Bravotv.com: What were you thinking before the final challenge?
I was definitely excited. You know we worked so hard for so long to get to that point of course it's a little nerve-racking to be there for the end, but at the same time it's sort of releasing we finally get to just cook our food and its what we're on the show to do so its sort of exciting to reach the end.
Bravotv.com: Why did you choose Eric Ripert as your sous-chef?
I chose him more because I was interested in some of the proteins that he had and I looked back and I was like why didn't I choose the one with the scallops because I love scallops. So maybe that through me off a little bit but I saw Eric Ripert and I was like, "Oh yeah." Part of me wishes that I had chosen someone a little more based on proteins but I think all of them would have been good choices and all the chefs were good choices.
Bravotv.com: How did he do? You made a comment about looking over his shoulder when he was fileting fish ...
I mean its funny because obviously I'm not going to compare myself to Eric Ripert. He's an amazing chef and I'm sure I could learn so much from him but just for this particular day they were there to help us and of course we wanted it to come out our style rather than theirs so I think all of us were like it feels weird to tell any big time chef what to do but at the same time we still wanted it done the way we wanted it done. So I think it was a little odd for all of us.
Bravotv.com: Did you come with recipes or were all of your dishes prepared on the fly?
They were all pretty much on the fly -- I mean some flavor combinations I've used before. I like white asparagus and clams, but other than that I didn't want to come to Puerto Rico with a set menu in mind because what if the produce I wanted wasn't available or some other proteins weren't available, so I would be so excited to do something and I think it would have thrown me off ....
Bravotv.com: Where did you get the idea to braise pistachios?
I feel like maybe I have done it somewhere before and I don't even remember but I've been doing it at Scylla ever since I opened cause they pick at all these flavor profiles and they're nice and tender and I always try and have them on the menu at all times.
Bravotv.com: The pound cake seemed to be your weakest dish -- did you ever consider ditching it or that wasn't an option?
That definitely wasn't an option. I think that I sort of talked myself into serving it not the way I should of. I think if I kept it much simpler I was just sort of second-guessing myself, which is always when you get into trouble. So yeah definitely not proud of how that dish came out and I think there were components and good flavors in some of it. So there was something that showed that it could have been put together in a better way but I definitely wasn't happy with the end result.
Bravotv.com: After Lisa's comments in the stew room and after hearing the judges' comments, did you think you had won?
I didn't think I won at all. I really had no idea because they said negative things about all of us which in the end feels good because I know that nobody was perfect that day but of course I would have wanted to be much more perfect. But they definitely made it hard for us all to have any idea what happened. You can never read the judges and I just had no idea.
Bravotv.com: What did you think when Richard said he choked?
I actually really respected that he said that. I mean its true he didn't cook his best meal ever, not that any of the three of us did. I don't know if maybe it was the smartest thing to say at that moment but at the same time being able to realize that you didn't put your best foot forward -- I respect that he was able to admit that.
Bravotv.com: What are you going to do with the prize money?!
Well lets see -- pay off my credit card bills. And then I'm already working towards opening a new restaurant. But with all that money I'm sure that I will use some of it to do some more traveling and stuff in the meantime, but I definitely am excited to get back in my restaurant game so we'll see what happens.
Bravotv.com: Did winning this particular season mean more to you because you're from Chicago?
Definitely -- there has just been so much support around Chicago and people are so excited about it that it got to the point where I'm like wow I really need to represent. So I think that Chicago will be really excited and it's just so nice to see all the support and it definitely means a lot more to me.