Delicious Drama -- From Top Chef Master Monica Pope

By Chef Monica Pope -- Top Chef Masters

It has been crazy wild around here since my appearance on Top Chef Masters. As you may know, I managed to win the Quickfire challenge with a Moroccan-style Grilled Cheese Sandwich. The best part is that I won $5,000 for the charity I was playing for, Recipe for Success. Of course, this is the season that the Quickfire Challenges don’t contribute any points towards your final score. Kind of like when, back in 1996, I won Best New Chef from Food & Wine Magazine, and the next year was the year they started putting the Best New Chefs on the cover. For some reason, this kind of thing always happens to me.

The night my episode aired, we had a watch party at t’afia; a good customer told me that, if I won anything, she was going to match it as a donation to Recipe for Success (ooh, I hope she can afford $5,000!). Since then, I have been overwhelmed by how supportive and generous people have been — my wallet is full of checks for Recipe for Success…$50, $100, $150. I am excited that people were moved to give and are stepping up to make change in the lives of our children. Both Gracie and I say thank you from the bottom of our hearts!

The actual Top Chef Masters challenge was to do a grilled cheese sandwich that reflected me as a chef, that really represented “my” food. Some folks are having trouble connecting the Moroccan Grilled Cheese to what they perceive as “Monica Pope food.” But Coastal Mediterranean cuisine has always been my thing.

In the Top Chef Masters studio kitchen, they take you around to the pantry and coolers so you can assess the ingredients on hand; there’s a cheese fridge, a lettuce fridge, a miscellaneous pantry, breads, etc. We were also allowed to bring some signature ingredients with us as long as they fit in a 17” x 24” metal bin; I stuffed my suitcase with all sorts of things, including pomegranate molasses. From the start, I had my eye on the loaf of date-walnut bread and I immediately came up with this Moroccan-style grilled cheese with feta, farmer’s cheese and a melt-y white cheese. I made a cumin butter (to toast the bread with), sprinkled some cinnamon, used more fresh dates and voila. I also grabbed three micro herbs — cilantro, basil and mint — to make a little accompanying salad with an orange blossom water-honey dressing. I finished the plate with a swizzle of a pomegranate molasses-maple syrup mixture.

Pictured above: Moroccan-Style Grilled Cheese Sandwich--Get the recipe here


Beautiful and delicious local lettuces

Who knew I would cry on national television, in front of millions? Not me. On Top Chef Masters, someone has to play the jerk, someone has to cry, someone has to get hurt, someone’s food has to be compromised — you get the idea – and it’s all déjà-vu now.


On the show, each chef is told to call out the time. It really does build drama as we’re building the grilled cheese sandwiches. I have three pans going and a sandwich press all at once. I’m trying to get the right balance of toast-y and melt-y that makes a grilled cheese sandwich great. Sometimes, drama happens.