I chose not to know anything about the chefs beforehand because I wanted to go in with a completely clean slate, but Ryan had worked in our kitchen at one time and I sort of recognized him, but when he was presenting his dish to me in the Quickfire Challenge he brought up the fact that he'd worked in our kitchen for a day or two, and he did it in a total brown-nosey way, and I was so taken aback because then I remembered him and I remembered that I didn't really care for him. That was the worst thing he could have done, and he thought it was going to be a really positive thing. Immediately I remembered him and the swagger with which he walked through the kitchen, and that doesn't go over very well in our kitchen. If he'd just kept his mouth shut, I wouldn't have put two and two together. I might have later, but I wouldn't have done it by the time the challenge was over.
Bravotv.com: What can our viewers do to elevate the tacos they make at home?
One thing people don't play around with as much is jicama. A really delicious salsa starts with tomatillos and jicama and what I do is just chop it all with some red onions, avocado, lime juice, chilis and cilantro. Then you've got this really crunchy salsa that's brightly flavored and that's some that, once you start playing around with it, you start to realize there's a whole world of flavor. I think when most people hear salsa they think it's going to be a red tomato salsa, but you can do fruit salsas and tomatillo salsas, which are probably more common in Mexico than tomato salsas, and using jicama to add crunch to them is really delicious.
Bravotv.com: Anything you want to add about your experience?
The thing I was totally taken aback with is how hard it is to be a judge. I didn't expect to get as personally invested in each of the contestants over the two days as I did. I love young people, and seeing people develop, and I wanted to be a cheerleader for them. I'd go back and watch the monitors while they were doing their work, and I wanted to just go in and say like, "No, just slow down a little bit, think about what you're doing." I felt very strongly that I wanted to see them all succeed. There was so much potential there that when we did the Quickfire Challenge I was really disappointed that they didn't listen. They're all talented people, so why didn't they stop and listen and think, "What are they really asking me to do here." Instead they just jumped in, which is not a good sign and hopefully they learned not to do that. I so wanted them all to succeed that when we did the final and were judging each team, it was really hard! It gave me such a strong impression that it took me days to get over it. I went back to work and it was like I'd been through a traumatic experience. I really love nurturing young chefs, so I just wanted to help them all like I would in my own kitchen.