Sara Mair could not escape elimination on last night’s Top Chef when she began the episode by serving Sirio Maccioni of Le Cirque an undercooked potato-wrapped sea bass and concluded with poorly flavored and undercooked chicken for deans of the French Culinary Institute. Today she talks to us about reconciling with Howie and Hung’s lack of heart.
During taping you didn’t believe [judge] Gail Simmons’s claim that her chicken was nearly raw. When you watched last night were you convinced?
No, I wasn’t convinced. I’m still not convinced. It certainly was not raw. I thought it was maybe medium or under-medium. I would not put raw chicken on the table.
Why go with Jamaican flavors before a table of classic French chefs?
The competition wasn’t on flavors; it was on classic techniques. Everything I did has a classic technique, whether it was braising or risotto. I wanted to put a little of me into it.
You undercooked the bass during the Quickfire at Le Cirque. Did you succumb to nerves?
Oh, absolutely. I was so nervous going into that kitchen. By that time it was nine o’clock at night on a Friday at Le Cirque, so it was crazy busy. I know how I feel when a stranger comes through my kitchen. Kitchens are very territorial.
How did it feel to be in the Le Cirque kitchen with other chefs who clearly didn’t care you were on Top Chef?
That’s fine with me because I probably would have had the same vibe. I would like to go back and stage there and hang out, though. It would be different then.
Casey said it was tough to be in the Le Cirque kitchen as the only woman. Did you feel the same way?
In a lot of the kitchens I’ve been in, I’ve been the only woman. I got used to it. When I became a chef and ran my own kitchen, I hired a lot of women. I try to change the cycle.
Was it satisfying to stay longer than Howie, with whom you had a contentious relationship?
No, you know what, after Howie and I had our issues, I pulled him aside and said this isn’t right. We’re grown adults, so I said what I needed to say. He said, “Thanks for saying something to me because I never would have.”
Do you agree with Dale’s assessment that Hung’s cooking has no heart?
Yeah, I agree with that. Hung has very good technical skills, but he’s not very creative and that’s where the heart comes in.
Do you think he’ll win simply because of his technical prowess?
Hung has mad technical skills, and he has a huge knowledge of food. I don’t know, though. It could go either way. I think you have to have soul and technical skills. It’s a toss-up. It could be any of them. —Rebecca Ruiz
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