 22, 2013

Cruising with Top Chef!



I am a Top Chef fan.  I'm talking, big, HUGE, annoyingly fanatical.  I own all 10 seasons of Top Chef, 4 seasons of Top Chef Masters, and 2 seasons of Top Chef Just Desserts (eh, not nearly as good, but when there are no new regular shows, I watch it).  I watch them over and over again.  I listen to them when I'm jogging.  I can't explain it.  I just love the show.  I love the personalities in the kitchen.  I learn something new every time I re-watch an episode.   But unfortunately, none of my close friends watch it with me.   I've had to turn to bloggers and recaps for my after-show discussions.

So last fall, when I saw there was going to be a cruise, not just any cruise, but  TOP CHEF THE CRUISE!, I started working on J to go with me.  After multiple discussions (begging), he finally cracked.  He had no desire to a) cruise, or b) cruise with me dragging him to Top Chef events.  So in order to get me to shut up, he offered to pay for me to take a friend for my birthday/anniversary present.

I didn't really care which chefs were going to be on board, to be honest.  I just thought any kind of Top Chef related events would be really fun.  But I have to say, the chefs that participated couldn't have been better.  Not sure if Bravo hand selected them, or if their schedules worked out to allow them to come, or they had new cookbooks they wanted to promote (it was probably a combination of the three), but hosts Tom and Gail, Masters Hubert Keller and Tim Love, and past winners and contestants Richard Blais, Chris Crary (Malibu Chris), Tiffany Derry ("I'm from Beaumont, Texas"), Mike Isabella, Kristen Kish, Spike Mendelson, Paul Qui, Hosea Rosenberg, Angelo Sosa, Casey Thompson, Fabio Viviani, Brooke Williamson, and Top Chef Just Desserts winners Yigit Pura and Chris Hanmer were on board with 2,000 other top chef fans...just like me!
Me and C 24 years ago and now

It's hard to explain, but when my girlfriend, C (who I last cruised with as a single girl 24 YEARS ago) and I joined a dinner table with eight other Top Chef fans who became our new best friends for the duration of the cruise (well, 6 fans and 2 'drag-alongs' like C who had never watched an episode), I felt like I had been dropped into heaven.  We spent the first night talking about the chefs, the seasons, the episodes, their restaurants, their drama...all while C and the other drag-alongs looked at us like we were speaking Greek.  I was surprised that the chefs were mingling with us, enjoying the cruise (some of them really enjoying the cocktails!), taking photos, signing books, dancing, etc.  I thought they'd stay in their VIP quarters, come out to do quickfires and other events, but stay away from all the fans.  But they were out there, lapping it up.  Someone pointed out to me that they were huge celebrities to us, but maybe not to most of America, so maybe they were enjoying the attention. I still think it must have been tiring, or annoying at times, but they were always very gracious. 

After dinner the first night we attended a Cocktail Party and DJ set led by Hubert Keller...and there's no way to explain the pure joy on his face as he played Electronic and Top 40 songs until the wee hours.  It was so cool to see this master of cuisine (who hosted the first quickfire of the first season of Top Chef, by the way) relax and enjoy himself like that!
Thanks to the Hollywood Reporter for this pic
As we tired of dancing we made our way to the bar for a drink and snapped some photos with Fabio, Mike, and Angelo, who were also definitely enjoying themselves.


 

Something weird happened to my biological clock that weekend, because we didn't make it to bed until 3 a.m....and that was the earliest we made it back for the rest of the cruise!   Thus began our pattern of going to bed late, getting up early to squeeze in a workout (a necessity because of the sheer amount of food we ate!), relaxing during the day, and starting our adventures at night.  Since we had late seating, we normally attended the Top Chef "entertainment" at 6, then whatever was going on after dinner...we were there.    The dinners were, for the most part, incredible.  We had our choice of selecting items from the regular cruise menu, or dishes that were designed by three of the chefs onboard.  As the cruise progressed, and we realized how good the Top Chef recipes were, we all started ordered two or three each of the appetizers, entrees and desserts...just to make sure we didn't miss anything.  Thanks to Tim Love, whose lobster cake was my hands down favorite.  I could have eaten that every night!

The first night's quickfire was with Casey, Richard, Hosea, Malibu Chris, Spike and Kristen for our group, and the next night we had the much rowdier group-Fabio, Angelo, Mike, Brooke, Tiffany, Paul and Chris H.  The second day our quickfire was AFTER dinner which, according to Fabio, "...having this quickfire at 11:30 after our captain's dinner, was a BIG mistake." 
Fabio at the late night quickfire
They had obviously enjoyed their captain's dinner, but Fabio, Mike and Angelo had started their celebration around lunchtime surrounded by their closest fans all day at the pool.  I had decided my mission was to be selected to join one of them on stage (they chose audience members to "sous" with the chefs during the quickfires).  So thanks to C cheering me on, I made a fool of myself, jumped up and down in the aisle and Fabio pointed to me and said, "OK, sparkly dress, YOU."  So me and my sparkly dress joined Mike at the quickfire table, where he gave me a giant can of dented artichokes and an old rusty can opener and I spent most of my time onstage opening a can.  So much for showing off my mad kitchen skills.


That evening was filled with so much heckling (the chefs who weren't cooking were sitting in a box above the stage), f-bombs, and questionable actions that they never aired it on the in-cabin TVs, which they were doing 24 hours a day...just re-ran the calmer, less fun group's challenges.  I laughed so hard I don't even remember what Mike cooked.  I think I chopped a few things, but I honestly don't remember.  I do know I'll probably never forget that night!



  Angelo was having so much fun in the lounge, dancing to Salsa music.  I was standing at the bar, watching, kind of moving to the beat, when he came over, and grabbed my hand.  I proceeded to try to follow him, but since I have NO ability to salsa,  I looked pretty stupid.  Oh well.



The third night was a deck party with Tom Collichio's friend Milton and his band.  They were great, but it was even better when Tom came out and joined them wearing a Panama Hat and looking cool.  He strapped on a guitar and played and sang a few songs to the crowd of adoring fans, whose cheers rivaled those for any major rock star.  He was actually really good!
Our day at sea was spent recovering in a lounge chair by the pool while the chefs rotated all day long, doing cooking demos, and Q&A sessions.  Their banter with each other is really adorable.  They seem to all get along and respect each other, but it's funny when they give each other s&*t!  I managed to oversleep and miss both autograph sessions, but lugged the six new cookbooks I bought on board with me all day (some of them not released yet) and snagged an autograph whenever I could grab someone.  On the last day I had all the signatures except Angelo's.  I was walking down to shower after working out and spotted Angelo (a beautiful man, by the way) sitting in the jacuzzi, all by himself.  He looked at me, nodded, and said hello.  So I promptly pulled his book out of my bag to have him sign it.  I was struggling to act cool, because I don't normally do well with celebrities.  I thought I did OK, though, until I walked into the cabin, glanced in the mirror and realized I had something hanging out of my nose.  So I'm sure I made a lovely impression on the lovely Angelo!

Of the cookbooks I purchased, Fabio's Italian Kitchen, Mike's Crazy Good Italian, and Tim Love's Journal  were the ones I read from cover to cover.  Angelo's Flavor Exposed is beautiful and his passion for food and flavors shines throughout, and the recipes are sophisticated and easy to follow.   The chefs were all very gracious and accommodating, and other than the ones who brought their small children with them, spent a large amount of time socializing and enjoying the cruise.  I'm not a huge cruise fan, but have done a few of them through the years.  I think being on board with so many like-minded people made all the difference in the world.  I would do it again in a heartbeat!
Hosea

Tiffany...love her!

Malibu Chris


Richard

Paul

My beautiful friend who now might watch Top Chef with me!