Top Chef Masters Interview: Episode 3


Left to Right: Wilo Benet, Cindy Pawlcyn, Ludo Lefebvre, Rick Bayless

Another week has come and gone on Top Chef Masters and last week’s LOST Supper episode was a fairly entertaining event. TCM managed to incorporate one of my all-time favorite shows with the LOST theme, we saw the return of the long lost Vending Machine quickfire, Wiley D proved he has quite the potty mouth, and we saw a very unassuming Suzanne Tracht kick some serious culinary ass without so much as raising her eyebrow.

This week we’re looking forward to the likes of Rick Bayless, Cindy Pawlcyn, Wilo Benet and Ludo Lefebvre battling it out for their respective charities. Once again, ES got to sit down with the foursome to talk reality tv and gastronomic inspiration. And once again our panel of well adjusted, professional chefs had nothing but praises, laughter and respect for each other.

Guys.. seriously, I hate dramatically engineered reality shows as much as the next guy, but give us something!

I didn’t want to have to tap into my DC political wonkiness, but you’ve left me no choice. You want to be civil? Fine, maybe a few Sarah Palin quotes will inspire some more trash talking banter next interview. Rednecks clinging to their guns after the jump..

Blake: Did any of you have any hesitations about being on the show?

Ludo: I just make sure it wasn’t a real reality show and that I wouldn’t be in the house with all the top chefs. I didn’t want to share the same bedroom or bathroom like a real reality show.

Rick: To me it sounded like it would be a really fun thing to raise money for a charity that meant something to me. If I lose to any of these people it would be an honor since everybody is so incredibly talented.

Wilo: I just loved the idea of putting my skills to work for especially a great cause.

ES Interpretation: “I got tested for AIDS. I know Barack got tested for AIDS. There’s no shame in being tested for AIDS. It’s an important thing.”

Cindy, as the sole female for this challenge, was there any added pressure to take one home for the girls?

Cindy: You know, I’m just really competitive so I really just wanted to win. I really liked the boys I got paired with. I thought I’d actually be more competitive than I was, but I was so relaxed, it wasn’t so much competitive against them. We were all just trying to win something for our charities. I really enjoyed working with them. I hope that comes across.

ES Interpretation: “What’s the difference between a pitbull and a hockey mom? Lipstick.”

Being on this show or any other competition shows you’ve been on before, has there ever been any inspirations that you’ve been able to bring back to your kitchen and staff?

Cindy: I really enjoyed, it’s funny, I’ve been eating a lot of Puerto Rican food, and a lot of French stuff, and Mexican because the guys got me all fired up about it.

Rick: I learned a massive amount of stuff just watching other chefs cook and pushing themselves and create outside of my normal bounds because I think every one of us brought our knowledge and experience… Every time we go into menu planning these days, it seems like I’m always bringing something up from Top Chef Masters.

Cindy: It was such a great time to hang out together, and it’s such a shame because it’s such a good time to talk about the whole business: staffing, and ordering, and purveyors.. you get so fired up, it was really delightful.

ES Interpretation: “Why can’t I just eat my waffle?”

It sounds like there are not  many other opportunities to meet each other and talk shop..

Cindy: We don’t get that opportunity, no,  which is a shame. There aren’t any chef conferences where we can all get together. The big food trade shows you just walk through the hall and go home again. We should probably start a Top Chef club…I’ll open up my place if anyone wants to come.

Rick: We’ll have a reunion! Ok, but no competition this time <laughs>

Cindy: Yeah, you can cook as slow as you want, whatever ingredients you want, whatever you want in a real kitchen.

Blake: I love this idea, can I come?

ALL: <laughs>

ES Interpretation: “Absolutely not Blake.”

Do you guys like watching cooking shows in general?

Wilo: Well I always make the joke that after a 14-hour shift in a restaurant, I go home and watch a show about food. There is no shortage of things to look over, some for entertainment, some for information.

Cindy: I’ve noticed in my restaurant, the front and back of the house, they’ve been talking about Top Chef all along. It’s one of their favorite tv shows, but now they know I’m part of it I can’t get them to stop talking about it.

Rick: It’s the exact same thing in our restaurant. It’s kinda Monday morning quarterback…So it’s fun having been in the middle of it and knowing the blinding quality of your mind at any given moment, not having the time to sit down and decide what you want to do.

ES Interpretation: “It’s been a great ride. But I know how quickly these fads can pass. You all remember the pet rock, the mood ring, Howard Dean.”

Given that so many of you are long-time veterans of the industry what do you think a show like this is indicative of for American food culture. Cindy, working with legendary icons like James Beard and Child, what’s your perspective since you’ve been able to watch the evolution of food trends?

Cindy: I’m glad it’s popular, I worry about America and what we’re eating. What I learned from Julia and James Beard was how pleasing it was to share food at the table and conversation instead of just putting stuff in your body.

Rick: TCM really brings a level of respect to a profession that we have all chosen, and it’s really cool that people look at it and they may not be able to tackle everything we do but it gives them a good general knowledge of it. It’s really exciting to me because they’re looking to us for inspiration but also to bring a level of respect and sophistication to the trade.

Wilo: I think it certainly raises the bar from a perception perspective.. and this is one of the components that helps refresh American gastronomy.

ES Interpretation: “Our economy, I think, is still – the fundamentals of our economy are strong.”

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  • MenuPages Blog :: Chicago June 24, 2009  

    Tonight: Total Rick Bayless Saturation on Top Chef Masters…

    If you missed Rick Bayless at his demo this morning at the Green City Market, you’ll still have a chance to check him — albeit in virtual form — as he appears on tonight’s third episode of Top Chef Masters…….

  • Catfish June 25, 2009  

    IDK if Rick Bayless will be tired of culinary competition after this, but I’d really like to see him try Iron Chef against Bobby Flay. Though it’s still not my dream match.

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