On this week’s episode of Top Chef, the contestants pulled some Ethiopian-inspired food out of their toques, under the watchful eye of guest judge chef Marcus Samuelsson. They then continued their “culinary trip around the world,” cooking dishes inspired by one of nine countries. Unfamiliar with Brazilian cuisine, Stephen Hopcraft seemed wary, serving up flank steak with Argentinean chimichurri sauce, black beans, and rice. In the end, the judges found his cooking technique fell short with “broken, mealy, and overcooked” rice, and they sent the Las Vegas chef home. We spoke with him about cheftestant pranks and his new interest in Brazilian cuisine.
>>For a recap of episode 8, click here.
Your rice seemed to suffer when it was reheated in the chafing dish. Were you worried about it?
“Kenny, being the awesome chef and sportsman that he is, actually quizzed me on that. I could tell by his quizzing that he was like ‘bad idea.’ But a big part of being a chef is that ego is a very strong force. It was one of those times when your ego kind of sends you down the wrong road. “
Had you prepared for an international challenge before the show?
“I should have. It seems so freaking obvious. But, had I prepared for an international challenge, I don’t know if I would’ve prepared for Brazil. It’s just not one of those countries where you’re like ‘Oh, it’s a food country.’ My absence of knowledge of the cuisine of Brazil put me at a huge disadvantage. [Since the show,] I’ve looked into it and found it’s a great cuisine and that many amazing things come from Brazil. The best thing to happen to me was that I was opened up to that.”
What was at stake for you with this competition? Did you do it for the money?
“I wanted to get the word of Seablue [where Hopcraft is executive chef] out to the world and have people come in and check out the awesome stuff my team and I do there. Whether I represented it well or not, I don’t know. I wish I could’ve been more successful on the show. I would’ve been happy to win 50 bucks.”
Did you have a strategy for the competition?
“My strategy was to be myself. To cook from the heart, to put out food I love. As a chef, I was somebody who had a lot of hard knocks growing up in my career. There’s a lot of trial and error when I create dishes. I think that was kind of my downfall.”
What was your favorite challenge?
“My favorite was the toothpick challenge. I got robbed and should have won. It was a great idea to take a dish you’d serve as an entrée and shrink it down. I fell in love with the idea of that. My least favorite was being tied together. It didn’t really shine on anyone’s skills.”
When Angelo wrapped the toilet seat in plastic wrap, you cracked up. Were there a lot of pranks in the Top Chef house?
“I didn’t actually pee on the plastic wrap. I was really hammered, and I didn’t want to pee on the toilet seat, so I sat down. I got plastic wrapped. Angelo is hilarious. We went back and forth on pranks, a lot of joking around. I know it doesn’t come out a lot. But he busts some good ones.”
Do you have any advice for future contestants?
“I don’t want to give them any advice. It’s no fun if someone already knows what they’re getting into. But I will say, if you’re going on Top Chef, do some research. Practice some dishes. Learn to think on your feet. Once you get an idea and start it, don’t be afraid to change it.”
And study Brazilian food?
“Go and spend two weeks on Ipanema beach. That’s what I wish I did.”
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