When we caught up with Boston chef Adrienne Wright, she was on her first vacation since coming back from filming Top Chef—a road trip to Philadelphia with pit stops at some of the best restaurants along the way, most of which happen to also have former Top Chef contestants helming the kitchen. That night, David Viana’s Heirloom Kitchen in New Jersey. The following day, Eddie Konrad’s Laurel Restaurant in Philadelphia.
As executive chef for Boston Urban Hospitality, managing teams at Deuxave, Boston Chops Downtown, Boston Chops South End and dbar, it’s rare that Wright gets to escape from the kitchen—which made this “culinary extravaganza” of a trip, however mini, that much sweeter.
Plus, it came one day after the latest Top Chef episode aired on 2/21, which had her advancing to the top five with a coveted ticket to Macau for the following round. “It’s always life or death on Top Chef,” she says, “but this one was particularly exciting for us as chefs.”
The challenge? Each contestant had to cook a dish honoring a mentor chef. For Wright, it was a spiced duck breast as tribute to Chris Coombs, a chef she has worked with for close to eight years—learning from him what she considers the most formative lesson of all: how to excel culinarily with an equally-as-sharp business acumen.
“He knew how to make money in the city of Boston like not many fine dining chefs do,” she explains. “How to put out beautiful food and have your dreams come true but also have it work financially. And he’s been nothing but supportive through this Top Chef experience, and really excited for me to get my name out there as an individual.”
Wright will be advancing alongside alongside Eric Adjepong, Michelle Minori, Kelsey Barnard Clark and Sara Bradley—a refreshingly diverse group for a show that, historically, has had only 9/20 female runner-ups and 4/15 female winners. “The winners on Top Chef are not a very diverse group,” Wright admits.
And yet, she is adamant about the fact that the power, now more so than ever because of social media, is in the hands of the guests—and that where they decide to go, spend their money and post pictures will make it easier for all chefs—regardless of gender, race, age or sexual orientation—to have a wider reach.
“That’s where the culture of Instagram and the people standing behind you have more power than they’ve ever had,” she argues. “People are taking more and more advantage of being connected with others outside of their immediate circle, and that’s how these things are really going to change.”
While the interest may be there, what’s not (at least yet) is the messaging. Wright believes that we’re a few generations behind in telling our female chefs the same narrative we tell male chefs: that they can live as big of dreams as they want, even if that comes at the expense of other aspects of their life, like family.
“Whether or not they choose it is still a whole other option,” she explains, “but it’s the idea that if this is what you want, you can also pursue your career at the same cost as it would be to a male.”
Tune in this Thursday, 2/28 to see Wright compete in Macau—her first time in this former Portuguese colony whose architecture and cuisine still reflect a vibrant cultural hybridity. She couldn't tell us too much, but she did hint at one of the highlights of the trip: the extraordinary produce, seafood and meat markets where "every little bit was for sale... pig lung and tail included."
"I have a real passion for Asian flavors," she says. "It varies from country to country, of course, but I love the balance of sweet-spicy-salty and how all the flavors play together—so I was very excited to get my ticket to Macau."
Itching to learn more about Macanese culture? Hear what tourism director Carman Chan had to say.