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Top Chef Chicago Interview – Six Chefs Speak!

Hey Top Chef fans, remember me? Well, thanks to the lovely and talented executives over at Bravo’s parent network of NBC, I was able to submit a list of 15 questions to our favorite Season Four Top Chef contestants and to surprise of one (me)…some of them actually answered my questions!

[b]We only get to see an hour per week of your experience, while you guys spent 24/7 with each other and the cameras. What part of that experience do people simply not understand unless they have done one of these shows? [/b]

[b]Lisa[/b] The cameras are rolling all the time. Then, whatever they film gets cut down.

[b]Richard[/b] The social pressure and the grind of not having any “quiet time.” A long shower is the most privacy one can get. After a few months of this, it becomes difficult. You’re merging intense work days – filming a television show, and working in a kitchen – two jobs that are physically demanding. And of course, the unknown – not knowing when you will be awoken, etc. It’s tough.

[b]Nikki[/b] The emotional strain. It is very humbling and during the experience you become vulnerable so you have to fight hard to stay tough.

[b]Zoi[/b] It is such a stressing, emotional experience that is often so challenging – not having anything to do with food… at times I forgot why I was there! The food game can be easily lost in your head, when it’s so filled with other emotions.

[b]Mark[/b] Everything is totally foreign, I’m from New Zealand, yeah, but it was like being on Jupiter.

[b]Steph[/b] I do not think I ever understood before how the chefs all became such good friends in such a short amount of time. But you are living together with nothing else to do but bond, and you are going through such a crazy and stressful experience together that you really form tight bonds and make long time friends.

[b]All of a sudden you have been turned into Tom Colicchio (hair being optional) – what are you enjoying the most?[/b]

[b]Lisa[/b] Getting Tom as a contestant on the next Top Chef season and turning the tables on him for a change.

[b]Richard[/b] Running multiple successful restaurants, and proving that a real restaurant chef can also be a good television chef.

[b]Nikki[/b] I would enjoy the freedom of being bald and socially accepted simultaneously. (Writers note – I LOVED that answer!) I would enjoy that I had paid my dues and can now host a show and be branded by big investors.

[b]Zoi[/b] I enjoy seeing people get excited when they recognize me… it’s so flattering really. I get a lot of, “…excuse me, what’s your name?” Everyone has been so supportive. I certainly don’t think of myself as like Tom – or Padma for that matter.

[b]Steph[/b] I would not go so far as to say I am the curly haired Tom. It has been exciting and a little strange though to become a semi-celeb. I get to meet lots of new people and it is great to feel the support. It’s just a little nuts when I am sweating my butt off at the gym and people are recognizing me!

[b]What is the oddest moment that you have had with a fan or family member regarding your time on the show?[/b]

[b]Lisa[/b] I was in the bathroom at a restaurant and when I came out of the stall to wash my hands, I got bombarded by three generations of a family. I’m talking grandma, her two kids, their three kids, and they all had cameras, pens for autographs and menus from the restaurant!

[b]Richard[/b] Someone just about fainting when I met them – that was pretty crazy.

[b]Nikki[/b] After filming, my brother picked me up from the airport and I fell to my knees and started crying like a child. I am sure he was a little freaked out by that moment. I have had some amazing fan moments especially involving children. I love those the most. It is very cool when big celebrities come up to you and get excited about Top Chef.

[b]Zoi[/b] Nothing odd… but one great moment was when Jen and I were in Boston for Gay Pride, and we met a group of amazing, sexy, fun and talented drag queens. Needless to say, we all went out on the town and had a blast!

[b]Mark[/b] Somebody recognized me the other the day, they said “G’day Nimma.”

[b]Steph[/b] I think with family the moment when I won. I did not tell my parents and sister what happened and they all looked at me right before the winner was announced with this look like “well, you tried”. I’m so happy I kept the secret. It was priceless.

[b]There had to be something hysterical that happened to you that did not make its way onto our TV sets – give us a story from your life as a Top Chefer.[/b]

[b]Lisa[/b] One night it was really late and the producer for the web videos was bugging me and Antonia for a demo. We went into the kitchen in our pajamas and decided to make flaming bananas. Let’s just say we were so tired that we decided when the alcohol didn’t want to catch on fire that we would stick our faces over the flame. Two seconds later there was a massive boom of fire that shot up about three feet. Luckily we were both unharmed.

[b]Richard[/b] I wiped out. I fell pretty hard three times in the kitchen during Restaurant Wars – like the Agony of Defeat falls (Writer’s Note – I totally appreciate the Wild World of Sports reference, Richard!). None made the final edit, and there was a time in the Stew Room where we impersonated animals. My elephant – something I pride myself on – never made the cut.

[b]Nikki[/b] Ok, here is a good one. There was a waiting area where we were held for long periods of time (Stew Room) so we would have to occupy ourselves. Lisa found a piece of chalk on the ground (somehow we made it last for weeks). We started playing Pictionary in teams by drawing on the wooden, six-foot table we sat at. Stephanie and I were the champs. One day though, Spike had to draw the subject and one of the Production Assistants and I were the people to guess. Stephanie kept trying to draw the funniest things I wish I could convey in words… stick figures with large breasts and other unspeakable things. It was a very funny thing. We are both screaming out hilarious possible guesses and all the chefs started to gather around curiously. It is a great joke when we see each other and a moment through all the madness of the competition where we all stopped and just laughed as hard as we could. The subject was “Sex Change”. Try and draw that. It took us a solid 20 minutes for what normally is less than one. Thank God, some days, for that simple piece of chalk and a bunch of imaginary minds!

[b]Zoi[/b] Not enough Papa Souffle. He is hysterical. (Writer’s Clarification – I think she means Erik, because of the soufflé in Episode 1)

[b]Mark[/b] Me and Antonia had a pretty crazy game of spoons.

[b]Every time I watched the show I got extremely hungry, how did you guys manage to not gain 50 pounds in those kitchens?[/b]

[b]Lisa[/b] To be honest, what we got to eat was never very good so we didn’t eat very much.

[b]Richard[/b] I gained weight for sure, but from the beer in the Stew Room. There’s just nothing else to do…

[b]Nikki[/b] We didn’t eat a lot and there were plenty of nerves.

[b]Zoi[/b] Well, I did manage to gain almost 10 pounds! And it certainly wasn’t from anything delicious that I was eating… more from the really horrific catered food and too much beer. Unfortunately, we never really got to eat each others’ food.

[b]Mark[/b] Two parts anxiety, one part being skinny to begin with

[b]Steph[/b] I actually lost weight on the show! We were all so stressed out and way too busy to do more than taste out flavors.

[b]Of all of the dishes that the other contestants made, which one made you want to stab them with a paring knife out of sheer jealousy? [/b]

[b]Lisa[/b] – None, I would never stab anyone with a paring knife…

[b]Richard[/b] I’m non-violent but I enjoyed a pasta dish that Memo made at home one night.

[b]Nikki[/b] Richard’s four dishes in the Puerto Rico whole pig competition…by far. He knocked it out of the park.

[b]Zoi[/b] Not out of jealousy, but admiration and being impressed, was Steph making a wedding cake. Wow.

[b]Mark[/b] Richard’s point of view (although pretty bloody weird) was very admirable.

[b]Steph[/b] I would not want to stab him but was really impressed with Dale’s knife skills and creativity on the cooking skill Quickfire. We used to work together and was impressed with what he has learned since way back when.