Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Interview with Hector Santiago

Chef Hector Santiago took the time to answer a couple questions for All Top Chef about his experience on the show.

ATC: Why do you think it took so long for the meat to cook? Chef Boulud said it should take half an hour. Was it a problem with the equipment? Did it not go into the oven early enough?

HS: Let's start with the fact that the "Chateau" was cold out of the cooler (no time for tempering the meat). As I hit the kitchen floor, I went first to sear the meat, after seasoning it with Kosher salt and a peppercorn mix. I seared all the sides on a wonderful plancha in Joel Robuchon's kitchen. They went into the oven on a sheet pan lined with a rack and topped with a "jacket" of beef fat to melt over it as it roasted (I think this is where my problem started... the fat melted over it, making it tasty, but it also insulated the heat, especially the center part of the loin, thus leaving the end cuts slightly exposed and cooking at a higher temperature.) My other mistake was to rely on the thermometer I used. I waited for it to come to 125° (I should have done the old lip test when I first realized it was taking a long time.) After I was eliminated, I boiled water to check my thermometer for accuracy and it was 208° or 4° under, so my meat got to 129° instead of 125° . From there the rest is history.

ATC: This was the second time you ended up on the bottom three for beef preparation. How do you feel about that particular protein now?

HS: I love beef, so I've got no problem with it. Maybe beef has a problem with me??

I felt it was mere coincidence and if luck has any part to play, maybe beef is not my "lucky" protein.

ATC: Overall, what did you learn from your experience?

HS: I know that my food it good enough, but for these timed competitions maybe I needed to simplify it a bit and not try to put "so much" on the plate. Maybe I try to overcompensate - for my accent, or heritage, even though I'm proud of it.

ATC: What was your favorite challenge? Your least favorite?

HS: My favorite quick fire was with Chef Todd English, where we had a limited number of ingredients to work with (by rolling the dice). My least favorite... I can't think of one. I went to cook in many different situations and with many restraints.

ATC: What did you think of the other cheftestants? Who was your best friend?

HS: I liked them all. We were so different from each other that it made it interesting in a freshman at school kind of way. I made good friends with Jessie and Jen, and Preeti, since we spent a lot of time together. Also Mattin and Ron and the boys from Atlanta. They used to call me "Papi".

ATC: What would you have done with the prize money had you won the title of Top Chef?

HS: It probably would have gone to finance the kitchen for my next work in progress - "Bodega Gastronomica", and the rest into my existing restaurant, Pura Vida.

ATC: What are you up to now?

HS: My restaurant, Pura Vida, keeps me busy, as always. Not even winning would have changed that. I also have Bodega Gastronomica in the works (Latino Luxe restaurant with only 12 seats). I've got an on going project and future book on chilies (one of my favorite ingredients). You can catch my progress on www.thecapsicumproject.blogspot.com or follow me on www.facebook.com

Thank you, Chef Santiago! Catch you on Facebook!

1 comment:

kitpollard said...

That's a great interview. Thank you to Hector - really thoughtful answers. It's interesting to hear what went wrong from his perspective.

I also enjoy hearing about who's hanging out in the house. I feel like we're about to see the relationships develop on-screen, too...