Bravotv.com: First, Padma announces that it's Restaurant Wars, what was going through your mind?
As with any challenge, I'm very anxious, but this is probably more exciting than any other challenge posed. I know that because I'm the executive chef at a restaurant, I have an advantage over the contestants that are caterers, hotel chefs, or sous chefs. I feel confident in my food and that's what the competition is about. I'm also immediately thinking "Who's going to be on my team?" Everyone left is super talented, but everyone also has their faults. My mind is literally spinning at this point, but in a good way.
Bravotv.com: Have you been waiting for this all season?
I actually had been waiting for the finale all season with Restaurant Wars coming in at a distant second. But, I've always dreamed of opening my own restaurant, as most chefs have, so it makes for a great challenge. It came later in the season than for last season's chefs, so I was a bit thrown off when Padma announced it. But I was definitely excited.
Bravotv.com: What was the inspiration for your dish? Were you surprised that Mr. Starr chose it?
Starr wanted a dish that would blow him away and convince him to open a restaurant with us. I immediately thought of my homemade roasted spice mix which was in my secret ingredients. I picked a very buttery fish (black cod) to season it with and four of my very favorite ingredients ... chorizo, cream, saffron, and spinach. He loved it as much as I do and chose me as the best of the two Quickfire Challenge winners (the other being Leah).
Bravotv.com: Why did you choose the team you did? Stefan seems to really rub you the wrong way, did you two get along at all?
I was given the first choice of the remaining six contestants. I chose Jamie first because I have a lot of respect for her talent. She's practical, she's just the right level of bitchy, she knows good food, and we work together well. Next I chose Carla because she's also very sensible and has a deep passion for food and being the best. Next I chose Jeff. He's a great chef, but I honestly chose him because the only other choice was Stefan, which brings me to the next subject.
Stefan is a very talented chef. He's also an @$$hole. Not in a bad way, that's just who he is. Now that we are done with the show, I consider him a friend and respect him as a chef, and I think he would say the same for me. But on the show, he had a few people who he rubbed the wrong way with his confidence and unrelenting vision (I guess that is nicest way I can say that he is cocky and stubborn). From early on, I knew his attitude was something that I couldn't deal with. One episode I called him the devil, another we fought in the stew room, and another he accused me of bashing his dish because I somehow knew it was his. Maybe it was my downfall, but I thought the best thing I could do, was to try to keep his attitude (and talent) on the other team.Bravotv.com: Why did you choose front of house?
The others on my team seemed pretty reluctant to do that job, so I stepped up, even though I was very nervous about it and would have rather been in the kitchen. I also convinced myself that it would be better for me to be in front so I could explain my concept and attach a genuine face and passion with the product.
Bravotv.com: What did you think your responsibilities were? Do you think you upheld them?
I knew I had a lot on my plate, especially since people lie, cheat, and steal to get reservations for Top Chef Restaurant Wars. That means huge expectations and incredible pressure. I had to make sure the serving staff was well informed and represented myself and the chefs well. I think they did that. The big thing about being in the front of the house is that you have to constantly give the impression that everything is going just as you planned. In the kitchen, something goes wrong, you react, and you go with it. But in the front, no matter how bad things are going, you can't let the customers see it. I've been told you can read my emotions all over my face, so for that reason I probably would have been better in the kitchen. If I had it to do over again, I would have put Carla and her smiling face up front.
Overall, I was just proud to make it as far as I did. And best of all, the concept and name of my restaurant were inspired by my beautiful niece Sahana (which means strong, powerful, and resilient). For me, this episode is bittersweet. I was booted, but I was able to express my style of food and create a beautiful restaurant inspired by my family and do something for my niece that the judges can never take away.
I tried my best to accommodate everyone on the show. I know I don't have an aggressive personality, but in my mind humility and kindness go much farther than sarcasm and pompousness. My life will go on after Top Chef. I may have appeared too polite and timid to the guests, but I'd take that as a fault any day.
Bravotv.com: What did you think of the dishes you put out?
I was upset initially that I was eliminated from Top Chef, not having actually been judged on something that I'd cooked. But I did think that my teammates' dishes were very good, with the exception of Carla's desserts. he had performed well in the dessert area in previous challenges and I thought because of that her desserts would sing. I was mistaken. Bravotv.com: What did you think of the judges' reaction?
I wasn't really surprised by their reactions, but I was surprised by their decision. Toby "the imperialist" Young totally insulted me by saying he felt like he was at a funeral. He's all about shock value, which works for him I guess. It got him the job I guess. Padma was lovely and cordial as always, and had some good insights. Tom sounded frustrated with me and disappointed. I never got the impression he liked me much, maybe that's just his way. I would have liked it if he would have pronounced my name correctly at least once. (Listen to how Padma says it, Tom). Starr was sad to see me go, I think. He loved my food and knows I have a talent. Call me Mr. Starr!!
Bravotv.com: Do you think your team should have won? Do you think someone else deserved to go home?
I think we should have won based on the fact that our food was better overall. Leah's fish was raw and had bones in it! I brought a spoon to the table 40 seconds late and I go home!? I'm not bitter, I promise. I think every episode, there are several options for who can go home. It comes down to what the judges want and what they feel is best for the show, and my personality doesn't offer as much drama as some other contestants. Yes, I think we should have won. We were the better team.
Bravotv.com: Where can your fans find you and your cooking?
I'm still cooking my @$$ off at Between Boutique Cafe & Lounge in Chicago at 1324 N Milwaukee where patrons can judge my food for themselves, including the weapons of mass destruction soup. I also have a Web site where fans can keep up with me and read my reactions to the show. It's RadhikaDesai.com.