Cooking with Lisa Fernandes

Can the most hated contestant in Top Chef history redeem her rep by fixing our readers a gourmet five-course meal for under $20?

Top Chef viewers have called Lisa Fernandes everything from a virus ("there's nothing you can do to kill her") to a monkfish stuffed with durian ("horrible both on the inside and outside"). It'd be easy to pin the armchair fury on ratings-chasing producers, but there's no denying the Mai House co-chef's arms-crossed cantankerousness. With New Yorkers hatin' hard, TONY offered Fernandes a chance to redeem herself: Create a meal that our readers can make at home for less than $20. Having raided Hong Kong Supermarket (8202 45th Ave at 82nd St, Elmhurst, Queens; 718-651-3838), Fernandes impresses us with five courses for $19.41. And though the "she-beast" slips out once—when a shipment of chef coats arrives at Mai House and hers is too small, she stomps her clogs and growls, "Those stupid fucking motherfuckers"—the cheftestant everyone loves to hate turns out to be pretty darn likable.

Get recipes for all five dishes and watch Lisa whip up some dumplings.

Made with a half pound of fatty ground pork (only 85!), freshly grated ginger, scallion ribbons, chopped cilantro and a splash of soy sauce, the stuffing is spooned into wonton wrappers ($1.39), sealed, steamed and flash-fried. Though Fernandes scraps the first batch after the pot stickers actually stick to the pot, she advises amateur chefs to forge ahead: "The good thing about cooking at home is that nothing has to be perfect—unless you're having Anthony Bourdain over."
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When you've got greens this good, keep it simple. Fernandes halves three bouquets of Shanghai baby bok choy (21), washes out the grit and browns 'em in smoking-hot vegetable oil with julienned ginger. The result is "bitter, slightly sweet and deliciously charred."
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Fernandes tosses a bundle of thin egg noodles ($1.69) with minced garlic, sliced red onion, scallions and soy sauce. A smattering of jalapeo makes the dish "nice and spicy," and raw bean sprouts give it "moisture and crunch."
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Fernandes steams four ounces of fish ($1.92)—she recommends bass or snapper—in a banana leaf with ginger. Afterward, she bathes the fish with a handmade ginger-caramel sauce. Her secret ingredient? Tiparos Thai fish sauce ($1.19). "It's pungent and very hard-core."
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"I'm no baker, but I love making chefly desserts," says Fernandes, who uses her remaining wontons to wrap a filling of crushed peanuts, gooey caramel and ultraripe baby bananas. She tops the lightly fried spring rolls with a plume of whipped cream, a mound of green apple matchsticks and a drizzling of caramel.
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makes 15 pot stickers

Pot sticker filling
1/2 lb ground pork
2 tsp soy sauce
4 stalks cilantro, stems included, chopped
3 scallions, sliced thin
1 tsp grated ginger

Dipping sauce
1 cup rice wine vinegar
2 cups soy sauce
5 tsp grated ginger
chopped jalapeo, optional

1 bunch scallions, white part only, sliced

1 package square dumpling/wonton wrappers
1/2 cup vegetable oil

Combine all pot sticker filling ingredients in a bowl. Lay out one square dumpling wrapper. Using your finger, rub water on two adjacent sides of the square. Place a small spoonful of the pork mix in the center of the wrapper. Fold the wrapper over, making a triangle and pressing the air out. Using a fork, gently seal the corners of the dumpling. Repeat this process until you have the desired amount of dumplings. Keep the wrappers and filled dumplings under a damp cloth to prevent them from drying out.

In a pot fitted with a removable steamer basket ($60 from The Conran Shop,, steam the dumplings for approximately 3 to 5 minutes, remembering to grease the bottom of the basket. Remove from the steamer and place on parchment paper that is slightly greased to cool.

While the pot stickers are cooling, whisk together sauce ingredients in a bowl.

Next, heat vegetable oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the pot stickers and cook for 1 minute on each side until golden brown. Remove from the pan, and drain on a paper towel. Serve on a platter accompanied by dipping sauce.


makes 1 serving

4-5 oz fish fillet (snapper or bass works nicely)
1 piece banana leaf, washed and dried
2 small pieces ginger
1 bunch scallions, green only, cut into 1" pieces
salt and black pepper to taste

Ginger caramel
1/2 cup granulated sugar
just enough water to saturate the sugar
1-2 tsp Thai fish sauce (to taste)
2 tsp grated ginger
1 tbsp heavy cream, at room temperature

Place the fish, ginger and scallions in the center of the banana leaf. Season with salt and black pepper. Fold the banana leaf up to form a "package" and place in a steamer basket for approximately 6-8 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish.

While the fish is steaming, add sugar and water in a small saucepot for the ginger caramel. On high heat, cook the sugar until it becomes golden brown, being careful to not burn it. Remove from heat and slowly add the cream. The mixture will bubble and steam. Using a whisk, stir the caramel until it cools. Next, add fish sauce and ginger. Set aside until the fish is ready.

Once the fish is cooked, remove from steamer, open the package carefully and fold the banana leaf under itself (transfer to a plate if desired). Drizzle the caramel over the fish.

Optional: Garnish with sliced scallions and cilantro.

makes 1 serving

3 pieces baby bok choy, split in half lengthwise and washed (dried very well)
6 thin julienned pieces ginger
1tsp vegetable oil
1tsp Thai fish sauce
Black pepper, ground

Heat a skillet, wok or heavy-bottom pan over high heat until it is smoking hot. Add the oil and bok choy and char on both sides. Turn down heat to low and add the ginger, fish sauce and black pepper to finish.

makes 1 serving

1 bundle fresh thin egg noodles
1 cup bean sprouts
1 clove garlic, minced
2 scallions, cut into 1" pieces
1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
3 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp vegetable oil

In a medium-sized pot, bring water to a boil and cook the noodles for approximately 2 minutes. Remove from water and allow to drain and dry.

In a saut pan, heat the oil over medium heat and add onions and scallions. Cook until translucent. Add garlic and saut for 20 to 30 seconds. Add the noodles. Toss everything together in the pan and then add the soy sauce. Remove pan from heat and place noodles into a bowl to serve. Top with raw bean sprouts.

Optional: Garnish with cilantro.

makes 6 spring rolls

1 baby banana, sliced into 1" strips
10 peanuts, roasted and roughly smashed
1/2 granny smith apple, cut into 2" sticks (if you do them ahead of time, soak them in lemon water to prevent oxidization)
1/3 cup cold heavy cream plus 2 tbsp room temperature heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar
just enough water to saturate the sugar
square dumpling/wonton wrappers
1 tsp sea salt (optional)

For the caramel sauce, heat the sugar and water in a small pot. Once it becomes golden brown, add the 2 tbsp room temperature heavy cream being careful of the bubbles and steam. Remove from heat and whisk together.

In a small bowl, mix half the peanuts with the banana and 1 tbsp caramel sauce. Lay out one square dumpling wrapper. Using your finger, rub water on two adjacent sides of the square. Spoon banana mix into the center of the wrapper. Starting from the bottom point of the wrapper, start rolling the spring roll up, fold in the sides and finish the roll. Repeat this process until you have the desired amount of rolls. Deep fry until they are golden brown. Allow to drain and cool on paper towel.

In a separate bowl, whip the cold heavy cream with 2 tsp sugar until stiff peaks form.

In another bowl, mix the apples, the remaining peanuts and additional caramel together.

Place cooled spring rolls on a plate, top with whip cream, then caramel apple salad. Sprinkle with sea salt if desired.