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Bravotv.com: OK, cook the meal of your life: What was the inspiration behind each dish?
Talk about pressure! I'm not sure any chef alive can cook the "meal of his/her life" in such a short amount of time, but I tried my best. I was inspired by the ingredients. I cooked a meal that I would want to eat. It was a combination of ingredients, cooking techniques, and flavor profiles that I love. It was the first time all season I felt like I was really cooking my own food. I was very happy with each dish.
Bravotv.com: Did you know before you came what you would cook?
No way! I learned from watching the show that you NEVER get to do exactly what you want. Of course I have some signature dishes I was hoping to present, but I never had my heart [set] on any particular one. My mind was clear until I saw what food was there and how much time we had.
Bravotv.com: Of course there was a twist (there always is), but did you think Stefan would have cooked the alligator so well?
I am not surprised at all that he rose to the challenge. Stefan is an amazing chef and we both know the only real advantage I have on him — my looks! That's for you buddy! Seriously, I respect him a lot. I know it looks like we can't stand each other, but I consider him a good friend and I look forward to hanging out with him soon. As long as we don't have to compete against each other, we will never have harsh words again.
Bravotv.com: Were you happy you got Richard to help you? How much influence did he have on the meal?
Richard was amazing. He is the real deal, one of the best chefs this show (or any) have seen. Richard never tried to make the food his own, he just supported my vision. He had some useful advise when it came to plating and service, and I wouldn't have been able to do so many things if he hadn't been there. His speed, professionalism, and his humility were exactly what I needed. THANK YOU RICHARD!Bravotv.com: What did you think of the other chefs’ menus?
When we told each other what we were doing, I really thought Carla was going to take it. Her menu sounded so delicious. It was what she had been building up to all season. If she hadn't run out of time plating, the results might not have been the same. Stefan's also sounded wonderful. We all know he can make fine desserts, but unfortunately that seems to have been the dish that helped me edge out the win.
Bravotv.com: What was it like cooking for that table of esteemed chefs and others?
I can say it was one of the biggest honors of my life (right up there with the last dinner in NYC). I am glad I had already done most of the cooking before I had to say hello to them, as I might have been too stressed out to think and cook clearly.
Bravotv.com: You and Stefan got into a bit of a scuffle over the foie gras, etc. What happened?
It's a competition. There are limited ingredients. Part of the strategy is to go in the walk-in and grab what you need. There were many times during this season that I didn't get to use something because somebody else had already taken it and wouldn't share. I was clear to him that I would share whatever I didn't plan on using. I'm not going to feel bad about getting the foie gras first.
Bravotv.com: Do you actually like Stefan because sometimes you seem actually kind of playful.
Yes. As I said before, he is a friend. The show needs drama, so you see the fights and the insults. There are many hours worth of footage of Stefan and I having a great time together that are laying on a cutting room floor somewhere. In fact, I'd say 90% of the time we got along wonderfully. Bravotv.com: Did you agree with the judges’ comments about your dishes?
I have tried to take everything the judges have said to me during this competition as constructive feedback. You never stop learning. I have learned so much because of this experience. I didn't always agree, but I never disagreed, if that makes sense.
Bravotv.com: Did you think you would win, or you were unsure until the end?
I was never sure I was going to win. What I was sure of was that it was probably my best performance of the entire competition. I was happy with my food and I enjoyed myself. It was such an honor just to be here. And to make it all the way … I feel extremely lucky.
Bravotv.com: What are you going to do with the money?!
I am trying to open a restaurant of my own. I also will be spending a lot of time with my parents over the next few months, helping them out. My dad is having a serious battle with cancer. He is getting worse. My mom lives alone and is also dealing with a number of illnesses. This money gives me the freedom to be with them and help them out for a while.
Bravotv.com: How would you describe your experience overall? Would you do it over again?
Hands down the hardest thing I've done as a chef. I don't wish that kind of stress on anyone. I would do it again if the prize had a few more zeros on the end of it!!!!!!Bravotv.com: What was your best/worst moments from the season?
Best is easy: that last dinner. The worst: probably the couch
Bravotv.com: I would be remiss if I didn’t ask, at the end, Leah almost looks like she’s going in for a kiss, but it’s super-awkward, what was up with that?
Leah and I are great friends now. We really care about each other. We talk a lot. But this is a cooking show … isn't it????