The renowned chef answers our questions about his guest judging appearance.
Bravotv.com: We know Lia Bardeen was on Top Chef before, but are you a Top Chef fan? Who has been your favorite contestant? (Besides Lia)
I watch every season, but I hate picking favorites!
Bravotv.com: What was the key to being successful in capturing each area of New York for the chefs?
The chefs who really took the flavors of each neighborhood and made them stand out on the plate were the ones who were most successful. You could tell that if they were inspired by the smells and flavors, they were able to bring that out on the plate.
Bravotv.com: What were the chefs' biggest mistakes that they made?
The biggest mistakes were technical. I can't stand undercooked grains -- the farro that Ariane prepared was completely crunchy. I think if it had been cooked better it would have accentuated the flavors of the other ingredients in her dish. Her lamb was perfectly cooked!
Bravotv.com: Overall, who most impressed you and who were you least impressed by?
I have to say, I was very impressed by all the contestants. The food they put together was flavorful, really delicious. It may not seem like it from the show, but we had a hard time picking a loser.
Bravotv.com: What sets New York cuisine apart from other types of cuisine?
New York just has the best of everything. There are so many different communities, ethnicities, greenmarkets, and products here. Then on top of that, New York has a big talent pool of people coming here to learn the trade. But it's not only in restaurants - theater, fashion, music; the best of the best can be found here. Inspiration is everywhere. Bravotv.com: What do you think having Top Chef in NYC will do for the dining scene?
I think Top Chef will show viewers everywhere how diverse the city is and give the different ethnicities here the press they deserve. People will learn about the different neighborhoods here and see what we have to offer. It'll also be great way for people who can't come here to see who the chefs are in New York and what we have to offer.
Bravotv.com: How has the economy affected business? Have you noticed a difference in dining habits?
At my restaurants in New York -- Vong, JoJo, Perry St, Matsugen, Mercer Kitchen, Vong, Nougatine, and Jean Georges -- we do everything we can to offer the best value for the money. We've always had great lunch deals, and that's paid off since lunch business really hasn't been affected by the crisis. What we do notice is that people haven't stopped dining out, but they're definitely watching their pockets. These tough times are a great opportunity for you to reinvent yourself. We've started offering half-glasses of wine, for our customers who want to have a taste of more than one wine, but may not want to order too many full glasses. We're keeping an eye on labor costs, food costs, making sure that we're running a tight ship.
Bravotv.com: Overall, how was your experience being guest judge?
I had a lot of fun. Padma, Tom, and Gail really made me feel at home, relaxed. They told me not to hold back when criticizing a dish, which was hard for me. Those judges are tough! I felt everyone needed a hug at the end. The chefs on the show have impressive talent; it's going to be interesting this season.
Bravotv.com: Do you have an early favorite -- who do you think will go all the way?
I don't really have a favorite yet ... it's too early to tell, they were all so good.
Bravotv.com: What is the biggest trend in food right now? What's hot on the fall menus?
I think the biggest trend today is to be less trendy. The use of all these machines, the molecular gastronomy, I think people are ready for something different, especially with the recession. I'm starting to see people going back to basics, cooking comfort foods, things that feel good in this crisis.