Who Failed This Week’s Top Chef Test? Chef Ed Cotton Walks Us Through the Ep

Dear Padma. We get it. You're hot. You can stop trying so hard now. Signed, Management.

With just two eps left, Top Chef is getting more and more contentious. Chef Ed Cotton of  Manhattan’s Plein Sud reflects on this week’s challenges and eliminations and looks ahead to what’s in store for the competitors.

When someone exits, how hard is that for their co-competitors, emotionally and missing their presence in the apt? How long is it between challenges?

I never found it that hard on me or got emotional at all when people were sent home. Sure, you miss people, but you can’t forget that it’s a competition, and you’re not there to make friends. Challenges happen every single day; it is very demanding and long hours.

The QFC asks competitors to replicate a dish. Can you talk about how this might be tough if you haven’t actually tested something? And, at Plein Sud, can I assume your new dishes are tested and re-executed for just this very purpose?

The ability to replicate a dish is extremely important. At my restaurant, it is all about consistency and that is exactly what Richard said. You want a person to come back to your restaurant because they love the Cassoulet, Steak Tartare or whatever dish might be their favorite.  Yes, all our new dishes are tested for consistency and flavors and I am currently in the process of doing that for our spring menu. For breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner, our guests dine at Plein Sud because the food is consistent.

Regarding the QFC, is a cold dish a cop out?

I didn’t think a cold dish is a cop out – anything is fair game. It was not specified whether the dish should be hot or cold; it just needed to be consistent. Tiffany and Antonia made consistent-tasting dishes that the judges praised.

Is there a girls vs. boys mentality at any point? And at any point is it more pronounced — first half of the competition? Second half?

Not sure about the girls vs. boys mentality. At the end of the day, we all just want to present quality food that represents each of us as a chef and individual. I’m sure that the girls are happy that there was a fair amount of them heading toward the finale. Good for them!

"Tastes delicious! No, wait. It's terrible. No, it's delicious! No, it's terrible. No...."

Everyone is allowed the same amount of time  — always. Everyone gets individual or group start times, but there are some other factors to consider. The time depends on the amount of people in the kitchen and the size of the kitchen  — the time between is usually every 20 minutes or so. We always picked numbers out of a hat to decide who presents first, second, third, and so on. When one person finishes plating, someone else jumps into the kitchen to start. The time is enough for the judges to critique your food and get ready for the next course. Once you go through the process a few rounds, the momentum continues and the staggered service does not become an issue.

The mere sight of Padma and Captain Andy, or should I day Cap’n Ron, is kinda frightening. And then after this, all the cheftestants have to get into bathing suits. I think this was just to reassure Padma that she’d gotten her figure back after having a child, which seems really sad. How would you feel about competing in a swimsuit?

Sure why not! I’d compete in my bathing suit. It looked fun, athough I am still surprised that there was not any sand in the food!

Have you eaten and/or cooked with a lot of conch? What’s your fave way to enjoy it?

I am not really familiar with working or cooking with conch. The only time that I have had conch was in conch chowder, so I can’t say I have a favorite way to enjoy it. I am open to suggestions or thoughts from readers!

Speaking of conch, have you snorkeled/fished for it? Or have you snorkeled for any other reason?

Never fished or snorkeled for conch, but I am a huge fan of swimming and snorkeling. I love it underwater; it’s another world and very peaceful.

For the EC dishes, I just loved Blais going outside the island cuisine (and back to his native island!). Thoughts?

Richard just wanted to cook something fun and close to home. It was smart making the sweet potato “noodles.”  I bet if he incorporated just a touch of “the island” on his plate he would have won.

Gail is Canadian? This explains so much, tho’ I’ve not heard her say ”

There's nothing funny about Tiffany going home early. Rats!


Yes, she’s from Canada. I guess not a lot of people know that “aboot” her.

Tiffany under-seasons and over-sweetens her dish. What do you think went wrong here? I mean, she’s cooking with seafood. It’s tough to under-salt — or is it?

Well, she had a tough day on the beach. Let’s put it this way…you are on a beach unfamiliar to everything, you need to light your own fire, and there’s a bunch of other factors, also. Some people can adapt to their surroundings and step up, but maybe she just got frazzled. I’m not completely sure. Her idea was spot-on, but it sounded like the weather changed and her soup chilled faster than she wanted it to. She knows how to cook seafood, but it’s tough when you’re out of your element.

I am stymied by Mike’s success. His dish was so obvious! Discuss, and, also, what do we have to look forward to in these last couple of eps? What should viewers anticipate?

Mike definitely did a lot of research during his break from the finals. He’s determined to take it all.  His dish was smart and looked great! You never know what’s going to happen in these last couple episodes. When I was up there during my finale, so close to the end, I truly thought that I was going into the last challenge. I thought it was going to be between Angelo and me . . . but Kevin snuck right in there and came out winning. I think it’s going to be an interesting victory for someone this season. I am looking forward to the surprises and hope for a well-deserved win for someone.

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