Halfway through our hometown season of Top Chef, the producers turned up the heat and gave us Restaurant Wars. One team offered up great food, terrible desserts, and nonexistent service. The other offered bony, undercooked cod, nasty amuses-bouches, and coddling service from the likes of Fabio. This being Top Chef and ostensibly a cooking competition, the judges chose good service over good eats. Though Carla was to blame for not one, but two, awful desserts, the judges’ ax fell on the head of team leader Radhika Desai, a devastating loss given that she had won the Quickfire. And even though she thinks food always trumps service, she didn’t sound too sad on the phone today.
Watching the episode last night, what was your first thought?
I was just looking forward to winning the Quickfire.
Was it an accurate representation of what happened, do you think?
Yeah. I was definitely fragile and running around. I could have managed things better.
Were you overwhelmed?
I was completely overwhelmed. It was a lot of things to do in a little bit of time and it was a lot of pressure.
It’s interesting that you and Leah won, because you’re two of the younger contestants. Do you think if someone else had been running the show you wouldn’t have been eliminated?
In hindsight, I should have designated Jeff or Jamie, who are stronger personalities, in the front of the house. I would have rather been in the kitchen cooking. But it was my concept and they were a little hesitant to take that role, so I took it.
Do you have any front-of-house experience?
Very, very little. I worked in restaurants for a long time, but I’ve never been directly responsible for doing that, no.
When you heard some of the judges’ criticisms about how you should have been more present or at least been around to say good-bye, had those things even crossed your mind?
Not at that point. I did want to serve them good food and give them good service. I didn’t want to be all over them at the table. Maybe that came across as neglecting them, but that was not my intention at all.
It’s upsetting because your team had better food.
They preferred the service over the food. If they would rather be served raw fish with scales in it, I can’t help that.
Do you care more about service than food?
No, of course not. For me, food is number one.
Do you disagree with their decision?
Of course I would have wanted to stay on the show longer. But I was the leader. It was my responsibility to carry the team to win, and I didn’t do that. So if you look at it that way, I did deserve to go home.
So what did you learn on the show? Do you feel like you changed as a chef?
I’m trying to become a lion and not be a lamb.
What was your favorite challenge?
This was it. Even though I got eliminated, this was the most challenging and the most fun to watch. I was excited that I won the Quickfire and that I was able to have [the restaurant] be my concept.
You work and live in Chicago, which is another great foodie city. How do you think it stacks up next to New York?
The chef and food community is a little bit smaller [in Chicago], so it’s more friendly. In New York it’s so competitive and overwhelming, and I don’t feel like it’s that way here, even though there are so many great restaurants here too.
What about your opinions on the judges? Were there any that you really liked or disliked?
Some criticisms were better-taken and more constructive than others. Gail was only there for a few episodes, but she seemed more genuine than the other judges. And Tom is always honest. No bullshit.
What about Toby Young? He seems kind of ridiculous.
I’m sure he has an awesome palate and he’s a great food critic, but for whatever reason he just made some really not — it didn’t seem constructive. It was a little bit insulting.
Do you have any advice, based on your experiences, for future contestants on the show?
Just work hard, be really confident. Be confident in yourself and your food. And don’t take shit from anybody.