Top Chef

Jen Carroll Will Pronounce Ceviche Any Way She’d Like

Jennifer Carroll
Jennifer Carroll Photo: Bravo

Looks like that viewing party wasn’t a victory party after all for Philly’s Jennifer Carroll, who was metaphorically booted off the Top Chef train to victory. We had a chance to chat with Carroll about her mid-season rough patch and whether or not Mike Isabella is really a misogynist, plus she reveals the real reason she pronounces ceviche as “se-veech.”

It seemed like you started out really strong and then went through a rough patch in the middle of the season where you were on the bottom a lot. How’d you get out of the rut?
Basically, I just had to stop being so hard on myself and let the mistakes go that I beat myself up for. I am my own worst enemy and biggest critic. I try for perfection every time and when I don’t get it I get upset and disappointed.

You mentioned in your exit interview that young girls were coming up to you in Philly and were inspired by seeing you on the show. With only one female winner in the past six seasons, do you think the show sets women up to fail or is just reflecting the male-female imbalance that’s already out there in professional kitchens?
I don’t think there was any bias against me because I’m female. Yes, there’s only been one woman who’s won, but there’s also only been six seasons of the show. There are definitely more men in the field, but the men have been stronger in the other seasons. Not necessarily in this one though.

Speaking of women in kitchens, Mike Isabella came across as sexist with his ‘not losing to a girl’ comment, but you guys are actually friends. Did you ever have a little chat with him about his remark?
[Laughs.] Yeah, right after the show aired, he called me up and apologized and said ‘You know, I didn’t mean it that way,’ and I was like ‘You don’t think before you speak!’ He was joking that he wanted me to come down there so we could do a press conference together where he would give me a hug and we would say that we like each other.

Who did you identify as your biggest threat when the competition first started? Did that change at all as the competition continued?
When we first started, I thought my biggest threat was going to be Michael Voltaggio and throughout the competition, seeing how strong and consistent Kevin was, you know, I was taken aback and had to rethink who were the strongest ones there. It was really crazy - there were a lot of really good chefs there. It was a hard season!

What was the best dish you made all season? The worst?
Hmmm. I think maybe the worst dish was probably the TV Guide challenge - that Quickfire - I don’t think that was so great. I was not feelin’ that one. I had a lot of good dishes. My favorite was probably the duck that I did on the last episode, even though I got eliminated. I really loved the duck dish.

What dish made by another contestant impressed you most?
A lot of Michael Voltaggio’s dishes were just so creative. Seeing all of his techniques I’ve never used before was just amazing and they were working so perfectly. His frozen gazpacho was amazing. We didn’t get a chance to try everyone’s dishes, so it’s hard to say.

What did you learn about cooking from the other chefs there?
I learned that you need to have that drive in you to always want to learn more. To not get comfortable in your job and always be out there looking and learning. All of the new modern techniques, I know some of them, but watching Brian and Michael V. bring those to table every week made we want to become more current in my field and push myself more.

Is Top Chef kind of like the movie Scream now, where contestants have identified conventions they should avoid in order to succeed - like don’t make dessert because that always screws people up?
[Laughs] Yeah, that’s pretty funny! As you can see in the Restaurant Wars episode, we did that. At the reunion show, were were all laughing about that - the five deadly sins in Top Chef: don’t make dessert, don’t cook shrimp! Eli was naming like 30 of them.

Ok, I have to ask this on behalf of our readers because they constantly commented on it. Your pronunciation of ‘ceviche’. Why do you pronounce it ‘se-veech?’
Well, listen, the master of fish, Eric Ripert, says ‘se-veech’ all the time. If people want to comment that I’m saying it wrong, they can complain to him. At Le Bernadin, we have a lot of saying for things that are maybe not the right pronunciation or word because there are a lot of different cultures working in the kitchen. You just end up saying things that are funny. Like we don’t say “julienne those carrots,” it’s “Giuliani those carrots!” So I say ‘seveech.’ If it tastes good, who cares what the hell I call it?

What’s been different for you in the kitchen since you were on the show? What’s been different about your life?
In the kitchen it’s just created a new energy. It’s made myself and all of my cooks excited to be at work, the restaurant is really busy and we’re serving a lot of people. We’re doing a lot more experimenting in the kitchen and having fun. In my personal life, I’ve met so many new people and there’s been so much support for me in Philly and everyone is saying how proud they are of me and congratulating me. I got so many emails last night saying [my run on the show] has been great and “you’re still our Top Chef.”

Is it true that you still call your mom every night after work?
Yeah, I talk to my mom every night. Ive been doing that for years and years. When I worked in New York I used to call her on my way to the subway. Now I walk to and from work and I talk to her on my way home every night. I couldn’t imagine not talking to her!

Related: Read a recap of last night’s episode on Grub Street New York.

Previously: All Jennifer Carroll Coverage [Grub Street]

Jen Carroll Will Pronounce Ceviche Any Way She’d Like