Bravotv.com: What was your inspiration for your amuse bouche?
When I heard the amuse bouche had to be breakfast inspired, my initial thought process was to give the US audience a taste of typical Latin American food but with fine dining elements. So how can I make Eggs Benedict 1) Latin and 2) tiny? So, I axed the Hollandaise sauce and placed the guava creme fraiche. Instead of a regular egg I used a quail egg and instead of poaching (on this one, I simply just ran out of time ... ) I fried it). Instead of brioche, I made an Arepa, which is often used in South America. I really wanted to show a little finesse with Latin ingredients. I wasn't too crazy about the outcome, but i knew it was good enough to get me by. I've been in a funk for a few days and nothing I made satisfied me. Sometimes I go through stages like that and it's really hard getting out of it.
Bravotv.com: Were you excited to see Rocco DiSpirito as guest judge?
Nothing against Rocco, I'm sure he's a really nice guy. But, no. I was a little disappointed in seeing Rocco. I have a hard time accepting him as a chef. I mean, seriously? Chefs don't look like that! It seems every he does is for the camera (to be fair, I don't blame him). I just can't see him sweating behind a hot line with a head band on (even in his younger days). As a TV personality I give him a lot of credit for what he does. I had my two minutes ... and i screwed it up. Ha!
Bravotv.com: What is your experience with doing demos? Ever done TV?
Funny. I'm definitely not comfortable in front of the camera. Even when I had my restaurant, I was never too crazy about going out on the dining room and talking to customers. I know my place, even in my own restaurant and it's in front of the stove. Since the show, I've gotten better though. Things about demos and things along those lines, are ... you have to be organized and have to have a game plan. I've never been able to think and follow a boring "game plan." Even with cooking, I can't just follow a recipe. I make things up as I go. At my restaurant every dish was different. Key menu words like "seasonal vegetables" and "vegetable puree" gave me enough freedom to play with different ingredients. Bravotv.com: Why did you go with the crème brûlée? To this day it haunts me. Honestly? Two reasons. 1) I was bored. A salad dish was too simple and too logical to do. I mean two minutes is not a long time. So I originally thought SALAD! Thought about it then ... Originally i was going to do tostones with an avocado salad .. something like that. But, at that point all I was doing was Latin influenced food and it was pretty easy. I haven't cooked latin food in four years!!! I guess the nervousness of the show brought me back to when I had comfort in cooking, but i was totally out of practice. Speaking of practice, I regret not practicing before the show. I was too busy at the restaurant to practice and cook under time constraints... (oh sorry ... lost it a bit there ... back to the crème brûlée). Yeah, crème brûlée ... not a good choice. As simple as it is, creme brulee is a challenging thing to pull off, especially when you only have an hour to make it. I mean ... what was I thinking?!!! I think I was thinking of those days at the restaurant when I had ran out of time to prep and the creme brulee hasn't been made yet (and we open in an hour ... "Hurry get the creme in"). DUH! which brings me to my next point ... why? 2) I wanted to show America that they can make a simple restaurant dessert at home. Oh well.
Bravotv.com: What did you think of the other dishes?
Hmmm ... I think everyone was smart by playing it safe. I was the only idiot to try something different. Practically anyone can toss a salad on TV and talk about it. The challenge should have excluded salads. Bravotv.com: Do you think someone else deserved to go home?
No. I should have gone home. I was over it by then. It was a good thing that I went home, I had too much on my mind with the wedding coming up so soon, I mean ... remember when i said I don't follow a game plan? Well ... to give you an idea, I didn't have my suit before I left, nor my groom's mens' suits. I was writing my vows during the show, don't know who responded to the invitations, one thing after another. AHHHH! I needed to do wedding stuff instead of playing "house" with 16 other chefs. Plus, some people were really starting to annoy me and it would have been only a matter of time until I blew up at someone. I'm not really that competitive, I'm that guy who lets people win cause he feels guilty. So, I was OK leaving. I regret feeling like that now. I never thought this show reached so many people and me being on it touched so many lives. Seriously, the amount of support from fans, family, and friends is amazing. I wish I knew that before the show. I also wish Richard didn't make me cry .... Bleeping Richard! Bravotv.com: What did you think when Melissa defended herself and implied that maybe you didn't want to be there? She knew I didn't want to be there. I think everyone knew! I'm not a good liar. After the last challenge, we spoke about it a bit ... it takes a special kind of person to get through all the challenges and handle the TV pressure. I'm just not that kind of guy. I am in turn, the guy that handles restaurant pressure easily. It did catch me by surprise that she used it to throw me under the bus. Plus, i'm sure my body language said a lot. Simply put, she just wanted it more than I did.
Bravotv.com: How was the wedding?
Oh man! If you think I cried a lot reading Richard's letter, you should have seen me standing by the Chupah. Once I saw my beautiful Sara (bride), I just lost it, and think everyone else did too. I felt very lucky and proud to have Sara and now we're about to join as one ... "Wow." I couldn't believe it was finally happening, my life was about to change forever ... the "Wow" just went to "Gulp." To add more sappiness to this, I'm an only child (can't ya tell?) and my mother has been waiting for this day for a pretty long time. The wedding was beautiful, it was everything we all hoped it would be. It was a relatively small and personal wedding. Just the right of people, booze, and music. HERE's an article about the wedding, they probably do a better job describing it than I do ...
Bravotv.com: How was the whole experience for you? During a quiet night at the house, Radhika asked if we knew then what it would be like, would we do it again? Then, I said no. Now, I would do it in a heartbeat. I learned so much about myself as a chef and found out where I belong in life (in a small intimate restaurant, off the beaten path ... that's where). I got inspired to cook and try different things, cooking became fun once again ... of course all that after the show. I met great people and friends I will keep for a pretty long time. Bravotv.com: Where can your fans follow you and try your cooking?
Well, that's a loaded question. As you might have known, I was part owner of a small restaurant here in Los Angeles. It was an awesome little place, just barely getting it's legs. We were constantly busy, at times too busy for our own good. But, due to personal reasons my business partner had to sell it. We're still looking for a new home, and hopefully it'll happen sooner than later. Maybe here in LA or maybe back home in NYC ... don't know. In the meantime I'm catering here in LA (the name of the catering company is Salt of the Earth Catering ... gotta pay the bills somehow), that will end shortly (I hope) ... I need to be inside a restaurant. One thing is certain, whereever you find me, chances are I'll be in front of the stove. You can also check out my wife's new CD. Sara is an awesome singer and she just released her CD (independent) a few months ago. Check her Web site out at www.saramann.com.