Bravotv.com: When Padma called you all back to the Judges’ Table, what did you think the surprise would be?
I was certain they were going to have another judges table and either bring Kelly back or eliminate another chef.
Bravotv.com: What was your reaction to pulling Michael’s name? He alludes to you working together previously. What was that experience?
I was elated! I felt Go'ds blessing over me. Mike and I worked togther for three years at the Ritz-Carlton Resort in Naples Florida. It was such an adrenaline rush. Mike and I working togther again, but this time on Top Chef. It doesn't get any better.
Bravotv.com: What was the inspiration behind your menu? How much influence did Michael have on it, if any?
My menu was based on a style of cooking that I absolutley adore. It has no boundaries, it is about great product, flavors, technique, execution, and presentation. Having worked with Mike before he very well knew where I wanted to go with the menu. When I said I want to marinate the duck, he knew exactly what I was talking about. When I said cook the rouget, he knew to cook it skin side only "a point." Mike's major influence came on helping me execute my menu.
Bravotv.com: What was your reaction to Angelo’s sickness?
I was so dissappointed to see him sick. I wanted to battle him and Ed at their bests. But everything happens for a reason. Angelo has been a great competitor all season long.
Bravotv.com: Do you think he was at a disadvantage?
No, I don't think he was at a disadvantage. I think he should have been given the choice to cook or go home. Hung did all of his shopping and mise en place on day. If anything that was an advantage for Angelo. But in any case Angelo was sick, and I was sad for him.
Bravotv.com: Looked like Ed and Ilan had a little power struggle — what was it like with Michael as sous-chef?
I think Ed and Ilan were fine. Ed has a unique sense of humor, and maybe some people just don't understand. As far as Mike and I it was like the old days, except I was in charge this time. Mike is a great chef, and I have an amazing amount of respect for him.
Bravotv.com: Did you agree or disagree with the judges’ comments? What would you have changed if you had the chance? I always respect the judges opinion, but I don't always agree. I happened to agree with them on their comments this go round. I would refine my execution on all of my dishes, and I would make sure I didn't overcook my pork belly.
Bravotv.com: People were pretty upset when Kenny went home and you two were close. Was there any thought about winning for him?
Winning Top Chef was not just for me, but my wife and children, family and close friends, also for Kenny and all the other chefs that may have gone home to early. Winning Top Chef was for so many people.
Bravotv.com: You seemed genuinely shocked to win — what went through your mind when Padma announced that you won?
YES! My dreams came true that moment. Yes I was shocked, I was numb. I wasn't sure if this was really happening. I have been waiting for a moment like this for 15 years, ever since my first competition at BCIT. Also last season, Padma told Kevin G. that he would not be Top Chef and sent him on his way, leaving the Voltaggio Brothers. I wasn't sure if she was saying the same thing to me. Again I was shocked, not because I won, because my dreams really came true that night.
Bravotv.com: What was your family’s reaction?
They have no clue. I can't wait to see their reactions. It's going to be crazy in Jersey and Philly.
Bravotv.com: What’s next for you?! What are you going to do with the money?
I am going to use the money to open my own restaurant. It would irresponisble of me to blow the money on "things" and not invest it into my future. This is one of the reasons why I went on the show.
Bravotv.com: What were your favorite/least favorite aspects of being on Top Chef?
Top Chef was a real reality check. I am not as good as I thought or as bad as I think I am at times. Top Chef evoked an emotion that I have not had since I left Arnaud's kitchen at the Ritz-Carlton Naples. It brought me back to the roots of my cooking, and I promised myself after winning Top Chef that I would never stray from those roots again.
Bravotv.com: How has the fan reaction been to you?
I have gotten an amazing amount of LOVE from fans across the country, especially New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, Wisconsin, and even international love from the Bahamas. Now there are always the critics with their negative comments, I respect their opinions but don't agree with their comments. The bottom line is I won.