Top Chef Episode 12: Chef Ed Cotton on the Final Five

"Well, technically, Dan, it *is* local. The vending machines are just a few feet away."

Season 7 finalist Ed Cotton steps away from behind the burners at Plein Sud to lend his expert eye to this week’s episode of Top Chef All Stars

Hey, Ed! How much would it, well, suck to miss the final four after coming so far?

It‘s gotta stink! I was so nervous standing in front of Anthony Bourdain, knowing that one of us was going to pack our knives and go. I was determined to stay, and I didn’t want to go home after all of that hard work and reaching the finals. I beat out all the other chefs but two, but you want to be the last chef standing.

Padma’s in the house. Ruh-roh. What’s your experience been with surprises in Top Chef? Never good news?

There was always some sort of surprise, but it never included Padma coming into our house. It would have been nice to have her in the house, but no chance. Every day, we would all look at each other and wonder what kind of s*$# they were going to pull on us that day. You never know what they are going to do. It could look like a simple challenge, but then they throw something into the mix that makes you scratch your head.

This challenge also feels kinda gimmicky, especially that Dan Barber winds up being the judge. These ingredients are everything he’s not! Do you know Dan or have you dined at his restaurants?

"Yes, that's a nice book, Mike, but you really shouldn't have stolen that nice boy Richard's recipe last week."

It was great to see Dan Barber in this episode. I’m not sure that he was pumped to eat food off of the boat, but it is always good to see him. I love his approach to food and his philosophy on it. I have dined many times at Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Tarrytown, and what an experience it is! It is truly a magical place during the changing of the seasons, and I love walking around the property and garden. I like to go during my favorite months and get the tasting menu — the food is so fresh and flavorful. Even the cocktails are made with juices and herbs from the garden. They really do it right there! Actually, Dan even gave me and my dining companion a ride back to the city after eating dinner at Blue Hill one night. It was already late when we finished our dessert, and he offered to take me back to Manhattan. He’s a class act and a great chef.

Not knowing that Dan is the judge, what might you have made?

I’m not sure what I would have made. My first instinct would be to go for hot dogs or something processed (something that wouldn’t require too much cooking). I would try to manipulate the food as smartly as possible and transform it into something that doesn’t look like it came off of a snack bar. Mike’s soup thing made me cringe. I think it made him cringe, also.

What are you allowed to carry in your kit, by the by? Herbs? What else?

It is crazy what Richard has in his knife bag. You can have a certain amount of knives and special ingredients, but you have to be very selective of what you bring. I wracked my brain for days about what I was going to pack. I had everything I wanted spread all over my carpet at home — huge debate. (My girlfriend Diana didn’t like that too much!) I went with a lot of my spice blends that I bought from a good friend of mine, Lior Lev Sercarz, at his store named La Boîte à Epice in New York. His spice blends propelled my food to the next level. Thanks, buddy!

"Double, double, toil and trouble. Fire burn and cauldron bubble."

What is your heritage and which part of that would you most like to reflect in a dish? Do any dishes come to mind?

Well, my heritage is a bit all over the place. I’m a bit of everything — a mutt, if you will. Growin up, my grandfather loved eating corned beef and cabbage. I remember when I was a kid, we would always eat that on St. Patrick’s Day. My dad would make a big batch every year, and then my grandfather would come over and have dinner with us. With that said, I would do a version of corned beef and cabbage. The broth would be a rich beef consommé with lightly corned beef that was braised in that flavorful broth along with some stuffed cabbage and root vegetables. I did a version of this one year while I was working for Dainel Boulud in Las Vegas. It was a hit on St Patrick’s Day! This challenge would be right up my alley.

Which member of your family would you most want to be judging your food?

I would love to have seen my mother or my father! They both love food and cooking,  so flip a coin because it’s a tough one to choose.

FTW…it’s Antonia, and I am really SHOCKED. You? I really thought that, while it was close, Tiffany stuck the landing over everyone.

Wow, Antonia nailed it! Great job!  She has been a solid competitor this season and she knows how to cook, that’s for sure. Tiffany was determined not to go home this time. During my season, this is exactly when she went home. I was so happy to see her pull through again. The judges were right; it was a very tough decision. They all looked good. What a terrific episode this was!

I’m stunned that they changed the rules and let all five through. What do you think was going on here?

Again, with the answer above, all of the dishes were great. It must have been a long time at judges table. I am sure that someone was secretly pissed off that no one actually went home. I know I would only want four going to the finals, and not five. But, they all hit a home run with this challenge!

What lies ahead here in this final round? And, how would you feel about competing against Kevin one more time?

You really don’t know what to expect in the finals at all. Anything goes! All I know is that I wasn’t joking around and was on a mission to cook good food for the title of Top Chef. I would love to go up against Kevin again, anytime, anywhere. Kev’s a great guy and his food is quality. I’m not afraid or scared to compete against anyone. It is just food!