Chef Ed Cotton Talks Top Chef, Target and Elmo

Best. Guest. Judges. Ever.

Some of our favorite contestants are fading fast as the all-star season of Top Chef winds down. Plein Sud Executive Chef Ed Cotton, a season 7 finalist, checks in with OpenTable again to dish on last night’s action.

Hey, Ed! So, we’ve got some friends here from the street. Sesame Street, that is. Who is your favorite muppet?

My favorite muppet is Ernie. I’m not sure why, but I thought he was cool. He used to collect bottle caps, and as a kid I would go around looking for bottle caps just like him. When I would come home with some, my mother would tell me they were “dirty” and to “stop picking things up off the ground.” So my bottle cap collection did not go that far.

Well, mother knows best! I love a perfect oatmeal cookie — but the best cookie I make is actually a ginger snap! What’s your favorite cookie to eat — and what’s the best cookie you make?

I don’t eat a lot of cookies or sweets, but I do like sugar cookies, once in a blue moon.  The best cookies I ever made were the ones that come from a box that are pre-made and frozen. If you saw my pastry skills on Top Chef when I was in the finale? Not the best display.

Is there ever going to be a challenge where Richard doesn’t use liquid nitrogen? He’s the new Marcel.

Richard is the only one who can step up to the plate and use liquid nitro and get away with it. I would never call Richard the new Marcel at all. That would be a BIG insult.

Dale shows Angelo the proper salt-to-soup ratio.

Ha! Fair enough. So, Antonia’s cookies look good, but Dale wins — and he is crushing it. Based on your personal experience, after winning a QFC, what is the high like?

Dale is on FIRE! He totally kicked butt in this quick fire — not to mention the whole show. Way to go! It’s a great feeling when you win. I remember sometimes cooking and saying to myself, I hope the judges love it, and you’re feeling like it is a solid dish and then you find out you are on the top with someone else….then they announce the winner and it’s YOU! It is such a great feeling, and you feel like the cool kid in school like, “Hey guys look at me now.” Don’t be fooled, though; that wonderful winning feeling can go away quickly with the following challenge.

Okay, this Target challenge feels like a season 1 gimmicky challenge (see machine, vending), and I feel that it’s beneath these chefs. Thoughts?

This challenge was interesting but slightly weird. It reminded me of the Top Chef Las Vegas episode when they were in the house (that they were living in) and had to cook a meal using only the appliances that were in the house. You find out really fast how clever and resourceful you can be with your surroundings. Soup was the choice by most people because it was the fastest to make. Richard pushed himself and showed up some people; he is an animal.

Do you shop at Target? I’ve never bought food there as I don’t think I’ve been in a Super Target.  But, in a store such as this, what are you looking for, food-wise?

I have never been to a super Target, but it looked nice. I would look for ground meat, taco shells, fresh produce, and some canned beans. I would create a little Mexican fiesta; who doesn’t like tacos? I do at 3am! That’s why I have to go running every morning in my gym.

Tom can't help but smile as he admires Angelo's shapely legs.

Genius! Seriously, everyone goes gaga for Mexican. So, can you talk about alliances? We see the Richard-Dale and then the Mike-Angelo alliances. Did that happen during your season? What do you think of this from a competitive standpoint?

Alliances are good, but we really didn’t have too many of them on my season. Out of everyone from my season, I think Kenny and Kevin did a lot of talking and consulting with each other to see what they were doing for their dishes and offered to critique one another. There is a certain point where the alliances stop, when the stakes get higher. When that happens, it’s every man or woman for themselves.

How do you feel about the design aspect that is required of these chefs? I mean, you’re a chef — not Martha Stewart. I understand the importance of plating artistically, but having to design your table and all — what do you think? Too much? Or, wait — Dale decides not to even go there. I never thought I’d agree with Dale, but I do.

When I was competing, I would be running through Whole Foods and I would see my other competitors with plants and flowers and all that other unnecessary stuff and I’d say you’re being judged on the food not the table (but only to myself). I never once spent a dime on my table design and I am glad I didn’t. I think you should spend more money on buying quality ingredients — and not flowers for table decorations.

Anthony and Padma get the giggles and, later, the munchies.

So glad to see Ming Tsai there, but I’m tired of Bourdain. I think variety of judges is better. Anyway, Padma seems to love Dale’s stoner food, as I suspected she would. And Dale wins! Does this mean all the judges have had the munchies?

Dale’s soup and sandwich looked like a non-stress item to prep, which was smart. I saw him go for the clothes iron and I got confused for a minute. I didn’t think that it was a supermarket sweep, where you grab whatever you want, even if it isn’t food related. But when I saw him ironing the grilled cheese, I was AMAZED! My grandmother would do the same thing for me and my sisters when we were kids! I remember her asking us if we wanted grill cheese sandwiches and we would be like YES! And then next thing you know she’s pulling out the iron and the ironing board and wrapping them in aluminum foil and going to town on them. It was like a panini. She had something there long before aninis were invented. Way to go, Nana!

Angelo goes home. I’m sad, but his questionable choice of socks and shorts makes me question his judgment altogether.

Angelo’s time has come. I was waiting for that to happen. I just wasn’t sure when it was going to happen. Yes, he over-salted his soup big time. I actually felt bad for him — not just because of his socks he wore, but for the dish he made. He knows how to make soup and should have knocked it out of the park, but when you’re tired and fatigued, simple mistakes, such as over-salting a dish or purchasing a pair of knee-high stockings like the ones he wore, can become big mistakes.

One last thing. This comment from a taster drove me nuts: “There’s something not special about it.” I mean, how is this a real or helpful criticism?

I’m not sure what this taster really wanted to eat then? It’s not special? It was made from your store, from your product, from your produce. Maybe buy better stuff to sell at Target then and you can have a better tasting product.


  1. Ted S. says

    By “not special,” they meant the dish, not the ingredients. It meant that someone made a straightforward interpretation of the dish rather than put any kind of personal spin or imagination into it. I think it’s a very valid comment on a show like Top Chef.

  2. Jim says

    as far as Angelo goes… when he took Mike’s comment and added both bacon AND salt my wife and I looked at each and said “goodbye” right then. That’s the kind of bad decision you make when you’re wrung out and exhausted though.

  3. Tricia Rittereiser says

    Love these little chats! I enjoyed the episode, especially the comic relief of Telly, Cookie and Elmo. Made it all very light and fun.

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