Eating NYC 1.4: Eleven Madison Park

Finally. My long awaited post wrapping up my September trip to NYC. The ridiculous thing is I’ve been back to NYC since, so there will be a future post on my subsequent NYC trip. All this traveling is bogging me down.

It’s funny what they say about being careful what you wish for. Travel has always been something at the top of my list of favorite things to do in life. But lately, I’ve been traveling so much that all I really want nowadays is to read and sleep in my own bed.

Anyway, enough of my ramblings. Let’s talk about my first 3-Michelin star experience ever. I got us (and by “us,” I mean myself, my cousin Pauline, and Frank from the show) reservations at Eleven Madison Park. A couple of people who work at Pauline’s Manhattan firm had highly recommended 11 Mad, so we decided to pop all three of our 3-Michelin cherries together in one big hoopla of a meal.

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Happy Thanksgiving: A montage of my Korea trip

I recently went to Japan and Korea for a much needed vacation away from my laptop and cell phone (though I ended up working throughout the vacation anyway–gotta get that much anticipated cookbook written!). I regret not doing crazier things in Japan worth capturing on video, but I made up for it in Korea. I ate so much food overseas that a friend’s mom rubbed my belly and exclaimed something in Japanese that alluded to my being pregnant. The thing is, I’m not pregnant! She’d just fed me a delicious dinner of shabu shabu, so if anything, I was pregnant with her shabu shabu baby! It didn’t matter that I was drinking beer over dinner…sigh. Time to lose the pot belly. It is no longer cute.

Anyway, here is a video of our time in Seoul, Korea. I try live octopus and do the Gangnam-style dance in the actual Gangnam district. I was quite embarrassed doing it because: (1) it was in public at a subway stop, and (2) I hadn’t had any shots of soju. But I did it for the fans since it got a laugh from so many of you. Enjoy the video, and happy Thanksgiving to all.

Last meals

I just returned from a much needed vacation to Japan and Korea to find myself in the throes of cookbook writing. Actually, these aforementioned throes were happening even while I was away on vacation. I was waking up early and staying up late to work on recipes, recipes, recipes. And now that I’m back home, I am even more deeply immersed in the recipe creating and writing. I’m telling you all this because it’s my legitimate excuse for not having posted a worthwhile entry in a while.

I am taking a mini-break from writing some head notes, tip boxes, and side bars (I didn’t even know what the hell these were until I embarked on this cookbook journey) to write a quick post so you, dear loyal reader, wouldn’t think I’ve forgotten about you. I have a glass of $3 Trader Joe’s shiraz at arm’s reach as creative lube; this glass of wine is also my dinner tonight so please excuse my nonsense ranting here as obviously, the wine has gone to my head.

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Eating NYC 1.3: Momofuku Ssam Bar

Okay, so I lied. I said I’d cover both Momofuku Ssam Bar and Eleven Madison Park in this entry. But the fact is I just discovered I have no photos from my evening at Eleven Mad, so I am awaiting my dinner companions to send theirs over. This means I won’t get to the Eleven Mad dinner till next post. But it’s all good because I have plenty to say about Ssam Bar.

Momofuku Ssam Bar is the closest thing to a gastropub of Chef David Chang’s family of Momofuku restaurants. (Ssam is in reference to the Korean term for “wrap” and indicates dishes in the Korean cuisine that involve wrapping some meat and pickled veggies in a lettuce leaf and dipping in condiments of sesame oil, salt, and pepper or soy sauce before enjoying.) We went on the Sunday night of Labor Day weekend and was told there would be close to a two-hour wait. Fortunately, like Ippudo, the hostess is willing to take down a number and text when the table was ready. That’s when we made our way over to our usual waiting spot at Sake Bar Decibel.

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Eating NYC 1.2: Ramen, pizza, lobster rolls & fish sauce micheladas

In my last post, I discussed the cheaper eats in New York City. This time, I continue the NYC gastronomical tour by talking about some of the additional places at which I dined, the not-so-cheap but also the not-so-expensive (I’m saving that for part 3 of this NYC series). Basically, these are the in-betweeners, the delicious, the memorable.

Ever since I’d gone to Japan and tasted what real ramen is supposed to taste like, I’ve been on an eternal hunt for a close imitation this side of the Pacific. There is a place in L.A. that I find pretty yummy and close to what I’ve had in Japan. But I’ve never had ramen East Coast style, so of course, I had to pop that cherry.

The first place on my list was Ippudo in the East Village. This ramen joint is notorious for table wait times of two hours plus. But the nice thing is you can put your name and number on the list, amble on over to Sake Bar Decibel, and throw back a few bottles while awaiting the coveted text message from the Ippudo hostess saying your table is ready. And that’s exactly what we did the two times I went. I’m a purist a lot of the time when it comes to food, so I always like to try the classic of anything, especially when it’s my first visit. I found the classic pork ramen at Ippudo to be incredibly savory but not oily; since ramen broth is made by cooking pork bones for several hours, it can sometimes taste too fatty. (For almost all noodle soups, the clearer the broth, the superior the quality and taste.) You can add extra toppings like an onsen (hot springs) egg or extra pork. The pork buns are also worth trying: slightly spicy pork belly nestled inside a steamed bun with extra crisp veggies to cut the fat. I took Frank here one night, and he agreed the ramen was even better than the bowl he’d had at Momofuku Noodle Bar though he’s not nearly of ramen connoisseur status either.

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Eating NYC 1.1: Cambodian sandwiches, Japanese hot dogs, Korean wings, halal rice & Cuban corn

I was recently in New York City for some press and, of course, the finale reception party hosted by Joe Bastianich himself at his Eataly in the Flatiron District (where, I might add, I got to meet his famous mama, Lidia Bastianich). Being the vision impaired traveler that I am, sightseeing is no longerhp as exciting to me. Instead, all my vacations and trips revolve around (what else?) FOOD.

I hadn’t been to NYC since 2006, so I was looking forward to eating at joints I’d never been to before, especially since I’ve cultivated an even more discerning palate in the last few years. Of course, a discerning palate doesn’t mean I only dine on fine foods; in fact, I absolutely love cheap eats, street food, what have you. Some of the best foods cost just a few bucks, and you eat them standing in the street or seated at a tiny bench rubbing elbows with strangers. In the first of this three-part series highlighting my recent NYC gastronomical experience, I pay tribute to the less expensive eats. Who said you have to break your bank to eat well in the City?

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Thoughts on winning MasterChef U.S. 2012

*WARNING: This is a long entry so apologies in advance.

First, to address the question everyone’s been asking: my cookbook is slated to hit bookshelves in the spring; I’ve only recently met with the editor and publishing house, and conceptualization of my cookbook has only just begun last week. However, the MasterChef Ultimate Cookbook, which contains recipes from this season’s top 18 and recipes from previous seasons’ contestants, goes on sale TODAY.

On to other matters…

Wow. It’s been a week since I’ve been revealed as the winner of “MasterChef” season 3, and the outpouring of love and support has been overwhelming to say the least. I have been paralyzed in writing this initial entry post-finale because, frankly, I have been overcome with such a spectrum of emotions that I’ve been finding it difficult to articulate. There are joy, anxiety, fear, pride, humility, bashfulness, and relief all coursing through my veins at the same time, every day, all day, since even before the finale aired.

I try my best to be a genuine person and can only hope my candidness is embraced and appreciated. With that being said, I want to share with you first my anxieties followed by my gratitude.

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The final four: Recent thoughts on MC3

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cvn8c0oXZqQ&feature=youtube_gdata_player
And then there were four…

This whole MasterChef” thing has been a crazy journey. I know I say it all the time, but seriously. I can’t believe it. I can’t believe I’ve cooked for Graham Elliot, Joe Bastianich, and Gordon Ramsay. I can’t believe I’m about to cook for Daniel Boulud, Guy Savoy, and Alain Ducasse. I can’t believe I’m cooking like a fiend on national television. I can’t believe I’ve cried so much on national television. I can’t believe so many people around the globe have heard of or read about or watched me on the show. I can’t believe how transformative an experience it has been. Perhaps the top two things I’ve taken away from MasterChef are: (1) confidence in my abilities, and (2) relationships with other contestants.

Even before I’d made it to the top 100, before coming to L.A. To cook for the three judges in the auditions, I’d laughed it off whenever the topic of “MasterChef” came up among my friends. “I don’t have the drama queen personality for TV,” I’d say. “I’m not quirky enough.” Or “I’m just a cook; I’m not a chef.” Or “There’s no way I’m good enough to compete.”

But my making it this far is a testament to the possibility of the impossible. I grew beyond my self-doubt and started believing in my abilities. I would never dare say I’m the best cook in that MasterChef kitchen because, frankly, it’s not in my modest personality to say so, and moreover, I don’t and can’t know anything for sure—I could never see how my fellow competitors handled their knives, what sorts of techniques they employed during cooking, how they plated their finished dishes. I could never see any of it. All I could do was focus on what I was doing, taste my own food, adjust my own seasonings, do the best I can do with what I was given.

The friends I’ve made on the show are the best things I’ve taken away from the experience. The fact that you can throw a bunch of crazies from the most varied walks of life with personalities, interests, and backgrounds covering polar ends of a spectrum and have them bond so magnetically within such a short period of time prove the universality of humankind. I am uplifted every time I think about this phenomenon—how despite so many differences, people can still unite over such basics like food, art, things that sustain us. Our differences make us beautifully colorful, but it is our similarities that make us transcendentally homogenous.

Relationships are what make life worthwhile, and the ones I’ve cemented at “MasterChef” are priceless. That, along with knowing the tremendous positive impact I’ve had on so many perfect strangers, are things I would not trade for the world.

I just want to give a sincere, heartfelt thanks to all those watching the show and who have shown me love and encouragement. It makes getting up every morning so much easier knowing that I have more supporters than haters out there. Onward and upward! xoxo

MasterChef 3 returns Tuesday, August 14


“MasterChef” has been on hiatus due to the 2012 summer Olympics. I had mentioned on my MC3Christine Facebook fan page that there were no new episodes airing because of something pesky called the Olympics, and I got a little backlash from people saying I don’t support the quadrennial events by my statement. Apparently, sarcasm doesn’t translate well over the web. Everyone that knows me personally (and many of those that have “met” me in cyberspace via Facebook or Twitter) know that I have a very dry sense of humor—it doesn’t get played out much on the show because I guess the producers like to keep my image as a clean-cut, sweet angel. But in real life, I am incredibly sarcastic and possess a mean humor especially when it comes to my good friends. We all break each other’s balls, and it’s all outta love. And it’s true. I love humankind in general; I’ll always try to see the best in people. But if I ever start making fun of you, nine times out of ten, it’s because I love you enough and feel close enough to you to do so. The other one time, well, let’s just say I’m probably really just making fun of you.

Now that I’ve cleared up my reputation as a hater of the world’s greatest athletes, let’s move on to more important things (the sarcasm strikes again): MasterChef season 3. It’s coming back with a vengeance this Tuesday, August 14. We get the privilege (torture?) of taking over a Michelin kitchen. Here’s a sneak preview. Yes, Joe likes to play the villain. So before you lovely fans of mine go off and blast him with hateful words, remember that Joe is not an inherently evil man—he just plays one on TV. Or maybe that’s just the must-see-the-good-in-everyone side of me talking. Either way, please tune in to see how we two-left-footed amateurs handle cooking in a fine dining restaurant. Good luck to all; may the best cooks win.

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