Bravotv.com: First, Padma announces that it's Restaurant Wars, what was going through your mind?
As with any challenge, I'm very anxious, but this is probably more exciting than any other challenge posed. I know that because I'm the executive chef at a restaurant, I have an advantage over the contestants that are caterers, hotel chefs, or sous chefs. I feel confident in my food and that's what the competition is about. I'm also immediately thinking "Who's going to be on my team?" Everyone left is super talented, but everyone also has their faults. My mind is literally spinning at this point, but in a good way.
Bravotv.com: Have you been waiting for this all season?
I actually had been waiting for the finale all season with Restaurant Wars coming in at a distant second. But, I've always dreamed of opening my own restaurant, as most chefs have, so it makes for a great challenge. It came later in the season than for last season's chefs, so I was a bit thrown off when Padma announced it. But I was definitely excited.
Bravotv.com: What was the inspiration for your dish? Were you surprised that Mr. Starr chose it?
Starr wanted a dish that would blow him away and convince him to open a restaurant with us. I immediately thought of my homemade roasted spice mix which was in my secret ingredients. I picked a very buttery fish (black cod) to season it with and four of my very favorite ingredients ... chorizo, cream, saffron, and spinach. He loved it as much as I do and chose me as the best of the two Quickfire Challenge winners (the other being Leah).
Bravotv.com: Why did you choose the team you did? Stefan seems to really rub you the wrong way, did you two get along at all?
I was given the first choice of the remaining six contestants. I chose Jamie first because I have a lot of respect for her talent. She's practical, she's just the right level of bitchy, she knows good food, and we work together well. Next I chose Carla because she's also very sensible and has a deep passion for food and being the best. Next I chose Jeff. He's a great chef, but I honestly chose him because the only other choice was Stefan, which brings me to the next subject.
Stefan is a very talented chef. He's also an @$$hole. Not in a bad way, that's just who he is. Now that we are done with the show, I consider him a friend and respect him as a chef, and I think he would say the same for me. But on the show, he had a few people who he rubbed the wrong way with his confidence and unrelenting vision (I guess that is nicest way I can say that he is cocky and stubborn). From early on, I knew his attitude was something that I couldn't deal with. One episode I called him the devil, another we fought in the stew room, and another he accused me of bashing his dish because I somehow knew it was his. Maybe it was my downfall, but I thought the best thing I could do, was to try to keep his attitude (and talent) on the other team.