Bravotv.com: Before the Quickfire, you could tell that you sensed the tension between you and the other chefs. What was it like in the house at that point?
Surviving the reality of living in the house in some ways was the greatest challenge! At this point forward everyone wants me gone. They are either ugly to my face (the majority) or the few that did play nice but clearly were part of the pack of Mike I. and his followers. I am not, nor ever will be a follower — a point I made clear by how I wore my red scarf that day.... Because I chose to express myself as an individual I was seen in a negative manner. I am not afraid to address conflict but unfortunately, conflict resolution was not in the cards for me here. As I see it, integrity is all we have at the end of the day.
Bravotv.com: You win the Quickfire, and it seems like the resentment only got worse. Did it take away from your win at all?
Au contraire, I was very satisfied that I could demonstrate the validity of still being there. Revolution is not my objective, however, there was an inner moment of glee that felt very vindicated in my win.
Bravotv.com: Can you talk a little more about the inspiration behind your dish? Why did you decide to go so simple?
I cook from the heart and this dish was inspired by a very emotional period in my life.
I am comfort food-driven, and during treatment I was re-examining how to embrace a healthier way of living in hopes to survive my diagnosis indefinitely! I cherish life and want to maximize every moment that I am here. I also believe balance is everything and some sacrifices are potentially more harmful. Denial is not the key, moderation is. My inspiration was the mental challenge of these two sides: raw food diet vs. allowing myself the pleasure and absolute comfort of eating an apple crisp, my all-time favorite dessert! I chose my ingredients both for their symbolism and medicinal properties, apples and ginger, and used them on both dishes. We all know what the apple represents, and I DO want all the knowledge I can gather in this life, so I did bite into that apple when the snake offered it to me. But others may not be aware of ginger and its profound medicinal healing qualities. It is a significant player in all over body health, and since my cancers are lymphomas, this is directly related to my circulatory and immune system. It is a stimulant and anti-inflammatory herb, and is probably best known as a digestive aid. Ginger inhibits the same blood-thickening enzyme as aspirin, but does this naturally without the side effect of aspirin. This “wonder drug” herb has an additional benefit to the circulatory system and is remarkable, even transcending the potential of many modern cardiovascular drugs. Environmental exposure is believed to be responsible for as many as 80% of all cancers. Ginger contains at least two other properties that could positively influence the outcome of the patient’s cancer: stimulation of immunity and inhibition of platelet aggregation. Studies in Montreal and Tokyo in 1955 and 1979 concluded that ginger does indeed enhance immunity (http://www.herballegacy.com/Whitney_Medicinal.html)
Bravotv.com: Eli makes a comment that you mentioned that you had cancer to win — what was your reaction to that?
As for Eli dismissing my win as pure pity from the judges, it was a whole bag of dysfunction coming out of his mouth. Eli was my biggest challenge in Vegas, not in the culinary competitions, but in the living realm! I wanted so bad to find peace with him, yet the more I tried to find resolution, the more he hated me. I found out early on that we shared the same birthday, which immediately made me feel a sense of camaraderie. Ironically, it had the opposite effect on him.
Bravotv.com: What was your inspiration for the Elimination?
I had immunity, so I felt this gave me opportunity for a bit of creative license. I wanted to play with the notion of chowder, but not make a soup at all. I do not eat cream-based soups, nor do I make them. There are many ways to accomplish that texture and even richness without all the fat. My goal was to make a dish that reflected my personal tastes paired with the classic ingredients of a New England clam chowder. Rather than doing a shot glass of creamy foam, as I have seen done many times by other chefs in a deconstructed chowder, my goal was impart that creaminess on the judges' tongue with a bit of deception. I am addicted to Uni (Urchin), and thought about playing off the silky texture to impart the luscious tongue feel of cream. I made a classic Fumet as the base and then turned it into a flan. Only a touch of cream was used to give it the opacity a bowl of soup would have. It was very risky, and perhaps a bit too cavalier after just watching Ash have issues with his own custard in the Quickfire, but I also knew it could be done. That is the stubborn streak in Robin that wants to succeed no matter what challenge she is faced with! The plate itself became a metaphor for the beach. I took the bacon element out of the chowder, rendered it and then ground it to resemble sand. I also did a Pancetta “Sand Dollar.” I braised long vermicelli strips of celery to mimic seaweed with confit lemon peel. Finally, I shucked the clams, quickly cured them in hickory powder, then did a dredge of potato flour and cornstarch and quickly flash fried them to resemble pebbles on the beach. I had a lot of fun conceiving this plate, and even if it was not loved, I had immunity and I learned a lot in creating my first-ever deconstructed dish!
Bravotv.com: What did you think of the other chefs’ dishes?
I loved the deconstructed Caesar that Mike V. did. It's one of my favorite salads and he executed it beautifully. I only wish we could try each other’s food! The Reuben that Bryan did also looked beautiful and again, I love me some Reuben! I thought the use of tuna was a cleaver re-interpretation.
Bravotv.com: Who do you think is your biggest competition right now? Clearly the top competitors are Jen C., the Voltaggio Brothers, and Kevin (my personal favorite!)
Bravotv.com: In past episodes, chefs have made comments about how much you talk in the kitchen. Were you aware that was a problem for them? Do you prefer a less quiet atmosphere in your own kitchen?
I was given the nickname “Mouth” by Mike I. I always thought it was because I stood up for myself when he put me down and would not all him to suppress my voice. I now see how it may have also been chosen. I have a tendency to talk to myself while I am working as a method to prioritize and focus. I am a visual learner and it gives me a clearer picture what I need to do next. It has always been a joke in my kitchen with my staff. Usually I just say ignore me, the crazy lady just talking to herself! They have learned how to decipher the difference between Robin “just processing” and “relevant information.” We all have quirks, and this one is mine.
Bravotv.com: Anything else you’d like to add?
My two best friends Hector and Mattin were now gone, and that seemed to give license to people getting uglier towards me. They teased Mattin a lot about being nice to me, and yet he would not let that interfere with how he treated me. This is about a culinary competition, but the reality is that we all shared a home, and were forced to deal with each other constantly. Let’s just say grace and integrity were not skills these chefs brought in their knife bags! Mattin was so full of integrity, that in my book, he is the winner!
Fortunately, in my life I have learned how to be tough. Fighting cancer was not the first battle I fought in my life, and will not be the last. Living in Vegas was a moment in time in my life. I just had to grin and bear it. After all, this was only temporary and soon I would be back home, surrounded by my wonderful community of friends who get what honesty and integrity are all about.
As far as I am concerned I am there to do two things:
1.Make the best food I can when the clock is ticking and
2. Do everything in my power to ensure I am mentally capable of performing task No. 1.
I did a lot of deep breathing during the taping, both figuratively and mentally. It may sound cheesy (and I do LOVE me some cheese), but I visualized taking in all the positive energy in the air molecules and exhaling any angst and frustrations. And watching the sunrise over the valley surrounded by the red mountains was very peaceful and I held that image in my brain when I need to calm myself.
I have “Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da Life goes on” running through my brain right now ... thanks George Harrison!