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Boston: Love It or Hate It

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Boston is a great city.  I am a New Yorker originally but I have been visiting Boston for over 50 years.  The people are anything but milquetoast and the culture is alive and as varied as any major city in the US, plus it's steeped in history related to the founding of this country.  Boston is the nation's pre-eminent college town and attracts young, interesting, intelligent people from everywhere.  This enriches its culture immensely both intellectually and artistically. 

 

Northeastern cuisine gets short shrift from TV, IMHO but there is a lot there that is often overlooked or seen as boring when that's a matter of opinion, and not one I share.  If anyone is interested, check out Jasper White's cookbooks on New England cuisine.  I think it's sad that more people don't revive an interest in this cuisine.  When I was a kid there was more evidence of it in Boston as you could find many places that served a good fish and clam chowder, fried oysters or baked beans, but now the emphasis is on global cuisine from everywhere else but New England.  And I think that's regrettable.  There are many old time down home clam and lobster shacks in other towns in Massachusetts and scattered all over New England that serve exquisite regional food, especially in places like Cape Cod, where the simplest fresh seafood is the most amazing.  And the best roast potatoes I ever ate in my life was on the Cape, in an old restaurant that's been cooking them that way for decades.  I think there is bias in favor of other parts of the country these days with regard to food, and it's based on lack of knowledge, false information, or prejudice, IMHO.  Unfortunately I think this season's "Top Chef" has not brought out anything interesting about the local cuisine, perhaps because it too is affected by all of this.

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Snarklepuss, you are a person after my own heart.  I have been saying for years now that I'd like to see a revival of "Yankee cuisine," modernized, of course.  New England has as long and varied a culinary tradition as the South does, and that has unfortunately gotten lost in the past several decades.  Everyone thinks it is just seafood, but it isn't just that.

 

That being said, because Boston is a modern city, I also do very much hope that the show does highlight some of the diversity the city now has.  Despite the prevalence of movies about Irish American gangsters, Boston actually has a lot of different immigrant communities that are having an impact on the culinary scene here, and the fine dining scene in the city has really come alive in the last decade or so.  So while I have no problems with what they've shown of the city so far, I am hopeful we'll also see these other parts of the city.

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I always hear about how great NY pizza is and it makes me defensive a little bit. We in Boston have fantastic pizza too. We have our food traditions going back hundreds of years, but with immigrant populations in pockets over the last 100 or so years, we have some good new traditions too, of which pizza and other Italian food are good examples.  Italian food in the Boston area is really good, and when you leave the Boston area into greater New England, you can see the drop off pretty quickly.

 

I am trying to avoid spoilers for the whole season (although my family keeps insisting on telling me things they've read), but I hope there is some exploration of the region in general. Ideally there would be stuff like lobstering in Maine, sugaring season in Vermont, car racing at Loudon, Portuguese food in Rhode Island, but that's not practical or seasonally possible. Try to do something at the top of Mt Washington and have the elevation mess things up, go to Ben & Jerry's, etc.

 

I suspect it'll stay mostly in Boston itself, and there's nothing wrong with that, but the region is pretty cool.

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I've never met a Boston sports fan who didn't annoy me (as a sports fan, not necessarily as an overall person), but I've always found Boston an interesting city to visit.  I hope they're basically picking the low-hanging fruit in this early stage of the show, using the more obvious and cliché Boston-specific challenges to interest the greatest number of viewers and also to get them out of the way, before settling into a variety of more niche-oriented aspects of Boston culture and cuisine with a smaller, and better, group of cheftestants.  There is plenty to choose from.

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I always hear about how great NY pizza is and it makes me defensive a little bit. We in Boston have fantastic pizza too. We have our food traditions going back hundreds of years, but with immigrant populations in pockets over the last 100 or so years, we have some good new traditions too, of which pizza and other Italian food are good examples.  Italian food in the Boston area is really good, and when you leave the Boston area into greater New England, you can see the drop off pretty quickly.

 

Why we have some great pizza around here, I really don't think that it is all that much different from NY pizza.  Or, in other words, what the rest of the country generally thinks of as "New York pizza" is really rightly thought of as "East Coast pizza" because it is the kind of pizza you are going to find from Portland, ME down to Baltimore, MD. That being said, when I lived in New Orleans and in DC, the one thing I very much missed was access to good Italian food.  My mother is 100% Italian American, and that kind of red sauce food was a staple in my house growing up (plus my father - not Italian at all - always wanted to go to Italian restaurants when we'd go out to eat), and I do think that Boston - indeed the entire New England region - is underrated for its good Italian good.  The North End has become a lot more upscale in the last decade, and so has fewer red sauce places, but you can still find them in other parts of the region.

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Why we have some great pizza around here, I really don't think that it is all that much different from NY pizza.  Or, in other words, what the rest of the country generally thinks of as "New York pizza" is really rightly thought of as "East Coast pizza" because it is the kind of pizza you are going to find from Portland, ME down to Baltimore, MD.

 

I lived in and around Boston for 20 years, and when I think of pizza that's best around Boston and falls off elsewhere it's Greek pizza (grease-za), that staple of cheap House Of Pizza joints that also serve gyros, with the thick oil-laden crust and oddball cheese blend that I can't find as good anywhere else - I always preferred it to New York/North End style, but that was when I was young and never thought about calories.  I don't expect it to be featured on Top Chef.  The other Boston-centric dish I never had before I lived there and won't be seeing on Top Chef is steak tips, but that's really down to marinade and there's no time to do it right in a competition setting.  They're going to go heavy on seafood, but I had my best seafood out in the far suburbs, not the city - and even with lobster rolls I have to throw my vote in for Connecticut style (warm with drawn butter) over the cool mayo-laden Boston/North Shore version.

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The other Boston-centric dish I never had before I lived there and won't be seeing on Top Chef is steak tips, but that's really down to marinade and there's no time to do it right in a competition setting. 

 

I never thought about that before... are steak tips really just a local-MA thing?  I know they are popular here, but I can't remember now if I've seen them really out and about elsewhere in the country... (I didn't eat a lot of steak for most of my life. One of the permanent changes to my body after having a baby was a love for steak, which I was mostly meh about previously. So I wouldn't have noticed their inclusion or absence on menus in my travels.)

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Totale, good call on the Greek-style pizza, I agree that is pretty common (and delicious) here.  And yes, steak tips are a staple bar food here, but it is my understanding that you don't see that as much elsewhere.  Honestly, one of my favorite dishes is a Yankee pot roast, and while it is unlikely to show up on Top Chef, it would be good to see someone try to recreate it.

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As a native New Englander, I would LOVE it if they made the chefs have to use the classic red hot dogs (if you boil them, they make the water pink!)  that we get in Maine and other places in the north. I love them!  I would also love for them to do a spin on the classic New England "boiled" dinner. I love that so much and make it several times a year. 

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I don't remember any other Top Chef city evoking such a strong negative reaction as I've seen and don't know what it is. I wish people would give Boston a chance, particularly if they've never visited the city or met someone who actually lives here. Any East Coast city is going to have a certain amount of "white men's history." If ever there's a Top Chef Philly, you can bet that there will be a challenge about the Liberty Bell or something. But that certainly doesn't mean that it dominates the city - Massachusetts ranks #7 in terms of New Americans coming here, and 140 languages are spoken here. Every city also has its ugly history and it's unfair to judge Boston (and Bostonians) today by, say, the busing riots that happened 40 years ago.

 

That said, I can honestly say that while there's good food and great restaurants, New England is not known for cutting edge cuisine. I'm dreading some of the challenges, which I'm sure will involve baked beans and/or lobster, for a start. But I hope in the latter case, they actually have to go out on a lobster boat, haul up traps, etc.

Edited by archer1267
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I don't remember any other Top Chef city evoking such a strong negative reaction as I've seen and don't know what it is. I wish people would give Boston a chance, particularly if they've never visited the city or met someone who actually lives here. Any East Coast city is going to have a certain amount of "white men's history." If ever there's a Top Chef Philly, you can bet that there will be a challenge about the Liberty Bell or something. But that certainly doesn't mean that it dominates the city - Massachusetts ranks #7 in terms of New Americans coming here, and 140 languages are spoken here. Every city also has its ugly history and it's unfair to judge Boston (and Bostonians) today by, say, the busing riots that happened 40 years ago.

 

I have found that, for whatever reason, lots of people who have never been here have lots of opinions about Boston based entirely on what they know from tv shows and movies (or from history that took place decades ago), so unfortunately, I am not surprised that the city has evoked a negative reaction.  I do think, however, that no other city would have been told its citizens should just be "over" something like the Marathon bombing, but I have also learned that Boston provokes irrational reactions in otherwise rational people, so there it is. 

 

I also think, as I said in the episode thread, it has only been three episodes, so I can't really judge yet how they've portrayed the city.  The first challenge didn't really have all that much to do with Boston, except for being located at the Museum of Science, and the second challenge, while honoring the BPD and BFD, wasn't actually supposed to reflect Boston all that much.  It was the kind of team challenge that we've seen on previous seasons and really could have taken place anywhere.  This episode's challenge was the first one that I felt actually acknowledged something unique about the city, and while I think that they could have been more creative with the actual challenge, I was fine with Fenway as the location. Fenway is special to Boston. It is absolutely the case that at this point in their history, the Red Sox are important to everyone in the region, regardless of ethnic or racial make up (I mean, the idea that baseball in Boston is only important to white men is just wrong). So that's fine.  But that was the first challenge where it reflected something about Boston, not just a challenge that could have been done in any city.

Edited by eleanorofaquitaine
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I've never met a Boston sports fan who didn't annoy me

 

 

I live here and am annoyed too! I didn't grow up in New England, so the Sox/Pats are not in my marrow. I can easily see where the whole "Yankees suck!" thing is childish and the weird inferiority complex Boston sometimes has about NYC just makes us look provincial. It doesn't help that sitcoms and movies play up the whole clannish, loudmouthed Irish-American thing either. To me, that's just a small part of Boston. We're not all Mark Wahlberg. The city's got so much going on with the arts and culture and I'd love to see that worked into a challenge. And then there are all the students and universities...

 

I always hear about how great NY pizza is and it makes me defensive a little bit.

 

 

Ah, you've just got to remember Michael Scott saying, "When I come to the Big Apple, I like getting a real New York slice." The camera pans out and he's standing in front of a Sbarro.

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Archer1267, I agree. 

 

One thing that I haven't seen mentioned (and could have missed) pertains to the field of medicine.  Boston has some of the most outstanding hospitals in the country.  Boston Children's Hospital is only one example.  With Harvard and so many other universities in the area turning out med students, it's no wonder that many of them wind up staying in Boston to practice.  A friend of mine, one of the most skilled neurosurgeons in the country, did just that.

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My mom is an 18th generation Cape Codder and I was a nanny in Swampscott (Near Marblehead) for a summer. We were able to go to Boston and Cape Cod this summer and I loved every minute of Boston!  Since I'm in the Northwest, I don't get a lot of lobster, so that was my main focus and I had some great lobster at Legal Seafoods and in Salem.  But I was most entranced by the North End with the insanely wonderful bakeries and the mob men sitting at card tables on the sidewalk.  The made to order cannoli's were the best thing ever in the world and if I lived there, you would have to roll me around the sidewalks because I would be eating ten a day.  I really hope they do a challenge in the North End.

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OK, that's what they need - a Legal seafood challenge. I don't particularly like most seafood and I love it at Legal. These people _tell the government_ how to safely handle product. It's perfect.

Edited by Julia

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As a Rhode Islander, I'd love to see them have an episode where they focus a bit on the food profiles of the other New England states. Like a team challenge where they're assigned a state and they make a dish based on the notable ingredients that are from that state (like Vermont with Maple Syrup, Lobster with Maine, Quahogs with Rhode Island, etc.) 

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As a Rhode Islander, I'd love to see them have an episode where they focus a bit on the food profiles of the other New England states. Like a team challenge where they're assigned a state and they make a dish based on the notable ingredients that are from that state (like Vermont with Maple Syrup, Lobster with Maine, Quahogs with Rhode Island, etc.) 

 

As a native of Massachusetts I can freely state that Rhode Island style clam chowder is wicked awesome!

 

Especially when followed by a cabinet for dessert.

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As a Rhode Islander, I'd love to see them have an episode where they focus a bit on the food profiles of the other New England states. Like a team challenge where they're assigned a state and they make a dish based on the notable ingredients that are from that state (like Vermont with Maple Syrup, Lobster with Maine, Quahogs with Rhode Island, etc.)

I'm picturing them barreling around the State Houses at the Eastern States Exposition (Big E) held in western Mass. every year.

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I doubt they'd actually do a challenge like that framed in that way.  The reality is that the classic flavor profiles of all of the New England states are similar - you can get lobster in Rhode Island, maple syrup in Connecticut, and quahogs in Massachusetts, after all.  But I could see them doing a traditional New England flavor profile kind of challenge.

Edited by eleanorofaquitaine

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eleanorofaquitaine, just based on that screen name alone you'd be a person after my own heart, but I also completely agree with everything you've said.

 

I agree about the Pizza.  New England has some of the best pizza in the country but it often doesn't get any credit.  Plus a lot of its mom and pop "red sauce palaces" are overlooked and underrated.  I had the best seafood linguine dish of my life in Boston, and I've eaten many such dishes in New York.  I think the theme is that New York steals Boston's thunder with a lot of things.  When I first moved to New England I thought the whole Red Sox / Yankees rivalry was juvenile and born of an inferiority complex, but now I totally get it.  I know a lot of my New York friends back in the Bronx would call me a traitor for this but the truth is that there is way too much hype about New York at the expense of New England, especially Boston, and the natives are really quite sick of it at this point. 

 

Then again I think Boston is probably better off that it hasn't been totally taken over by the uber rich hipsters and posers like NY has.  I was totally miffed when they threw down the "real" Yankee Stadium and built this new soul-less version.  I grew up in the Bronx, that's my home town they were messing with.  I had my first date at Yankee Stadium.  My grandpa used to take me to a game every now and then growing up.  Mickey Mantle and all that.  At least in Boston they respect their history.  In NY now a lot of supposedly "protected" landmarks are being challenged for their very right to exist.  In a lot of ways I now get why people around here think NY needs to get over itself in a big way.  And I say that as someone who loves the "real" NY, not the NY that has recently been decimated and co-opted to serve only the purposes of the ultra rich and fashionable people from all over the world.

 

BTW, I have deeper roots in Boston than even in NY, going back to the 1600s and the Revolution.  I never knew that until relatively recently so I suppose that knowledge has only served to deepen my love of the place.

 

Count me as hoping they do an episode in the North End.

Edited by Snarklepuss
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I lived in Boston and love it. To those who have defended it here, good job!  I have one more thing to add. 

 

They go for the cliche in every city or state they visit.  Texas and New Orleans featured what they are known for, as well. 

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I'm amused that they're staging their Revolution-era challenge at the site of a 19th Century arsenal that last I knew was a shopping mall.

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I joked on Twitter about there being more to the Watertown Arsenal than the mall. But I know that there is actually a lot in that complex that I don't ever go to.

 

But yeah, if you're going to down Revolutionary Era stuff, at least take the trip out to Concord or Lexington.

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I both love it and hate it.

 

I hate it  as I am trying to leave my abusive TV boyfriend Tom Collichio.  He is such a misogynist.  I got excited when another woman finally won Top Chef in S10.  S11 - the 2 best chefs were women - but of course Tom can't allow another woman to win so soon.  What an ass.

 

But I am watching as I am a born and bred Bostonian and once I saw Fenway Park in one of the promos - I was hooked.

 

 

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I think we all feel a certain pride in our home cities as well as the cities which used to be our homes.  If you're proud of your city, you care about the light in which it's portrayed.  It's too bad that the producers or staff can't form a friendly little advisory group to decide what features in greater Boston deserve to be featured, then form the show around those venues.  Before the episode of "One if By Land, Two if By Sea," I was disappointed that they didn't spend a few brief moments showing the Old North Church.  Even a brief shot of the inside, followed by a quick shot of the brass names on the pews, reserved for various prominent families of the day, would have meant something to people who didn't know the church.

 

The exquisite "problem" with filming in Boston is that there are too many outstanding sites.  They encountered the same problems when they filmed in San  Francisco, my post-Boston home.  I have great hopes for the Lexington/Concord show.  I wish, too, that a cameraman would climb the steep steps in the monument on Beacon Hill and film the view looking over Boston.  Even the ship, The Constitution, would be fascinating to see, although impossible to cook in.  It will be interesting to see what venues Tom Colicchio and his staff deem to be the most important.

 

When did this series begin?  I can't remember!   If it was on during Halloween, it might have been filmed in Salem, home of the witches!

Edited by Lura
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When did this series begin?  I can't remember!   If it was on during Halloween, it might have been filmed in Salem, home of the witches!

 

You mean Danvers ;)

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They filmed over the spring and into the summer, so unlikely they were in Salem for Halloween.  Also,  I don't think they actually went to Lexington and Concord but to Watertown (or, as they said on The Newsroom, Waterton).

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One of my ancestors was a big to-do in Watertown in its early days.  First something or other, very posh and impressive.  I've got to go over there some day and check out local historical societies. I did see him (or was it someone in another branch?) referenced on a plaque at the Granary last year.  I'm at least 12th generation Masshole, but it's weird because we're so poor and trashy. You'd think we'd have gentrified by now. :)

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Totale, I just Googled the witches, and I learned something, including the fact that you're right!   Despite what we were taught in school, in Andover,  witchcraft actually began in Danvers, known then as Salem Village.  Interesting -- and thanks for the correction! 

 

Thank you for the responses about Halloween.  I had a feeling that the show had been taped by then since Halloween was close to the air date.

Edited by Lura

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One of my ancestors was a big to-do in Watertown in its early days.  First something or other, very posh and impressive.  I've got to go over there some day and check out local historical societies. I did see him (or was it someone in another branch?) referenced on a plaque at the Granary last year.  I'm at least 12th generation Masshole, but it's weird because we're so poor and trashy. You'd think we'd have gentrified by now. :)

 

That's what happened to my family, too - have been here since 1636 and yet eventually became Swamp Yankees. The infusion of Italian and Irish blood helped our line, I think :)

 

And native son Sam Waterston (born in Cambridge, descendant of a Mayflower family) let that one go, so I'm assuming the mispronunciation was intentional :)

 

Yeah, I've seen the arguments that this was "intentional."  I am not buying it but YMMV.

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Any stereotype of any city is going to not apply to a good chunk of people.  An example is that there IS pizza that is not deep dish in Chicago, and not everyone in Chicago likes deep dish, but I know that's a famous culinary thing about Chicago.  I would have been disappointed if Boston's rich history and food scene hadn't been mined for this season!

 

I loved my visit to Boston-great food, great city, pain in the ass to drive in (we drove up to Salem for a day).  I love the way history is mixed with progress, the way the old State House is surrounded by urban skyscrapers and high rises is amazing.  I think I ate chowder at every meal.  It was THAT GOOD.

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I hope there is a Concord challenge. It could be a Transcendental challenge: take a traditional Mass/New England dish and create a dish that "transcends" the original.

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I love the way history is mixed with progress, the way the old State House is surrounded by urban skyscrapers and high rises is amazing.

 

Say it ain't so, Larapu!  :)  That mixture of old and new is something I abhor in any city, whether it's Boston or San Francisco.  I was just in Boston and the Cape for six weeks (eating chowder!), and it was precisely that mix of old and new that, once again, disappointed me.  Even shots from the show's cameras sometimes make me sad.  I'm no city planner, but I wish that cities would make a one or two-block grassy park around each historical site so that they would stand apart from the rest.  I'm not against progress, but keep it away from beloved old treasures!

Edited by Lura

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Say it ain't so, Larapu!  :)  That mixture of old and new is something I abhor in any city, whether it's Boston or San Francisco.  I was just in Boston and the Cape for six weeks (eating chowder!), and it was precisely that mix of old and new that, once again, disappointed me.  Even shots from the show's cameras sometimes make me sad.  I'm no city planner, but I wish that cities would make a one or two-block grassy park around each historical site so that they would stand apart from the rest.  I'm not against progress, but keep it away from beloved old treasures!

 

Boston definitely has its own planning issues but personally, I love the fact that Boston is able to integrate historic structures into the modern city.  That corner of School Street and Cambridge Street is beautiful precisely because you can see the 18th, 19th, and 20th (and now, 21st) century all in one spot, showing that a city can preserve its heritage while also meeting its future.  The Old State House is a beloved old treasure precisely because it is right there in the middle of the city, with or without a park surrounding it.

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I live in Salem. I would have bet you $100 that the episode scheduled to air Halloween week would have been Salem-centric. But I'm already killing myself since I didn't know they were filming in Boston this summer, (right across the river from my workplace!). If they'd come to Salem and I missed it, well, I just don't know.

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I loved my visit to Boston-great food, great city, pain in the ass to drive in (we drove up to Salem for a day).

 

Heh...this reminds me of a great meme I saw once (caution:  for a certain 4-letter word...) 

 

I'm enjoying the show so far... Boston really does have some great food.  I echo those who've said they hope the North End gets a challenge.  Every restaurant I've been to in the North End has been fantastic.  And the North End is the only place I've found polenta that can come even CLOSE to what my grandma used to make when I was little. LOL And the Fenway challenge was cool just because, well, Fenway is Fenway. 

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I was thinking that these contestants are so lucky to have filmed in Boston, and that made me wonder just how much of Boston they were able to see.  Tom told me on Twitter that filming takes much longer than we'd think from just watching the show.  Still, I hope they had a chance to look around, to eat at a few of those North End places, etc.  Does anyone know of an article online about the filming of "Top Chef?"

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Nov 12 2014. 11:16 pm

I hope there is a Concord challenge.

I don't.  I can't bear to hear them all mispronounce it like Padma did in the war episode.

 

(It's CON-kerd, not CON-CORD.)

 

But then I guess I should be grateful they haven't been to Worcester, Gloucester, Haverhill, Quincy or Billerica.

Edited by Qoass
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I don't think I've seen this mentioned, but I'm very disappointed that this happened during filming (and that it may make people think twice about filming in Boston). 

 

And on a related note: Milton? I mean, it's got the Blue Hills, Milton Academy, and some nice homes but...

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