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Top Chef Goodbye Interview: Episode 11
We talk to the latest chef who was sent packing.
Paula Deen, queen of all things fatty, judged the Quickfire Challenge, which was—shocking!—to create a deep-fried dish. Paula listed some things she likes to deep fry, including “balls of butter.” Richard did her one better and crisped up balls of mayonnaise in duck fat. Paula loved the fried mayo but not as much as she adored Mike’s winning dish: fried “chicken oysters”—the piece of meat that connects a chicken’s thighs to its body—served in oyster shells. Richard accused Mike of stealing the idea from his notebook, which apparently included a sketch of the exact dish. Carla proclaimed Mike had broken “chef law.” Mike, showing no remorse, pocketed $5,000 for the win and thanked Richard for the idea.
In a welcome departure from last week’s ode to Target, the Elimination Challenge had the chefs preparing Gulf Coast seafood for 300 guests at a fundraiser for the Greater New Orleans Foundation. Some of the previously eliminated chefs returned to help the remaining contestants, but even with Angelo as his sous chef, Dale served up a stew of amberjack, andouille sausage, and under-cooked potatoes that got him sent home. He talked to us about Jersey Mike’s chicken-oyster heist, how therapy helped him mature, and why he knew he was getting sent home.
Although winning the entire competition is obviously the goal, you won a lot of the challenges and cash prizes. Does that lessen the pain of getting sent home?
I’d trade it all in right now to still be there. It’s not even a question. I want to win. You can make money, but to be called the best and to win—I don’t even need the money.
What do you think went wrong with your dish? You looked like you were in the weeds pretty early on.
Just time. The dish was a little ill-conceived. When you pound a fish like that with andouille and spices, it’s not going to taste like anything. Time really caught up with me.
Richard mentioned he’d be nervous to work with Angelo because of all the returning chefs, he was sent home most recently. Did that cross your mind?
It did. Think about Angelo. He went through like 45 straight challenges. He rolled straight from his season to this one. That is exhausting.
What did you think about Mike stealing Richard’s idea for the Quickfire Challenge?
It’s what it is. You can’t put a patent on food. It’s funny that Mike was so forthcoming with that information, straight up saying that he stole it. That’s Jersey Mike, man. That’s Jersey Mike, and I love him for that.
Paula Deen is sometimes criticized in the food world for being a bit pedestrian in her cooking. How did you feel about having her judge your food?
I have the most respect for her and what she’s done. She’s not a professional chef and she’s the first one to tell you that. She makes food I want to eat. You can’t eat it everyday because you’d die of a heart attack. But who nicer to kick you off than Paula Deen? She’s like your grandmother.
How was this experience different from your first time competing on Top Chef?
Number-one thing is I’m a different person. I’ve done a lot of maturing. You look at how you’ve been perceived and how embarrassing some of your behavior is to you and people you love. My mom never would openly say she was embarrassed of my behavior, but I could tell some of the things were embarrassing. That’s not me. I’m not going to put my mom in that position. I took a look in the mirror and said I’m going to therapy. I need to talk to someone who does not have an opinion of who I am right now and hash out what’s going on in my life.
You were pretty broken up in your exit interview last night. Did you feel like you were close to winning?
You set goals, you know. I had goals. Obviously everyone wants to win, but my goal was to make the finals. I just wanted to be part of that. You fall short and it hurts. It sucks.
After you knew you were in the bottom three, what did you think your chances were?
Whenever I do a dish I think I’ve compromised too much on, I always think it’s going to be me. I had a feeling. I knew it was going to be me.
What are your future plans?
The goal is always to be a restaurant owner, to do my food. That’s the number-one thing I want to do—get my restaurant going. I’m shopping some concepts around. For me, the bodega is so what I want to do.
Have you been to Washington? Any great dining experiences here you can tell us about?
No, I haven’t. I’m dying to get down to DC. I will, and I still mean to go to Spike’s places. I need to hit Mikey’s place when he opens up. José Andrés invited me. When he kicked me off [in Season 4], he invited me to go.
Who’s your money on to win Top Chef: All Stars?
I’m going to go with season four and put my money on Blais. He’s my boy.
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