Bravotv.com: First the Quickfire, why did you decide to go with the meatballs for the Sopranos?
I wanted to make something that embodied the spirit of Italian American frugality. I think that a well-made meatball is both delicious and appropriate for a challenge that asked you to create a meal that was inspired by T.V. dinners.
Bravotv.com: So, how excited was your grandmother that you will have a Schwan’s meal?
I'm not sure if she even knows about it or not. I know that she watches the show, but I haven't had a chance to talk to her since the episode.
Bravotv.com: Onto the veggie challenge: how important was it to you to win this one?
I wanted to win this challenge very much for multiple reasons. As someone who has eaten a vegetarian diet on many occasions I wanted to make substantial food, full of flavor, that didn't make the diner long to find a piece of meat to make the meal complete. I know how challenging it can be to find vegetarian food that doesn't disappoint in some way or another. I also wanted to do away with the stigma that I somehow only know how to make meat-heavy foods. It's simply not true.
Bravotv.com: What was the inspiration behind your dish?
I find that smoky flavors along with the texture of mushrooms can often trick the mind into embracing the dish as if it was a meat laden plate of food. I personally don't find fake or synthesized meat substitutes very interesting and instead would prefer to achieve the result through other means.
Bravotv.com: Were you surprised how much trouble people had with portion control/flavor?
I think that oftentimes people can find it challenging to make flavorful and filling vegetarian cuisine. In our upbringing as chefs, we rarely find ourselves facing the restrictions to what we can use to make a dish delicious, and thus many chefs have not developed that skill set. I'm not sure that I would have the experience either had I not forced myself to learn how to satisfy myself during Lent.
Bravotv.com: Did you try any of the other dishes? If so, what’d you think?
I didn't have the chance to try anyone else's dish. I went last.