This week on Top Chef, the wheat began to separate from the chaff in a Quickfire that had the contestants cooking dishes inspired by idioms such as “sour grapes” and “hot potato.” Los Angeles chef Amanda Baumgarten was on the bottom with her “big cheese” macaroni and pork chop, and she wound up there again after the Elimination Challenge at Nationals Stadium. Asked to create a high-end concession-stand snack, Baumgarten served up a tuna tartare so unappetizingly gray that judge Eric Ripert balked at eating it. We spoke to her about what it feels like to be on bottom, Angelo’s new-agey side, and why she stands by her decision to serve raw fish at a ballgame.
>> For a recap of Episode 11, click here.
There’s a lot of talent this season. Once you had a chance to evaluate the other chefs, how far did you expect to make it?
“I had zero expectations. Any given day, someone can go home. I just tried to focus on myself and not get psyched out by my competitors. I think that’s why I did as well as I did. I deserved to be there, and I fought really hard. There’s no getting lucky with those judges.”
You landed on the bottom often. Was it hard to find yourself there again and again?
“I think I was actually in the middle more than I was on the bottom. Toward the end, it was definitely hard to be there. I’m sure that factored into my mental state a little bit. But I knew why I was there. They were mistakes I couldn’t change because of time constraints. Getting it right the first time is truly essential in my business and the gravity of that was reinforced at judges’ table. You only get one chance.”
Do you regret making the tuna tartare?
“I wouldn’t pick something different. I was trying to stand out and take ballpark food and elevate it. I was trying to do something light and seasonal and springy.”
Last week Alex told us that you were the one person who could clear up the mystery of the pea purée.
“Alex did not steal the pea purée. He made it right next to me.”
Does Angelo really read Tony Robbins? What’s up with his “zen” mode?
“The Angelo that I know is a goof ball. In the beginning, when he came off as cocky, I thought that was funny because that’s not the Angelo I know. And, yes, he’d chant a lot. But everyone’s a little kooky.”
Did you have a favorite moment on the show?
“Winning the blindfolded cook-off Quickfire challenge. It forced us to rely on our most primal chef-y instincts, to focus on the ingredients in front of you to make a cohesive dish. It felt really good to be on that team and work with those people.”
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