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Top Chef exit interview, episode 13: second runner-up

This season, we’re chatting with each week’s eliminated chef after they get the boot (or, rather, after their boot-getting episode airs—this stuff was recorded months ago). For the finale, of course, there were three chefs who were eliminated.We already posted a chat to this season’s winner, Carl Heinrich. Below, a Q&A with the finale’s second runner-up, Jonathan Korecki.

(Image: Courtesy Top Chef Canada)

Did you think you’d make it this far?

No, no. Are you kidding me? It was hard enough just trying to get out of my own head. I think everybody had the same problem: often just over-thinking a challenge and not really understanding what we’re being asked to do.

There were definitely some confusing challenges, like that fashion one.

We’re still a little bit iffy about what it is they actually wanted.

In the finale, you looked totally shocked when they told you that Xavier, Trista and David were getting a shot back in. What was going through your head?

The big thing for the three of us that were there, we thought it was going to be a free-for-all cook-off for six people, with the top three plates going to the finale. It was kind of ridiculous. We were a little strung out to be honest.

Now, I have to ask: when you guys were judging the first challenge, did you choose Trista because you thought she’d be the easiest competitor or because her food was the best?

For me, it was entirely based on the food. I mean, we had to have a unanimous decision in order to have our vote counted. On that day, she deserved to go on.

Shereen Arazm and Mark McEwan both thought your selections were based on strategy.

Well, that’s good TV then. [laughs]. It’s bizarre, judging. It’s the first time we got to hear the judges’ honest opinions of everything and see the nice side to them. I mean, Shereen, she’s a sweetheart, no matter how they played her off to be.

Let’s talk about your big meal. Was it hard to go Asian, given the local and seasonal ingredients you were working with?

Oh, for sure. I don’t know if I really slept at all! My menu wasn’t ready to go until I knew what products I’d have in the morning. I decided to use as much local produce as I could from the garden—I grew up literally five minutes down the road from the resort, so I know that food. The only downfall this season about shopping at McEwan’s was the lack of Chinatown ingredients. During that final meal, I think I used six or eight different types of chillis! I had to ask for them, and leave explicit instructions for the colour, the shape, the size. But that’s my passion. Capsaicin, for me, is I think the most interesting ingredient.

What was it like cooking for Vikram Vij?

He’s a really really fantastic guy, and I actually got to spend a good amount of time with him up here in Ottawa for a celebrity chef event this year. All of the celebrity chefs came back into my restaurant and sat down and ate. And Vikram was on the other side of the pass just yelling to my guys, “Hey! You guys in the shit? I can come back and make curry! I’m good at it!” They lost it.

How did you decide to go family style for your panang curry?

Trust me. Every single day of my life since then I’ve thought about whether I could have presented it differently. And I came to the realization that I can let them taste what a panang curry with a braised short rib would be like, but something that I think people forget, it’s not just eating the food, but the experience itself. So I wanted to really push them to share it, and talk about what happens when you share it.

It seemed like Vij was really on your side for that one, but Mark McEwan, not so much.

It’s awesome! If he wasn’t there, maybe things would have been judged a lot differently, but it was great to see those two powerhouses of cuisine butt heads about their opinions.

Your dessert seemed a little incongruous with your Asian menu. Why did you decide to go that way?

They probably edited that part out! I wanted to make my take on a lassi and a gulab jamun, and that’s how I explained it to them: the ice cream is made with yogurt, and the doughnut, instead of being soaked in simple syrup, is covered in regular sugar. Same idea, same preparation, and it ate the same if you put it side by side.

Really? It didn’t come through that way at all!

Oh, the magic of television.

What was it like to watch yourself on TV?

It was weird, man. From what I’ve heard from friends and family, they’re very happy. They didn’t play me off as being as big of a goofball as I thought they would!

 

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