Top Chef Season 8 Episode 1: Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’…

Bourdain asks Fabio, "You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me?"

Plein Sud Executive Chef Ed Cotton, a Top Chef finalist on season 7, sits down with us to discuss the first episode of what’s sure to be an uber-competitive season of Top Chef Season 8: All Stars.

Ed, what would make someone want to go back and go through this all again? Are y’all chefs gluttons for punishment? Is it a reckoning?

Why would someone want to go back through all of this again? Well, you’ve got to keep your eye on the prize. This year’s prize is $200,000! That’s a major reason why I would go back and take a leave from my restaurant Plein Sud, if offered. I also feel like some of the other cheftestants were axed a little bit too soon or fell just short of winning the whole thing. They are hungry to win this competition and get redemption. I know I would feel that way!

So, we’ve got Tiffany Faison (S. 1), Stephen Asprinio (S. 1), Elia Aboumrad (S. 2), Marcel Vigneron (S. 2), Tre Wilcox (S. 3), Dale Levitski (S. 3), Casey Thompson (S. 3), Richard Blais (S. 4), Spike Mendelsohn (S. 4), Antonia Lofasco (S. 4), Dale Talde (S. 4), Jamie Lauren (S. 5), Favio Viviani (S. 5), Carla Hall (S. 5), Jen Carroll (S. 6), Mike Isabella (S. 6), Angelo Sosa (S. 7), Tiffany Derry (S. 7). Who is missing in your mind — who did you think would campaign hard to be here? Who are you surprised to see again?

The chefs who are missing, in my opinion, include Kevin from season 6, Bryan from season 6, Kenny from season 7, and, of course, I am going to say myself! I think Tiffany Faison and Richard Blais definitely campaigned to be here; they were so close to winning the title of Top Chef and deserve another shot. They are going to fight hard for the title that was almost in their possession. The people I’m surprised to see competing on All Stars are Elia Aboumrad, Stephen Asprinio, and Tiffany Derry. Not sure why I’m surprised…but I think that Top Chef could have expanded the group to a few more people from the past to create the All Star cast.

Angelos Sosa and his spoon of seduction return for season 8.

Of the judges, which were you most anxious to please last season? I mean, Tom seems like he’s got a take-no-prisoners attitude this time out. In fact, I’m scared to ever eat at one of his restaurants again!

All the judges offered something different to the competition, but I really wanted to please Chef Eric Ripert. Chef Ripert is an acclaimed chef who is knows great food and great technique and is truly a class act. He understands what food is all about and how it should be prepared. Whenever I saw Eric at the judges’ table, I was excited to cook for him and have him experience my food. Tom Colicchio was also a BIG person that I wanted to please. Tom has been with the show from the beginning and expects perfectly executed dishes from everyone, no exceptions. He is the last person that you want serving up negative comments on you or your food. After all, he is the head judge.

For the QFC, chefs from each season have to work together to make one dish to represent the city they competed in. Which city do you think was represented best?

The Quick Fire Challenge was clever. I was in total agreement with all the judges that Chicago was well represented! The hot dog sounded great and looked great. Everyone was working like a team and pulling their weight.

You competed in D.C., but…you work in New York. I don’t want you to tip your hand (in case you decide to compete again!), but what are some of your favorite iconic New York dishes or ingredients? Are apples among them, in any way?

"I disagree, Marcel. I think I'm way more arrogant than you!"

As far as iconic New York dishes, I would go with a potato knish. You can’t get more authentic than that! I would put a slight twist on it and stuff it with foie gras and apple, though. A Plein Sud menu item that really represents New York is my specialty flatbread. What New Yorker doesn’t like a good pizza or flatbread? I love doing a apple tart flambée with thin slices of granny smith apples layered on top of a creamy mixture of fromage blanc. I bake it in the oven and top it with a bit of brown sugar and then flame a touch of Calvados at the table.

Did you agree with the worst (LA/SF/NY/DC) and the best (Chi/Miami) in terms of the QFC? I am personally obsessed with Chicago-style hot dogs so I thought this was inventive and also safe.

When Padma announced who was on top and who was on the bottom, I agreed with the choices. LA — I was not impressed at all; it looked very first-year-of-cooking to me. DC’s Angelo and Tiffany’s crab cake with broth sounded good. Since they were both on the show with me, I know Tiffany can make a great crab cake and also that Angelo can have trouble with salt and broths. New York’s looked just like what the judges said — it lacked a sense of flow. SF’s cioppino wasn’t the worst, but, again, I would have thought about the presentation and flavor more (but, overall, it was a great idea). As far as the top two teams, I really liked the hot dog idea and the thought process behind it. Miami’s dish was good and sounded well balanced and pretty solid as far as finding that on a menu in Miami. I would have liked to eat it!

Carla tries to talk Fabio out of challenging Anthony Bourdain to a duel.

The EC is to re-make the dish that sent you home — but make it better. Oy!

This Elimination Challenge sounds like a nightmare! Some people really deserved to keep going and some didn’t. For most us on the show, we believed in and stood behind our food. It was always shocking when someone was told to “pack your knives and go” (Not for me, thank God!). To see your ingredients on a silver platter that sent you packing could do two things: One, it could get you fired up to knock it out of the park or, two, it could make you cringe and pray to the gods above for help.

The competitors are cooking at The Russian Tea Room. Have you ever dined there?

When I saw the chefs roll into The Russian Tea Room, it was exciting. I had a friend who was the chef there and I would visit him, from time to time. He took me all over the restaurant and I got to walk all through its rooms, look at the restaurant’s décor and hear about how they clean the dancing bear fish tank (I think that was my favorite!).

What are your thoughts on peer judging? And eavesdropping — would you watch?  And, if so, would you be able to be fair to competitors who may have criticized your food?

Oh man, I was laughing so hard when they discovered the television. People can be very tough on other people, and sometimes it is extremely hurtful. I would so love to hear my peers talk about my food. If you have a thick skin, the feedback can only help you build on becoming a better chef. For my part, I think I am fair, speak the truth, and offer good criticism. I would be able to judge others fairly because I judge only what is on the plate — nothing personal.

Don't feel bad, Elia. Stephen is right behind you!

Do you agree with Elia going home? And Stephen staying? (I mean, this dude is a FOH’er!) And, Angelo winning — shocked or not?

I was fine with Elia going home, but I did feel for her.  The judges felt her food lacked a lot of finesse.  I know Stephen a little bit, and he’s a good guy but not the most dangerous in the kitchen, I feel his days are numbered and he may be next in line to go in the near future. Total shocker about Angelo winning the very first episode! It’s just like season 7 — he won the first challenge. I can’t wait to see what happens next!


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