Joe Sasto, who was among the season's final five, is the executive chef at the new Los Angeles restaurant, Cal Mare — so named for its Italian-meets-Californian influences. The Feast caught up with Joe at the restaurant for a tasting of its new spring and summer menu. There, he filled us in on what it's like to get back to business as usual after Top Chef. For one thing, he joked, "I'm a celebrity now!" (He's being humble — but it's a true story, Joe!)
As well, he filled us in on the No. 1 lesson he learned from the judges that he uses at work every day.
"It has been a lot of fun transitioning back. A lot of people don't realize what a boot camp Top Chef really is," Joe told us. "What you don't see on camera is how much [the judges] actually drill into you: What is your food? Why are you doing this? Why are you putting this on the plate? And when you step back and think about it, between Tom [Colicchio] coming at me from every single angle — it was really one of those things were as a chef you grow and you realize what's really important to you. If you only have two hours to get something done start to finish, you have to start making decisions. You have to start making cuts. It's those decisions that really define who you are as a chef — what's your voice and what do you most want to use to represent you on a plate?"
In short, the top takeaway Joe's bringing back into the day-to-day kitchen environment is, "Editing myself is the most valuable lesson I learned from the entire thing. Working on new dishes here... there aren't really constraints like there are in the challenges. But then you think back, 'If I was in a challenge, how would the judges be talking to me about this dish right now? And I've actually played that back in my head. It's made me really question what I want to put on the plate — why is this component there?"
So, we asked Joe, is that a helpful — or perhaps a paralyzing — headspace to be in?
"I find it very useful," he said. "At this point when you're questioning yourself, you're doing it for the right reasons. You really want to let the simplicity of the ingredients shine."
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