Top Chef Exit Interview: Episode 1


Top Chef is in Vegas this season and everything is HIGH STAKES. But one unlucky chef-testant didn’t even get to unpack. Our chat with them, after the jump…


It’s Jen Zavala, who whipped up some spicy chiles rellenos, but did not impress the judges with her decision to replace the pork with veggie-friendly seitan.

Seriously? Seitan?
I wanted to do something different, with a new twist. You can only eat so much meat, chicken and fish. I know what my error was now — I didn’t plate it well and I didn’t sell it well enough, but I believe this dish was well flavored. I put it on the menu at El Camino Real and it was very well received by people who aren’t vegetarians. It’s different than tofu or tempeh; it has a really nutty flavor and is not bland at all.

So you wouldn’t do anything differently if you had another chance?
I definitely would have done the same dish. I would have plated it different and worded it a lot better. I think the main problem was that two of the judges didn’t know what it was and I should have pitched it better.

In your short time on the show, did any chefs stand out as most likely to do well?
Obviously Mike Voltaggio. He’s ridiculously talented. He won a Michelin Star when he was really young. When I met him he was really quite but you can tell he’s going to do well — I called him the silent assassin. In terms of who I’m rooting for, Jen – 100 percent. She has a great attitude in the kitchen, plus she’s representing Philly. She’s super-talented and she will definitely hold her own.

Speaking of Philly, I see you just moved to a new restaurant.
I’ve been at El Camino Real for just over a year and wanted a different scene. So I moved to Xochitl, which is a smaller restaurant that does regional Mexican food. I’m really excited about the uprising of Latino food so I’m excited to be here.

Would you do TV again?
Yeah, why not? As long as I didn’t have to dress up. I hated having to put on dresses for the photos and everything. I’m much more comfortable in a chef’s jacket and clogs.

So that photo above is not your favorite?
Oh my god, hate it. Hate it. Hate it. HATE IT. It looks like I can’t stand in those shoes. It was 110 degrees, there was a hot wind, the makeup was melting down my face. I was so uncomfortable. So they captured that moment and now it is all over the place. I hate those shoes! God, it looks like I have cankles.

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  • gansie August 20, 2009  

    im glad she’s gone. and im going to sound like my mother here, but i just couldnt stand to look at that neck tattoo a minute longer.

  • 80 Proof August 20, 2009  

    Unless there are parts Bravo edited out of the show, it sounds like she is still in denial about her dish. I don’t think the judges were concerned about the plating, they just didn’t like it. I was surprised they kicked off the angry contestant, usually makes for better TV.

  • Natalie Sztern August 20, 2009  

    Can u believe Canada is not getting this year!!!! so who’s gonna help with the petition?

    Keep the updates coming

  • Jessican August 20, 2009  

    Yeah, I think she deserved to go. I love Chili Relleno, but I would be murdered back home in Pueblo if I ever served it like that.

    It looks like they are setting up Mike and Jen as the “cocky” favs ala Stephan (sp?) and the winner guy (can’t remember his name) will be our feel good person along with Baltimore girl…uh, first episode impressions anyway. I reserve the right to disown this comment if wrong.

  • Bliz August 21, 2009  

    This season has all sorts of wonderful potential. But I have to say I’m a little surprised by how many ‘owners’ there are this season. What ever happened to the up and comers?

    Also, the DC gang should make for some interesting drama. They’ve all got some obvious skill.

    Zavala had to go. And she really needs to stop defending that fucking dish. I would argue that’s pretty good evidence that no producers are telling the judges who should be eliminated.

  • LC August 21, 2009  

    like gansie am not digging on the neck tattoo but she looks way more comfortable in her shoes and less cankle-y than some of those show girls whose job it is to look good in ridiculous heels. not that this anything whatsoever to do with food.

  • Liza August 23, 2009  

    I am SO PISSED that the asshole Michael Isabella is from DC and I’ve eaten at his restaurant – NEVER AGAIN! His sexist comment when he was shucking clams about how “no offense but I can’t lose to a girl” – like ARE YOU KIDDING ME!? Get over yourself dude. I can’t STAND YOU!!!

  • Liza August 23, 2009  

    And last time I went to Zaytinya the service fucking sucked and the food was unmemorable. And Michael, you have NO RIGHT to say you are the head chef – that would actually be JOSE ANDRES you fucker!

  • JoeHoya August 24, 2009  

    We had a great experience with the service at Zaytinya when we were there two Fridays ago. Jason, our waiter, is definitely worth seeking out there.

    Not that service has anything to do with Isabella one way or the other…

  • Jose Orjosbee August 24, 2009  

    Sorry, but I was really glad to see Zavala go. She seemed genuinely confused at the end of the show, seeming to stammer “bu..but.. I took a risk, this isnt fair”. Perhaps Jennifer doesn’t fully understand the concept of risk taking; Risks aren’t sure things, and you wont always be rewarded for doing something different, hence why its RISKY. Just cooking with a little known ingredient doesn’t make you a master chef, sometimes there’s a good reason why the ingredient is little used. Don’t make a poo soufflé and expect people to laud you as a genius because no one else does it. Sometimes being different means you’re way ahead of the game, and sometimes it just means it would be better for everyone involved if you took the short bus to school.

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