Lists, Lists, And More Lists

Sam Talbot gets personal. He also weights in on Episode 5.


I figured that since you guys took time to ask questions (and thank you, by the way), I could take time to respond:

"Lisa" wanted to know: If Harold can run a restaurant and make his blog deadline; surely I should be able to.

(Note: I'm writing Episode 5's blog a week after it aired.) You couldn't be more right. It should be on-time, but here's why it's been late: I spend most of the week on the road, and not all hotels carry Bravo (they should) and not all hotels have in-room Internet (and they should). So, I send it as I have access. The better question is: Why aren't I staying in better hotels? But I'll try harder.

What would I do for each week's challenge?

It's so much easier to answer that from the comfort of my home, with my feet up on the couch, a cold drink in my hand than when I had a timer ticking away, a camera crew in my face, and my reputation (and money) on the line. So out of respect for the current competitors and what they're going through, I'm going to decline to answer that. (Also because I never want to do a Quickfire again and you can't make me. Ha.)

What have I been doing?

You mean besides trying to use Top Chef to mooch free dinners? Well, I've been trying to get a restaurant deal signed. I've had a few things that didn't end up being the right fit. In the meantime, I've been catering private events. Consulting for restaurants. Personal Chef-ing. Doing a lot of demos and appearances. I just did one last weekend in PA--you guys were great! I'm also working on a book with my boy (and crazy-talented writer) Ryan. Meeting as many people as I can. Buying too many pairs of shoes. Learning how to lose money playing poker.... But I can't wait to get back in a kitchen.

Is CJ's tallness a problem?

Well, CJ told us that he lost a testicle so I'm going to guess that he's the kind of guy who isn't going to dwell on problems. But sure, being that tall has to be uncomfortable. But everyone, no matter how tall or short, leaves the kitchen at the end of the night feeling like they just sparred with Chuck Liddell. (OK, not that bad, but bad enough to justify a few drinks after work.)

To the "littlest Ninja":

You didn't ask me anything, but I just wanted to say that's the best on-line handle ever.

Dyane asked for the 3 most poignant or surprising ways in which Top Chef has changed my life. (I'm going to answer these seriously, so cue the sappy music).

#1. Before TC, I didn't tell people I had diabetes. But, to be on the show, I had to tell the production crew (they took great care of me). I had to let the camera crew film me when I stopped in the middle of a Quickfire to check my blood sugar. In six weeks I went from keeping it a secret to trying to start a charity. I never in a million years would have expected that it would have affected that aspect of my life.

#2. Before the show, I was quiet and shy. I was a lot better talking one-on-one than in a group. If I would have stayed in college long enough to take a public speaking class, I would have failed. I dreaded recording the "confessional" camera interviews. I was...what's the word... laconic (thesaurus). This isn't news to any of you who watched the show. A year later, I'm wearing a Madonna-style microphone in front of a few hundred people making bad jokes and forcing them to cook watermelon. To that point, I don't think I smiled once the entire season--even when I won a challenge. (I thought I was smiling, but I guess I was just smiling on the inside--whatever the hell that means). But now I smile all the time. And there are even pictures to prove it.

#3. The people. I can't say enough about the people I've met personally who are now friends. And professionally it's been insane. I've met just about all of the big names in the business. It's been a real honor. Oh, and friends or family I've lost touch with over the years who I've reconnected with because of the show. (What's up, Jeremy?!) One last thing--Jen wrote to say that Children With Diabetes was pulling for me. Thanks--that means a lot. And to Rita who wrote about donating a kidney to her brother: You're a hero. That's a big-time courageous thing you're doing. I wish you and your family long and healthy lives.

Now, about Week 5: If I learned anything from TC, it's to keep doing what's working, so here ya go: Reasons you know it's not a cooking show, but a reality show about cooking:

1. Last week the judges criticized the chefs for doing dessert when they're not pastry chefs. This week, they throw pie crusts in front of them.

2. Hung is shocked that the judges don't like his Mr. Softee-style mousse pie. According to Hung, they're obviously wrong.

3. Tom can't help but smile when he explains that the lunch was "suddenly" pushed up by an hour and a half. Really? They don't have 3 hours they thought they'd have? What a shock.

4. Chefs sweating profusely into the food. You will never see Rachel Ray so much as glisten.

5. Shots of Howie's sweat vs. Joey's is like the Canadian side of Niagara Falls vs. the American side.

6. Speaking of Joey and Howie, they're now like Joanie and Chachi. Gotta say, they're fun to watch. And this week they both put out really good lookin' dishes.

7. Hung's denial. This time he discredits an entire Latin cast and judges' palates. Here's what I'd tell Hung: I'm all for defending and explaining your choices on the chopping block, because if you don't, the judges certainly won't. And I'll admit that I didn't accept criticism gracefully. But, when I made gray eggs, I made gray eggs. I could explain how they got that way, or why I thought gray eggs were better than something else, but they were still gray. Mistakes happen. If you're going to be an Executive Chef, you have to find a better way to deal other than incredulity and denial. (P.S. Thesaurus again)

8. Howie's ear-to-ear grin. It was so genuine it made me smile.

9. Lia, you have no reason to be embarrassed. Trout, while fresh, probably wasn't the best decision. But it wasn't the worst. Based on what we've seen, you'll have a lot of opportunities to make nothing but good decisions in the future.

What I'm watching for:

1.Guest judge next week is Rocco. For those of you lucky enough to eat at Union Pacific, you know that Rocco is a serious, serious cook, with a great palate. I'm looking forward to Hung undermining his opinion. It's only a matter of time before Hung goes from a name to a verb.

2. Casey's level-headed, poised, non-flustered demeanor will stop her from making rash decisions and take her far. (I can't be the first one to say she looks like Jennifer Aniston from an early episode of Friends?)

3. Brian will go from being "What's his name?" "You know, the guy with the hat" to the guy who just might win this thing. (I'm a betting man these days, and right now my money's on him.) And how about the Emmy nomination? Congrats to the crew of Top Chef, the Elves, Bravo, and the whole gang.

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