It’s like a family reunion: lots of familiar faces, lots of hugs, lots of passive-aggressive energy and lots of full frontal hatred. I think this season promises to be a fun one, with heightened emotions and high-level challenges. I never usually enjoy the first 5 episodes or so of Top Chef because there’s just too much going on with having to learn names and personalities and concentrate on 18 different dishes. At least for this season, we already know the chef’testants, know who we like and know who we want humiliated.
Unfortunately, this also means chefs that we love must leave. Sometimes too soon. Here’s the first chef’testant to pack up his/her knives. Find out who is PISSED and calls Tom Colicchio’s rise to stardom sad and heartbreaking.
Endless Simmer: I’m a big fan of your hair – what products do you use to keep your curls so tight and shiny?
Elia Aboumrad: [laugher] I don’t use anything specific. I wash it and then put Herbal Essence Totally Twisted Conditioner on and don’t take it off. It’s not a leave-in, but I leave it in. Then I put on a little Herbal Essence mousse. It just makes my hair look good.
What made you the most nervous for your return to Top Chef? And what factors made you decide to rejoin?
I was inclined to say no, but then asked how it would be done, who would be the judges, and who was a part of the rest of the cast. I was told it’d be the top of every season, which it wasn’t. I was told it would be a great season and would be more about the food and not a personality contest. I also had the summer free [waiting for construction to be finished on her upcoming West Hollywood restaurant, Avec Moi], but there were a lot of things collaborating to make that decision.
It looked like you got emotional again last night. What went wrong with the dish?
It was very humiliating. Last time I made it all the way to the end. It was extremely, extremely humiliating to be eliminated, especially when you don’t feel it’s fair.
The truth is the dish wasn’t supposed to be fully cooked. It was supposed to be medium-rare. It seemed liked they already made up their minds. It was very frustrating.
I felt comfortable with what I presented, how the flavor turned out. They made clear what the rules were and I followed them. Under those circumstances, I don’t think I would change anything.
Which contestants were not as true to the rules?
Some of the dishes were completely tweaked and the main ingredients weren’t even used. The techniques were not used at all. They made it very clear what the rules were and yes, I do believe the rules weren’t followed. No one was held accountable.
From watching the show it looks like a lot of friendships have developed – have you made a lot of friends? What are your thoughts on Anthony Bourdain?
That is the best thing that Top Chef allowed me to have. I am very close to Ilan Hall. We are like family and developed a really beautiful friendship. I’m also friends with Fabio Viviani. This time around I was lucky to meet Jennifer Carroll. I wish there would be more women like her: not pushing you out, but inviting you in to work with. I also developed a friendship with Dale Levitski and with Spike Mendelsohn. I have very good friends from Top Chef and I’m very thankful for that.
As for Anthony Bourdain, I don’t know the man. I haven’t read his books and I don’t watch TV. I know what my friends tell me and what most of America tells me about him. I worked with Tom at MGM and I thought I knew him, but Tom has become a very different person. It’s not all about the food, not all about supporting the farmers’ markets. All his beef is corn-fed on his menu. He’s all about corn syrup. He’s a money making machine. And he’s not staying true to our profession.
When I got to the States in 2005, coming here from France, I got here early to set up the restaurant at the MGM Grand. I also [had the opportunity to] work at all the different restaurants and I spent a lot of time at Craftsteak [Tom Colicchio's restaurant]. Most of his menu had grass-fed animals and products were organic. His chefs loved him. It’s just really sad now. He’s not honoring the profession by honoring our cooking source, which is nature. Tom did a commercial on Coca-Cola which is basically poison. I went back to Craftsteak eight months ago and there is not one grass-fed steak. They are all corn-fed which is cheaper, easier to work with and always available.
They don’t talk about him like they used to. He came from starting with nothing and fighting through and he could be the voice of something amazing. He could be shaping the cuisine and instead he’s sort of like selling out. It’s sad instead of inspiring. It’s heartbreaking.