The tension between the three remaining contestants was palpable on last night’s Top Chef: All-Stars. Mike strutted around the chefs’ Atlantis suite, saying things like, “Hey Richard, Wolfgang called to ask how the goulash is coming,” causing us to worry that Richard may finally snap. For most of the hour, Richard appeared to be somewhere between puking and crying. Though he avoided doing either, he did continually remind us that he—and not Mike, damn it!—has won the most Top Chef challenges of any contestant in the show’s history. Someone needs to give that poor guy a drink. Or a Xanax.
For the elimination challenge, the chefs had to prepare a “last supper” for three culinary icons: Wolfgang Puck, Michelle Bernstein, and Masaharu Morimoto. It was clear Antonia was in trouble when she was assigned to cook miso soup, sashimi, and daikon good enough to rival Morimoto’s Japanese mother’s food. Morimoto added that his mom would sort through each grain of rice to make sure they were all the perfect size. No big deal.
Fortunately, the goulash and spaetzle that Richard made for Wolfgang won him the challenge. Otherwise, his brain may have totally melted. To determine which chef would join Richard in the finals, Antonia and Mike had a cook-off to prepare the best bite of food. It was a close call, but Mike’s bite-size tempura lobster and beef tartare trumped Antonia’s grouper in coconut-lobster broth. A tearful Antonia was sent home. Here she talks about what she’d eat for her last supper, how annoying Mike is, and her upcoming cookbook.
What were you feeling when you were told you had to make authentic Japanese food that measured up to Morimoto’s mother’s cooking?
I was very nervous. There’s no doubt about it. But I kind of felt the same way I did with the whole beef-tongue situation. Even though it’s not something I’ve done before, there are elements of those dishes that I’d done before. The funny thing is Wolfgang Puck taught me how to make sushi rice. I’d made dashi before. I wasn’t unfamiliar with it, but I don’t do bento boxes for a living. In that sense, I was definitely out of my comfort zone, but I really felt like I needed to go for it, and I needed to not be scared.
What would you want for your last meal?
I really hope I get somewhere in my career one day where I have some chef competitor cooking my last meal. Mine would be an eggplant-Parmesan hero. I’m from Long Island, New York. I grew up eating eggplant Parmesan, and an eggplant-Parmesan hero on a seeded Italian roll is how I’d want to go out.
Even though leaving was obviously hard, was there anything redeeming about being the last woman standing?
I’ve actually been asked that question a lot. I try not to put too much emphasis on the male and female roles. Really, it should just be the last chef at the end. The whole experience was redeeming. I feel like this time around I really competed with a lot more confidence. I competed with a lot less fear of the other competitors.
It seemed like Mike was always picking on you. Was that really the case, and if so, did he get in your head at all?
It was all just playful banter. People in the restaurant industry, we’re all very snarky, loud, antagonistic. He was definitely annoying on every level for me, but it was always playful. It was never malicious.
What was it like when you found out you were Mike’s cousin?
I have to say I was relieved. I couldn’t figure out why this man irritated me as much as he did. Finally when it was revealed that we were related, it made sense. I was like, "you’re the guy who my mom would’ve made me share toys with." Once I got into that mind set, I felt better about his irritation.
When Fabio left, he said he felt you and Carla and Tiffany were like him and were cooks who specialized in a specific cuisine, and were not well-rounded chefs. Do you agree?
I actually don’t even think I need to answer that question. If anybody watched this season thoroughly, I succeeded in every challenge that was given to us in every genre of cooking. Even the last one with Morimoto, I didn’t knock it out of the park, but by no means was it a disaster. Fabio had actually no idea what he was talking about when he included me in that list.
Can you tell us about your upcoming cookbook?
I’m so excited about this cookbook because it’s kind of my voice in food that I didn’t realize was there until the first time I did Top Chef, and I had so many mothers and women and parents coming up to me saying, “Oh my goodness you inspire me.” I felt overwhelmed by that idea that I could inspire somebody. Thinking back to my childhood, these memories in food, cooking with my parents, I wanted to bring that idea to a cookbook. This cookbook is for a working parent. It’s really about the dichotomy of my life where I’m this skilled, passionate chef and at the same time I have an 11 year old I have to cook dinner for. I want recipes in there that are 10 or 15 minutes to get food on the table so you can enjoy the time you have with your children, or your partner, or whomever. I can count so many times where beautiful debates or old stories or even an argument happens over a dinner table that’s a long-lasting memory in my life. That’s what the book is there to inspire.
Has your daughter watched as the season has gone on?
She has, and let me tell you, she’s obsessed. The first time I was on this show she was seven, so she wasn't as into it. But this time, I mean like, [she’s] invested. The funny thing is she actually had parents at her school that were bribing her with sleepovers and play dates with their kids if she would tell them how far I made it.
What was her reaction to last night?
When I said last night that kids will make you feel better, it’s so true. Their perspective on forgiveness and letting go and moving on happens so much faster.
Who are you rooting for in the finale?
If you were to have asked me that before I found out Mike and I were related, I would’ve said Richard. But I feel some familial obligation to say I just hope the best chef wins.
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