Bravotv.com: Charlie Palmer was this week’s guest judge. Have you ever worked with him?
I do know him but I’ve never worked with him. His chef at Aureole, Christopher Lee, is a very good friend of mine. I’m very proud of him because he’s doing such an extraordinary job at the new Aureole, which is block from my office. He’s a Top Chef Master, and he’s a Food & Wine Best New Chef.
Bravotv.com: The Voltaggio brothers both had personal relationships with Charlie. What did you think of that?
I didn’t know that. I thought it was interesting and I wonder if their flavors were familiar to him because they worked with him for so long. It’s even more fascinating knowing how well they both did in the elimination challenge.
Bravotv.com: The chefs had to pair their food with the Alexia snacks. What did you think of that Quickfire?
It gets you thinking. Pairing is an important skill and pairing can mean a lot of things, not just with wine. It can be wine, liquor, sake, or just understanding how to balance flavors. It’s a hard thing to do and it takes a long time to cook in a way where you’re constantly thinking of all your surroundings and everything that goes into a dish, not just the main protein, the starch and the side. It’s thinking of all components, textures, and the entire experience, which is a valid lesson to learn.
Bravotv.com: Eli wins the Quickfire Challenge, and for the elimination they work on Charlie’s event, “Pigs and Pinot.” Do you go to this event?
It’s an event that Charlie does every year. This year Food & Wine got involved and our Editor in Chief Dana Cowin went out for it. It was actually filmed on my birthday and I had come home for the week.
Bravotv.com: Do you have a preference for Pinot?
I certainly do. Pinot Noir means a lot of things. It was sort of explained in the show, but a traditional, old world Pinot is very different from a California Pinot or an Oregon Pinot. Obviously they all use the same grape. But grown in different places that grape can taste vary a great deal. The circumstances in which it is grown and pressed and aged have a lot to do with it. A Pinot Noir is an incredibly versatile grape for pairing. It’s also a very sensitive, difficult grape to grow well. People think it’s a common varietal, but it’s delicate and takes a lot of coaxing under very specific circumstances. Growing and making really exceptional Pinot Noir is a very tricky thing to do, so it was exciting that we were able to highlight it on the show. We also got to show varieties from across the world. There was Pinot in this challenge from New Zealand to France to Oregon and beyond.
Bravotv.com: The chefs all had a different part of the pig to work with. Do you have a favorite?
That’s a mean question! I have so many answers. I love the belly, I love the butt, and the shoulder as well. I like a chop, but who doesn’t like a chop? It’s all good. It depends on who is cooking it and how well a job they do.
Bravotv.com: Pork is very popular right now. Do you think pork’s around to stay?
Pork is having a moment, but it’s been having a moment for a while now. I think it is around and you can’t really call it a trend anymore. It’s just entrenched in the culinary lexicon as a very chef-driven ingredient. In the last couple years the representation of pork has been elevated and I’m glad to see it. Not unlike Pinot, it is incredibly versatile. It’s a light meat and it’s easily paired with heavier wines or lighter wines. You can pair it with sweet or you can pair it with savory. The different parts can be cooked in so many ways that the possibilities are endless.