Tim: Of course your staff always wants you to bring home the win but the risk is nothing compared to the reward when you’re going into something like this – for a charity – making a change in someone else’s life. The competition took a backseat – you’re there to make a good show and to compete with your colleagues. Everyone who enters is a winner, or else we wouldn’t be there. And you’re judged everyday in your restaurant, so this was nothing new.
Michael: Tim hit it right on the head. And our kitchen staffs – they were proud to see us go because they all follow the show. What’s funny is that you just don’t know what’s going to happen. There’s something about the comfort of your own kitchen, where you know where everything is and how long things take. But here you’re in a foreign place.
Hubert: Definitely not to prove ourselves. I think we’ve done enough in our careers to have proven ourselves. Every day, we’re not proving ourselves, but are competing with our peers in other restaurants. That’s what we do in our restaurants.
On Foie Gras
Hubert: It’s a touchy subject, especially in California. With our background, French cuisine, it’s been over 2000 years of producing foie gras. It was the Romans who learned it from the Greeks and took it to Strasbourg and introduced it to that part of France. It’s a big debate – who brought the foie gras in. Today, we know it’ll be over in 2 ½ years. I still have a heavy demand when it comes to foie gras but probably within 2 years or maybe even before that I will probably stop serving it. We were also one of the first restaurants that became non-smoking.
Michael: I’ve been to the foie gras farm in Hudson Valley – it’s a pretty amazing place. It’s like Old Macdonald. It’s a humane place. What’s more or less humane? Catching a fish and letting die or taking the liver? It’s all for the flesh.
Chris: There’s this whole idea – we raise animals to slaughter to consume. How you get there–there should be certain rules–but you could call our whole way of life cruelty.
Tim: How far does it go? If these people put as much energy into cancer or fighting autism or the March of Dimes as they do into fighting foie gras–which is a consumable animal, period–put some effort into something that’s worth a crap. We like to eat it.
Michael: A few years ago there was a story about supermarkets that wouldn’t sell live lobsters anymore because it was inhumane. There was a story about a company in Britain that was going to electrocute the lobster because it was more humane. Who was going to make that little tiny electric chair? I’m not telling anybody they can’t have their opinion, but the animals are not tortured.
On Other Career Choices
Michael: I was a very good athlete and went to college to play baseball. I was always very very good at baseball but it was not my passion. I played because I was pushed into it because I was good. But I am so lucky to have found cooking. I found it at a young age, it’s my passion, it’s my life. I wouldn’t be a baseball player if I was not a chef. I think for a lot of chefs–architecture, advertising–something creative. When you think of what we do it encompasses history, art, culture–we get to travel a lot.
Hubert: I would be in the music industry. I would’ve loved that.
Chris: I’d probably be 20 pounds lighter, I’m sure. I always had a passion to be a builder. Whether a mechanic building cars/motorcycles, I probably would’ve gone down that path myself.
Tim: Either played professional soccer or been an architect. I designed a bunch of homes in high school and college. I designed the home I live in now. I really enjoy that type of stuff. The puzzle of it, making it fit together. Same as cooking, adjusting time. But cooking–it’s the greatest job in the world. Long hours, but you party with your friends everyday. I have fun everyday, I can tell you that. No doubt about it.
All Top Chef was invited to sit in on the first Top Chef Masters phone conference with premiere episode combatants Chefs Hubert Keller, Tim Love, Christopher Lee, and Michael Schlow. Several interesting topics were covered during the conversation; here are some of the highlights.
On Why They Participated
Michael Schlow:For me, the charity part was first and foremost. All the chefs involved in the show will say that. Plus, it’s an honor to be on a show titled Top Chef Masters. The regular Top Chef is the top rated food program in the country, so I think everyone was flattered to be asked. We wanted to represent our cities and our towns. The idea of doing this for charity and to get to do something fun with our friends, it was a great opportunity.
Tim Love:I’m heavily involved in March of Dimes, my daughter benefited. I think we were all a little anxious to see how it would be edited but I think it turned out to be really great and as I’m sure you can tell from the episode, we all had a lot of fun hanging out with each other.
Hubert Keller:We did it for our foundations, of course – Make a Wish is a great foundation. Is a risk involved? All of us, having our own restaurants and everything, we’re running into risks everyday. It’s part of our lifestyle. For me, also, I was participating as a judge for 3 seasons in the past and the first Top Chef was filmed at Fleur de Lys. I couldn’t turn it down. I wanted to get a feel for what it’s like in their shoes and competing.
On the Relevance of Critics
Michael: We discussed this on the set a couple of times. What we said was that everybody’s a critic – just because you don’t have a pen doesn’t mean you’re not a critic. The reality is that with the Internet and all the blogs and Chowhound and Yelp and Grub Street, there are a lot of critics out there who aren’t professional but have their opinions. You have to listen to everybody. Luckily for us, 99% are good. It’s important for us that the press stay relevant also. They’re there for us as we’re there for them.
Tim:I'd say even though there are a million blog critics and individual critics and of course the individual diners that come to our restaurants everyday, I would veer away from the fact that the professional critics don't matter anymore. I think they're still held pretty high in standards.
Shoot, my kids criticize me every damn day.
Hubert: I think it’s important that we have a standard. Someone to put the guidelines out there. You could never get exposure like through a major critic if you’re trying to open a restaurant. We all have to take criticism and learn to take it the right way. Take the good part and forget the other part.
On the Competition
Michael: I'll say that they all have incredible resumes. We heard rumors to who was our competition. While we were out there in Los Angeles, they really did a great job of keeping us segregated and within our own group. Because this is a new format for them compared to regular Top Chef where they're all living in a house and killing each other at times. We're all friends, and I know for me, I respect each one of my colleagues on the show with me. They each bring something different to the party and any one of them could have won.
I mean it's so much fun, the styles are so different. And the thing that sort of keeps us all together is I think there's a bond between all of us, not just the four of us but everybody that's on the show. We're all friends and we see each other at food events, but to do it like this where we spend literally 4 straight days together, it was great.
And I wouldn't say any one of them, as they walked in, made me think, "Oh no, that's the winner for sure." I thought that everybody had an equal chance.
Chris: I'll be quite honest, the first press release that came out, a week and a half ago, with the full list, that was the first time I’d seen the whole list. I missed some of them, too. But you know who scared me was the silver fox, Hubert Keller.
Tim: I would say that, like Michael said...I think that they did a good job picking everybody. I think everybody had an equal opportunity. But I'll say this, once I saw the list, and just like you said, Chris, I didn't really see the list until not too long ago, the people who had been judges I think may have had a better opportunity understanding the show. But, other than that, I think everybody was on an equal playing field except with desserts. Hubert--he's stinking pastry chef already.
On Being Fans of Top Chef
Michael: I am a fan of the show. And we’re all friends with some people who have been on the show in the past and Hubert obviously was a judge. One of the things they do--we’re chefs and have crazy hours and work hard so you don’t always get to watch it--but they sent us DVDs of the quickfire challenges. I think it’s nerve-wracking enough to watch it once a week. But I sat down and watched all 25 quickfires in one night then I had a massive panic attack. You can understand what those contestants go through. That time goes VERY quickly.
Top Cheftestants are everywhere! New Orleans' famed Hotel Monteleone, temporary home to season 5 finalists, recently held an Anniversary Cocktail contest. Hosea Rosenberg, Jeff McInnis, Leah Cohen, and Jamie Lauren were on hand to judge.
Top Chef: The Tour came to Columbus, Ohio, today. Featured on the program were Top Chef: Chicago (Season Four) winner Stephanie Izzard and Top Chef: New York (Season Five) finalist Ariane Duarte.
On this steamy late Spring day, the pair put on a cooking demonstration for the crowd in front of the city’s historic North Market. Afterwards, they took questions from the audience which ranged from the culinary (“How do you make a nice glaze?”) to the salacious (“Are Hosea and Leah still dating?”).
Asked by a young, aspiring chef what to do to pursue a culinary career, the two agreed that one should work in food in many different capacities, from front-of-house to bussing tables. Stephanie even told of her amusing early experiences working at Olive Garden and having trouble with the pronunciation of “pasta e fagioli” (pasta fa-ZHOOL).
In fact, it seemed like Ariane had to prod the audience to ask about the more gossipy aspects of her reality TV experience. Once asked, she reported what her erstwhile lovebird co-contestants (Season Five winner Hosea Rosenburg and finalist Leah Cohen) have said already: They remain friends and would be closer if they had the slightest desire to live in each other’s towns. (Rosenburg resides in Boulder, CO, while Cohen is married to life in New York City.)
Stephanie volunteered that during her season there was a clause in all the cheftestants’ contracts barring them from “touching” each other. By the next season, Ariane added, that clause was gone.
That was, said Ariane, an indication that the producers were going for more of a “Real World meets Top Chef” vibe going forward.
To laughter, Stephanie added that she didn’t care about the clause, since she didn’t want to touch anyone anyway.
About the manifold Top Chef blogs, the two reported that they were advised by loved ones to not read them, since they can be quite nasty.
(This, of course, made this blogger wince as he thought back to the snarky comments he’s made on his own TC blog. Still, after some reflection, he approached anyway, knowing he was rooting for each of them in their respective seasons.)
Afterwards, the two politely posed for pictures with fans and signed photos and Top Chef merchandise. Ariane reported that her New Jersey restaurant is still booked three weeks out, while an equally affable Stephanie chatted with fans.
Advised of this new blog, the ladies suggested they’d check it out, with Stephanie signing this blogger’s Top Chef Cookbook, “Keep nice blogging!”
All Top Chef will be participating in a conference call with the first four Top Chef Masters cheftestants: Hubert Keller, Christopher Lee, Michael Schlow, and Tim Love. If you have any questions you might like us to ask, please leave them in the comments.
We at All Top Chef have been lucky enough to have the opportunity to view a screener of the first episode of Top Chef Masters, and I dare say you all are going to love it as much as we did!
The show is very much like the original, except that instead of all chefs battling it out at once, the first six episodes each feature 4 chefs. The winners from each episode go on to battle each other in the final four weeks until the finale when one will be crowned Top Chef Master.
There is a Quickfire Challenge and an Elimination Challenge. Kelly Choi is the host, and there are three judges, called "critics" because that's exactly what they are: Jay Rayner of The Observer, Gael Greene of New York Magazine, and James Oseland, of Saveur.
The judges critics have a lot of food knowledge and, it seems, quite different tastes/opinions, which always makes for an interesting tasting. Kelly Choi makes a lovely (if a tad too slim - eep) host. And it's nice to be able to concentrate on a handful of chefs at a time rather than all of them at once: we'll see every dish every episode, rather than just the best and the worst plus a handful of others.
In the first episode, Hubert Keller, Tim Love, Christopher Lee, and Michael Schlow participate in two very Top Chef-style challenges. One is left standing...and you'll have to wait until June 10th to find out who that is!
Top Chef Masters premieres on Wednesday, June 10th, but before that, let us speculate on which of these fine chefs will be the competition's ultimate winner. Vote now and we'll announce your choice towards the end of June, at which point 6 or so chefs will have already been eliminated.
Not only did Season 5's Leah Cohen participate in a cook-off with Lisa Fernandes this past weekend, she also battled Kurt Gutenbrunner of Wallsé in a lamb battle during NY's Taste of Tribeca. Gail Simmons was one of the judges.
Naughty judges on the upcoming season of Top Chef, currently filming in Las Vegas, may be giving away too much information on their Twitter feeds. So far, that includes chef Tyler Florence and Penn Jillette....
This weekend is the 2009 Greater New York Wine & Food Festival at the Doubletree Hotel in Tarrytown, at which one can see the Bravo Top Chef Cook-Off Live between Scarsdale native Leah Cohen (Season 5) and Lisa Fernandes (Season 4).
If anyone goes to this, we'd love to hear the results!
Carla Hall's fitness routine is featured in this Washington Post article.
Carla also recently appeared in Raleigh, NC on the Top Chef Tour. Listen to an interview with her here.
Stefan Richter shares some Mother's Day recipes here. And according to the article, his mother has been in California "helping him open up his own restaurant in Santa Monica" which "he hopes to have...up and running by late summer or early fall."
Congratulations to Dan Barber of Blue Hill on winning the James Beard 2009 Outstanding Chef Award. You may remember that his restaurant was featured on Season 5 of Top Chef, and Chef Barber appeared as a sous chef in the finale of Season 4.