Please Pack Your Knives and Go

Though Westfield may be the smallest stop on the 21-city nationwide Top Chef Tour, Saturday’s demonstrations and meet-and-greet drew in the largest crowd the tour has seen thus far, as “Cheftestants” from the hit Bravo TV series made a short layover in Jersey before moving on to Philadelphia and New York City.

All 70 of the restaurant-style seats in the tent were filled and a crowd of the same size stood outside the tent, straining to hear as former contestants Ariane Duarte of CulinAriane in Montclair and Ashley Merriman of Butter in NYC gave cooking tips, exposed behind-the-scene secrets, and prepared a tasting for the crowd.

Duarte touted her love of leftovers as she revamped day-old risotto with chicken stock, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino Romano, mascarpone cheese (“the cheesier the better,” she said), thyme, and parsley. She then rolled the risotto into balls, covered them in panko breadcrumbs, and fried them to golden brown. Duarte also brought spot prawns, a West Coast shellfish known for its sweet and delicate flavor and its difficulty to cook – something that Merriman can attest to. Unbeknownst to Duarte, Merriman was eliminated after attempting to make them on her last episode of Top Chef. “What is this, some kind of redemption for me?” Merriman joked as she took the prawns to the stove.

Although the two had just met that morning, Merriman quipped that she could tell Duarte was a true Jersey girl because “she gives out the dirt.” Duarte responded with a laugh: “What can be better than food and gossip?” While cooking, Duarte and Merriman dished out Top Chef banter, naming their favorite guest (Duarte’s was Martha Stewart; Merriman’s was “Chef of the Century” Joël Robuchon), their favorite childhood meals (Duarte loves her Italian family’s macaroni, meatballs, and gravy; Merriman stated frankly, “My mom is a horrible cook!”), and telling just exactly how they entertained themselves behind the scenes while waiting for the judge’s deliberations (both admitted to making mattresses out of blown up Ziploc bags saran-wrapped together courtesy of Glad, the sponsor for both seasons).

Season 7 of Top Chef premieres June 16 at 9 pm, with a new D.C. location and guests like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. To learn more about the upcoming season or future tour spots, visit bravotv.com.

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