Coming back from a hiatus, did you notice a change in the chefs?
I definitely did. I was flattered to know they missed me. I mean Carla just melted my heart. I think she's got the most fabulous personality. They all do. It was a lot of fun to come back and know that they hadn't forgotten about me. I think they changed, yeah. With every finale we purposely do it a few months later and they come back while the show has been on the air, and now they get it. All the pieces have come together. They've spent the last few months watching themselves on camera and understanding the editing process and reliving those experiences as a viewer would live them. They have a lot of perspective and a lot of them have been humbled. In the case of Stefan, although he did still seem kind of cocky in this episode, I did notice a change. When the chefs come back they've now had some time to prepare, they understand how long hours are stressful, they're coming to the finale much more prepared and ready to fight.
The chefs had to cook for Emeril Lagasse. How was working with him?
So much fun. Emeril was so much fun to work with, he is honestly a TV pro. He's an excellent chef. To me the most engaging and charming inspirational thing about him is his passion for New Orleans. It's so evident in everything he does and being there with him really made it special. I think he enjoyed every second he was on the show. He just had fun, he was proud to be in New Orleans with us and to show New Orleans to us and he was supportive of all the chefs. He was great to work with.
They have to cook for a masquerade ball. Tell us about that experience.
It was really exciting and it was a beautiful location. The one thing about New Orleans is the people are so gracious, whether they knew we were from Top Chef or recognized us or didn't. New Orleans was Top Chef crazy. You would think we were Brad and Angelina. The reception we got everywhere from people you wouldn't believe. From store clerks to the street car conductor, everywhere we went people were so excited and appreciative of the show. More then anything they were just so warm and hospitable. The guests at the ball couldn't have been more lovely and enthusiastic. They might have been too enthusiastic because they just loved everything! They were really poster children for the fan club or something.
The challenge was great and it allowed them to incorporate something of their own with New Orleans. A few of them did dishes that didn't incorporate Creole cuisine. To use flavors that are so rich that are so unique they really all go in. For the most part the food was really good.
Fabio's was kind of messy and overcooked which is why he went home sadly, to all of our chagrin. He has an infectious personality and he's a talented chef. He was the least successful of the evening.
There were some issues with Jeff's and also with his Sterno transferring the food over. He had to win it to stay in it so he was under a lot of pressure.
Hosea's was good. It was solid and it tasted great, but it was not as good as the others.
Here's the thing. At this point, everything was good. At this point in the competition it's not like one person is terrible, there's not a huge scale at this point. It's all about the minutia and the detail and that's the only way we have to judge and make decisions. And we have to make decisions. The reason we are there is to send someone away. We're not doing it because we have nothing better to do. That's the game of the competition. You have to eliminate someone and it comes down the real minutia of every single piece.