Back of the House

‘Top Chef’ Non-Winner Lia on What Went Wrong

Lia Bardeen should have just made a chicken.
Lia Bardeen should have just made a chicken.haha

Lia Bardeen, the second New Yorker sent packing in as many weeks, was eliminated last night after the judges described her polenta dish as “mush” and “inedible.” After her elimination, she talked to us about the self-appointed villain of the show and why the kitchen at Jean Georges is more stressful than competing on Top Chef.

Will you ever be able to eat polenta again?
Yeah. I mean the funny thing about this experience is that you don’t get to try things all the way. You aren’t able to get an entire dish together in the time we have to prepare and you just hope it works as a concept.

Why was it bland?
It was with a lot of food that was spicy. The only spice was the poblano which was grilled. I was trying to take the idea of Latin food and the flavors and do something more elegant than traditional dishes.

If you could do it over, what would you make?

I would stick with something more traditional, a braised chicken, a heartier dish. You have to cook for your audience instead of the idea in your head.

Have you seen your colleagues at Jean Georges since the episode aired last night?
I’m at work now. We’re actually really slammed because of Restaurant Week. I haven’t had time to talk to any of the guys about it.

Did [pastry chef] Johnny Iuzzini comfort you?

[Laughs.] He’s a great guy, but we don’t have that kind of relationship. I didn’t tell anyone at work because I wanted to see how it played out.

Is the pressure higher in the Jean Georges kitchen or on Top Chef?
In [the Jean Georges] kitchen. Here, I’m cooking for people who really know what they want, and they’re paying. Doing the 100 I have for lunch today in three hours is a lot more stressful.

What about the knife drama with Hung? Were you afraid for your limbs while he was running around frantically, knife in hand?
As I said on the show, I don’t think it’s safe how he would act in a kitchen sometimes.

You fed the cast and crew of the telenovela Dame Chocolate. While they were eating, Tom asked them who the villain of the show was. Who’s the villain of Top Chef 3?
Hung has created himself to be one. He walked into it saying he was an asshole and he didn’t care about where people worked.

Casey said she thought you’d be friends for life. You said she taught you to blow-dry your hair straight. Do you still keep in touch?

We don’t have a lot of time to talk – I work days, and she works nights. We texted back and forth last night. She thinks it’s bullshit that I was off the show, which is nice.

Did any of the guys hit on you?

[Laughs.] The nature of a bunch of people getting together and meeting each other leads to flirtatiousness, but just in an interactive way. Nobody hooked up or started dating, and there was no romance behind the scenes.

What’s next for you?

I’m going to be here for a little while longer. I have an opportunity with Jean Georges. Possibly opening up a different restaurant outside of New York. I don’t think I can be more specific.

Who are you rooting for?
Maybe Casey because we’re the closest. I like CJ. He’s a funny guy, and he’s kind of an underdog. Hung is going to do well. Between his ethnic background and his French training, he comes up with a great variety of food. I think Brian will do a great job, but he needs to calm down and focus a little bit. —Rebecca Ruiz

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