Top Chef Goodbye Interviews: Episode 9

This week on Top Chef, the dwindling contestants divided into two groups for a tag-team cook-off Quickfire, producing dishes for guest judge Nancy Pelosi. Kenny Gilbert organized his team for the win, with sautéed shrimp with angel-hair pasta and mustard-cream sauce. The self-proclaimed kitchen “beast” looked confident going into the Elimination Challenge—the show’s much anticipated Restaurant Wars—but his poise dissolved at the judges’ table. Acting as executive chef for his group’s restaurant, 2121, Kenny took the fall for unappealing food, including his beet salad, which guest judge Frank Bruni said was akin to “Hamburger Helper.” We spoke with Kenny about the rules of the show, his rivalry with Angelo, and creating the perfect bite of food.

>>For a recap of Episode 9, click here

Kenny Gilbert’s next move? Writing a book about his life, starting with his toddler years. Photograph courtesy of Bravo TV.

Watching the episode last night, did you think it was an accurate representation of what happened?
“I have no complaints about it. What you saw was exactly the way it happened. I didn’t like the rules and that’s the only gripe I have. We were surprised that we were even on the bottom. I think there’s a lot of mixed feelings out there. I didn’t see the episode from Season Three when Tre got eliminated in a similar situation, but I think this is the biggest upset since then.”

Did you think the judges might send Alex home even though he was on the winning team?
“That would’ve been the correct decision. We signed up to be on Restaurant Wars—to put out a perfectly executed restaurant. We knew we put out the best restaurant experience as a whole, with a great team and a great concept, and we executed some really nice food. Angelo and Ed put out better food, but when all is said and done, this is Restaurant Wars, this is the whole package. Ultimately the other team should’ve been penalized because Alex didn’t conceptualize or prepare a dish at all.”

Frank Bruni compared your dish to Hamburger Helper. Is that the harshest criticism you’ve ever received?
“It was a very ignorant response. I feel like he was getting his Simon Cowell time of fame on Top Chef. I thought chef Eric Ripert or Patrick O’Connell or José Andrés or Marcus Samuelsson would’ve made a fair critique, not just a blanket statement that made for good TV.”

Was the rivalry between you and Angelo played up for the cameras?
“In the house, when we’re sitting having drinks, hanging out, everything’s great. But in the kitchen, we’re ready for battle. I think he was most intimidated by me. He told me that later that competing against me on a day-to-day basis, he was nervous because I made things look so simple. I have a lot of respect for him as well. He’s really talented. I love his style, love his flavor profiles.”

Any advice for future chefs?
“Stay true to classical flavors. Plate your dish so that [the judges] can take the perfect bite. If they don’t get every bit of every component on their forks or spoons, that dish isn’t going to fare well.”

What’s next for you? Do you plan to stay in Telluride?
“I’m in Florida now, in Palm Beach Gardens with the PGA National Resort & Spa. I’ve been here for about a month. I’m looking at doing a book. We’re trying to the best publisher to get it out there. It’s my memoirs from being a kid, scrambling my first egg at three years old, trying to become a reputable chef in the industry, dealing with the death of my wife, raising my daughter from a year-and-four-months old, and my battle with cancer and surviving that. It’s a true, real story. I think it’s going to connect to so many youth and people out there who are going through hard times.”

>>For more Top Chef DC coverage, click here.

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