Editor's Note: This week, we were thrilled to speak to another returning guest judge, Ming Tsai, who among other things is host and executive producer of Simply Ming and chef and owner of the soon-to-be-expanding Blue Ginger.
Bravotv.com: This isn't your first appearance on the show, but were you a Top Chef fan before you appeared? What is it about the show that has you tuning in?
In a way, the competition is no different than what a chef is faced with every night at a restaurant. Every dish has to be perfect and you are under a serious time crunch to get that food out. That said, these contestants sometimes deal with incredible time crunches, and it's amazing the great food that some of them come up with, given their lack of time.
I also love how Top Chef has charity elements in a lot of their episodes. I had the good fortune of participating in two episodes that benefited charities. The last time I was on, Project-by-Project was featured, and this time, Meals on Wheels got exposure.
Bravotv.com: How was this experience different than your previous visit?
The contestants are much stronger than last time. And that's not to say that there weren't strong contestants last time, but across the board, the quality is much higher than I previously encountered.
Bravotv.com: Were you surprised at the results of the Quickfire? Some people say a good palate is innate/you can't train it, etc. What are your thoughts on that?
It was amazing how difficult it was for everyone to taste something blindfolded. I would have thought it would have been easier than it was. We rely so much on our sight in everything we do, and our olfactory system is of course not related to our sight, but it was thrown off completely with this challenge. Ultimately, taste should have nothing to do with sight. I think we were all shocked to see what a struggle it was. Regarding a person's palate, I think the notion that you can't train a good palate is completely incorrect. 90% of my cooks at Blue Ginger, when they start on the line, have never cooked East-West food before. We develop their palates every day by tasting with them. Explaining why the calamari sauce is wrong and then fixing it with them and having them taste it again. Palates can most definitely be trained. However, character cannot. I can't train character. Either you're a good person who cares or you're not, which is why we tend to hire based on character.