top chef season five

Top Chef Exit Interview: Episode Eleven

Last night's episode of Top Chef brought a welcome dose of New York to the current season, with fancy cooking at Le Bernardin and the eel-skinning that inevitably happens whenever Eric Ripert is around. After a Quickfire full of fish-filleting, the cheftestants moved on to a six-course lunch with the Ripper, only to learn that their challenge would be to re-create his dishes from memory. Stefan got lucky with a lobster dish, Carla successfully poached escolar in oil, and Leah pouted and got things wrong. But in the end it was Jamie Lauren, the last remaining member of Team Rainbow, who was given the boot for making her celery too salty. We spoke with her earlier today about whether she really finds Ripert's food "uninspiring" and why she has nothing in common with Lisa from last season.

Jamie

Cheftestant Jamie Lauren.Photo: Courtesy of Bravo

Were you shocked by the outcome of this challenge?

Not at all. I knew that I screwed up and I might be going home.

The decision came down to: Is it better to acknowledge your mistakes and know how to fix them, or to not even know your mistakes and not know how to fix them?
I haven’t even watched the show. I don’t know how it was edited. I was at work last night and I came home and didn’t really feel like watching it. I always own up to my mistakes and know what I did wrong. I don’t even really remember what Leah did or didn’t do, so I can’t really say.

So losing wasn’t a huge blow to you, it seems like.
I never went on the show with the intention of winning. I went on the show to prove to myself that I could actually do it.

You certainly did right by the Team Rainbow name. You were the last to survive, I guess. It’s interesting, every season, there’s a few gay contestants. Last season it was Lisa who made it the furthest.
Yeah. I have heard comparisons, but I don’t think we’re similar at all.

What have people said?
People have said that I’m just the grumpy, bitter lesbian who stands there with her arms folded. I don’t know if they just group all of us lesbians together. It was never about being the lesbian contestant. I’m very proud of who I am as a member of the queer community. But first and foremost I’m a chef. I’m a chef first and a lesbian second.

Of the bottom three, was yours was the worst dish?
I think mine had the worst offense. I think it being oversalted was the biggest problem. You couldn’t eat it; it was oversalted.

You realized the mistake, but it was at the point of no return.
It’s not like I had a chance to go back and braise more celery. I had to plate it, I didn’t have a choice. It was either not plate it or plate it. And either way I was kind of screwed.

One of the things you said in the show was that you found Eric Ripert’s food somewhat uninspiring. Would you say that in general or was it just in regard to the dish that you made?
Out of the dishes that we tasted, that was the most old-school and classic. It’s just not the food that I’m into. That’s what I meant when I said that I was uninspired by it. I am one of those chefs that thrives off of the creative process, so that’s why I had such a hard time with it.

Throughout the season you were sometimes criticized, jokingly or otherwise, for making a lot of scallops. Is that your favorite thing to cook?
No, not at all. The scallops just were there! They were in the kitchen, so somebody needed to use them.

Did Stefan really have a crush on you?
I know Stefan has a crush on me. He still has a crush on me.

What was the highlight of this experience for you — if you had to pick one thing, one dish, one moment?
I think overall the highlight for me was being able to showcase who I am and my talents on a regular basis to 3 million people a week. That’s a huge thing.

How would you compare San Francisco and New York as food towns?
They’re very different. People in San Francisco are into knowing where a product comes from; the whole farm-to-table thing is a really big deal here in the Bay Area. They consider themselves massive, massive foodies. They’ll be the first to remark on something if it’s not right or not local enough. In New York people are a little bit more laid-back.

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