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Wednesday, December 09, 2009

"Top Chef"s Jennifer: "That was our job to make it tough for the judges"

The only good thing about being home from work sick is that it’s Wednesday, so I’ve gotten to relive the entire season of “Top Chef: Las Vegas” (minus a few hours I slept through)…

Still don’t know how Robin hung on as long as she did. And I still don’t understand how the Mission team failed at Restaurant Wars so badly. But now tonight we have the finale and possibly the best final three in “Top Chef” history—Bryan, Michael and Kevin.

As much as I love the brothers, I have to believe that Kevin has the edge with his simple yet flavorful food. I worry that Michael will go out on a limb and end up falling off…

But before we see whether I’m right, let’s take a second and go back to last week’s episode when Jennifer was eliminated.

Last week I had the chance to participate in a media conference call with her and of course the only thing I wanted to know about was Mike Isabella.

You might remember when Mike was eliminated, Jennifer gave him such a kiss that Gail did a double take. The next episode she said her guy was gone. So when I asked her about him, I said that was one of the biggest moments of the season. She agreed, only she thought I was referring to the sexist comment he made in episode two. But her answer still gave me the insight I was looking for…

“It was a huge moment of the season. I love Mike Isabella. He says what he wants to say. We’re good friends. We’ve been talking on the phone a lot. I met his wife after the show.” Jennifer said after his sexist comment toward her aired, he “started getting hate mail” and Jennifer offered to do a press conference to defend him. He told me that “some of [his] best chefs that [he’s] ever worked under were women…He’s a wise a** but he has a really good heart. He got the short end of the stick.”

I also asked Jennifer about whether she felt like she was getting run over by the Voltaggio train since the way the show was edited the finale seemed like their destiny…

“It definitely felt like there was a competition within the competition the entire time. They wanted to beat all of us, but they wanted to beat each other more. But they were also each other’s biggest fans. The two of them are awesome chefs and they deserve to be there.”

Here are some other thoughts that Jennifer had…

On the final judges table: “We were at Judges’ Table for a very long time. I feel I defended my dishes and was proud of them. It was my turn to go…I wish I hadn’t put that last dash of salt on the goat cheese.” Jennifer explained that the salt was fleur de sel, which is a big rock sea salt that takes longer to melt. When it got to the judges it hadn’t quite melted yet so it was a little too much.

On cooking for large parties: “Cooking for large parties is definitely crazy. You usually have at least two other people helping you. It’s definitely stressful. Definitely challenging.”

On her string of challenges where she ended up in the bottom: “I was definitely tired. I was just definitely beating myself up over mistakes I made. You had to start fresh every day. I’m still very proud of myself. I always tried to help everybody when they needed it.”

On the hardest challenge: “I thought the desert was bad. Cooking in the middle of the afternoon. The Bocuse D’Or was one of the most stressful.”

On the competition: “I didn’t expect it to be as bad as it was or emotional as it was. I really wanted to make it to the end. I think I did very well.”

On whether she would do it again: “Yes definitely. I would absolutely do it. I made a lot of great friends. It’s just been great…I didn’t think it was going to get this much reaction and support. It’s felt really good.”

On having to change the way she planned to cook her duck in her final challenge: “I think my duck dish was really good. Close to perfection. It might have actually been better [than what she originally planned]. I was actually a little upset that Tom said I looked scattered. Tom was the only who knew [about the change].”

On her future: “Right now I’m happy at Eric Ripert’s 10 Arts. I want to stay and make it more successful. I’d love to have my own place in Philadelphia.”

On the funniest moment: “It was probably off screen. We reverted back to being children. There were little statues all over the property and we’d wake up to find new ones at the door or in the pool. There was a huge water fight. We filled trash bags with water.”

On how serious she came off on the show: “I am definitely focused on my work. I’m an extreme perfectionist. I think they caught me being really hard on myself. It’s not what I do all they time.”

On Robin: “Not everybody got along with Robin. She’s extremely intense and high energy. It’s hard for people to be around that all the time. It was never malicious. She wanted to take care of everybody. We’re all adults and we didn’t need mothering.”

On the judges nitpicking at her final Judges Table: “I think it got down to where the judges had to nitpick. We were at Judges Table six hours. They changed tape two or three times. It was hard. None of us knew who was going home. We all deserved to be there at the end if it was that hard for the judges. That was our job to make it hard for the judges.”

You can see Jennifer in her final challenge tonight (Wednesday) at 9 before the finale which airs at 10 p.m. on Bravo…

Photo Credit: Trae Patton/Bravo