Adrienne Wright Says 'Top Chef' Helped Define Her Cooking
The executive chef of four restaurants and soon-to-be mom has some practical advice for future contestants.
Adrienne Wright, the bubbly chef from Boston, came into the competition like a lamb and went out like a lion. Wright, who runs four restaurants as part of Boston Urban Hospitality stumbled a bit in the beginning with earlier challenges before finding her footing and landing a spot as one of the final five chefs in the competition. Top Chef finals are intense for every chef, but the first challenge in Macau seemed to throw the chefs for a loop. In a heart-stopping moment on the latest episode, chef Adrienne pulled a bold move and disagreed with the judges on her dish and why it didn’t work. It was a risk, but the judges ultimately didn’t see the vision for her pork belly and rice cake dish so she was asked to pack her knives and go.
We caught up with the chef (and soon-to-be mom!) about her time on the show and what she learned about herself in the process.
Food & Wine: What inspired you to compete on Top Chef?
Adrienne Wright: Top Chef was always on my bucket list of things to do before I started a family. When my husband and I seriously started talking about taking the next step in our lives together, I knew the window of time was closing on this option, so I applied for season 16 and made the cut!
FW: What was the biggest lesson you took away from your time on Top Chef? Did you learn something new about yourself or your cooking?
AW: Top Chef definitely helped me grow as a chef. It helped me start to conceptualize what my food looks like when I am the only one cooking and hone in on the hallmarks of my cooking; high herbal content, clean bold flavors, and very seasonal/vegital focus.
FW: What did you think when you first met your competitors and saw them in action?
AW: We had a lot of talent on season 16 and diversity when it came to the backgrounds of the chefs who were competing, so it became clear from the beginning that I couldn't underestimate anyone. Whether a contestant was a private chef, culinary school teacher, caterer, chef de cuisine or business owner, each and every one of them came in with years of passion and hard work in the industry behind them and made them a strong contender for the title of Top Chef. It was clear I was going to have to bring my “A” game to each challenge and really push the limits of what was possible in each time frame or risk going home for lack of ambition.
FW: Do you feel like one of your competitors should have gone home instead of you? Who?
AW: It was really hard to know just what the judges were looking for in each challenge, especially when each dish was so unique. I think my dish had a really strong flavor profile and a focus on the challenge that I am still surprised didn't resonate with the judges.
FW: Who do you think is going to be Top Chef? And who are you rooting for?
AW: I am rooting for Michelle from here on out! Her food is focused, beautiful and delicious and she really has a view on life in the industry that I respect.
FW: What do you wish you had done differently in the elimination challenge?
AW: I would have kept the majority of my dish the same...I really loved the pork belly, crispy rice cake, broccoli salad and ginger, garlic and chili pickle. I would have made the rice cake twice as big and added a sunny side up quail egg to round it all out.
FW: Do you have any specific dishes or techniques that you wish you had gotten the opportunity to show the judges?
AW: I really wanted a chance to get to make pasta again after the first challenge, but it just never seemed to be the right set of circumstances. And I had already learned the hard way not to try to force it for a challenge!
FW: The music challenge seemed to trip up a lot of chefs. If you had to do the music challenge again, would you pick a different dish?
AW: I am the worst when it comes to picking a song under pressure....karaoke is one of my personal nightmares! Given a chance to do the music challenge over I would definitely revamp from the song up, probably going with one of my husband's favorite bands and the flavors I cook for him at home.
FW: What was your least favorite challenge?
AW: The mentor challenge really threw me for a loop, right from the start of it being at an auction. After weeks of focusing on my food and my flavors it was difficult for me to build a tribute dish to my mentor that worked within the time constraints. The food that Chris Coombs and I create together rarely comes together in a 3- or 4-hour prep and cook, but instead is built in layers over days of working together in our restaurants.
FW: If you could give a future Top Chef competitor any advice what would it be?
AW: Don't overprep! Know exactly how much product you are going to need for your dish and don't waste time doing any more than what you need. That is the key to having enough time to put your best food on the plate for each challenge.