Photo: David Giesbrecht / Bravo
Slashfood's exclusive exit interviews with the latest Top Chef contestant to get the boot. In an effort to prevent spoilers, we've included the text after the jump.
Oh, my God, they killed Kenny! In last night's surprising elimination, the judges sent chef Kenny Gilbert packing. Who's going to defeat the arrogant but talented Angelo Sosa now? Gilbert, who hails from Ohio but serves as the executive chef of PGA Resort and Hotel in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, was the main contender (he was fond of referring to himself as "the beast"), but last night's restaurant wars were his undoing. After winning the Quick Fire challenge -- the now-infamous relay in which blindfolded members of a team try to complete a dish without knowing what happened before their turn) with a well-executed prawn pasta, the blue team, featuring Kenny, Kevin Sbraga, Kelly Liken and Amanda Baumgarten, looked like favorites to win Restaurant Wars. But despite the fact that Alex Reznik did no cooking for his team, the red team -- helmed by Sosa with help from Tiffany Derry and Ed Cotton -- got the win. Gilbert served up a beet salad that the judges – including former New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni – thought was packed with too many ingredients. In addition, his dessert, a goat cheese round served with strawberry-rhubarb relish, was called a "goat cheese monstrosity." He and Sbraga made a last-minute appeal for Reznik to get the boot, but in the end, Gilbert was told to pack his knives and go.
How's the day after? Is it brutal to watch your own elimination?
KG: The day after is a little rough. You've already gone through this once, and you have to go through it again. It's a little tough. But I'm keeping my sane stance on the whole experience, so it's not terrible.
Before you arrived, you were running your own catering company. Did you feel like you were going to stand out as a competitor?
KG: From day one, I wanted to appoint myself as a great competitor and show that I was skilled. Going into this challenge I had formed great relationships with just about everyone in the house, so to be part of that team for Restaurant Wars, I thought I was in a great position to do really well.
Reality show contestants often complain that they're turned into a character through selective editing. How did you feel about the edit you got?
KG: I think for last night's show, I wouldn't change a thing about the editing. They did a great job portraying exactly the circumstances that took place. And it's really now up to the viewers and the public to say, "You know what, how could [Alex] move on when he didn't prepare a dish?" That's going to have to be for the judges to explain and Bravo to explain. What it boils down to is that the other team did put out a really nice meal. Our meal, they didn't enjoy it as much but they respected the overall vision and execution of our service. But when it was all said and done [the other team] didn't follow the rules they way they were supposed to be following. It should have been a clear disqualification. But you also don't want to sit there and cry over spilled milk. The reality is that I'm a big boy and they didn't like my food so I went home.
One of your judges was former New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni. Did you feel his criticisms were valid? He seemed to be playing things up for the camera a bit.
KG: I don't know Frank Bruni -- they said his name and I didn't know him. I don't work in New York, so I can't say who he is as an individual, but all I know is that he took the opportunity to be a version of Simon Cowell, kind of replacing Toby [Young] from last year. And I think it's really sad because as chefs, we don't want to hear an analogy that's really trying to embarrass somebody. Just speak the facts. To me, I would have more respect for him if he had articulated what he felt was wrong with the dish. If he'd said, "your beets were undercooked" or "it wasn't well seasoned," or "the balance of the acidity in the dressing was off," but he didn't do that. I think Eric Ripert or Patrick O'Connell or Jose Andres would have. Just tell me what I should have done to bring it all together instead of making a blanket statement. He said, "It just didn't come together for me," but well, what was wrong with it? I think that he was just saying some things to get brought back for the next couple of years.
Like when Bruni said your salad was "beet salad done through the guise of hamburger helper?"
KG: Yes. It's absolutely ridiculous. Anyone who knows what Hamburger Helper is would know that doesn't make sense. I mean, my salad had no association with pasta or anything like that. It was a chorizo-citrus vinaigrette that I've served a billion times and it's been great. For him to make that kind of analogy is absolutely ridiculous.
So we know you think Alex should have gone home for not cooking or coming up with the idea for a dish, but how do you feel about Amanda staying? The judges said her meat was overcooked, and she only made one dish, whereas you made two.
KG: Well, I helped plate all the food, and we had a great service. I don't think she did a bad job with her dish at all. I don't think the meat was overcooked -- it was a nice medium-rare to medium. It's not like they ordered the steak rare. How do you identify something as overcooked when you didn't specify a temperature? We served it as we felt it was best made. It was really important for me to defend her because I thought she did a good job. I didn't want to be the guy who says we had a great service and then when we ended up on the bottom, slam my teammates. We all ate each other's food and we were shocked that we were in the bottom. We were floored. Angelo's team was literally still cooking 45 minutes after we finished our service. We were cleaned up, the girls had time for probably five cigarettes. I mean, we waited over an hour for them.
They've been setting you up since the beginning of the season as the main challenger to Angelo, and obviously a lot of people are surprised that you went home. Who do you anticipate taking your spot as a serious contender?
KG: My gut tells me that Ed, Angelo and Kevin are going to do really really well. Between Kelly and Tiffany, either one of them could continue. Tiffany does really soulful, simple food and I feel like she's sort of like Kevin Gillespie from last season, that very simple approach to food. She potentially could squeak it out.
What's next for you?
KG: I have a book that's coming out. I'm still looking for a publisher. It's called "A Chef's Journal: From Fire to Redemption." It's my memoirs, from growing up cooking with my mom to dealing with my wife's death and raising my daughter on my own to keeping thing all tied together in order to hone my craft as a chef.