Photo: Food Network
Slashfood spoke with chef Tio about her underdog-inspired run to the final four, an undisclosed hindrance she carried with her throughout the season and which of her fellow chefs inspired her to place a new item on Julian's menu this fall.
You seemed really mellow over this season. Either you have an amazing poker face or you don't get stressed.
CT: I try not to get stressed, because it really doesn't help anything, it just hinders the process. I don't freak out, I'm just not that person. I can count on one hand how many times I've freaked out, ever. That's a week for some people.
You all went fishing, you cooked on a beach, you made cocktails -- all interesting things outside the kitchen. What was the most difficult for you?
CT: Probably the mad running around during the buffet challenge. That was just a physically and mentally exhausting challenge.
Do you consider yourself "in-shape?"
CT: I do. However, I was sick for the whole season. I had this horrible chest cold the whole season...it was really kind of sucky. So it was difficult to do what I do on a regular basis here at my restaurant, let alone go through that being sick.
You stated last night that you felt like the underdog -- was that throughout the competition or just as you reached the final four?
CT: More of the final four than before, but, it's just that my perception is that the focus is often on East and West Coast as far as the culinary talent. Often our little fly-by zone here in Kansas City doesn't get the recognition that it deserves, so certainly for that reason, I wanted to bring more attention to smaller markets. Because who knows what's out here in Kansas City...I wanted to bring it home for the rest of the underdogs out there. They cut out the rest of my quote -- Ming Tsai's been doing this for years and years; I said "Ming is Ming." Marco worked for Tom Colicchio. You come to little old me and I did everything on my own; I learned a lot from the chefs I worked with but they weren't these huge, notable names within the industry. From that standpoint alone, I was considered an underdog.
You've been receiving a number of accolades recently -- how didthey find you? Word of mouth?
CT: I didn't ask. They called me out of the blue, on a Friday night at 6:30.
Your final episode was "Battle Seductive." Can you talk a bit more about what you consider the seductive elements of food to be?
CT: Mine is seducing the palate with flavor. Ming was going for sensual texture, but I was just going for flavor.
Your best day was "Battle Transformation," when you won both challenges -- in the condiment challenge, you made a hot-sauce ricotta cheese. Had you made that before?
CT: Never. When I saw those ingredients, I already started to think what I was going to do with hot sauce. It was no secret that I don't like spicy things. Marco's just that guy who's going to give you your weakness.
You also seem to have a mastery of sweet things -- you don't seem afraid of it like some are. Is this accurate?
CT: Yes, I take what I do very seriously and I think as a chef you need to be well versed in everything. So when we had pastry challenges, I didn't make a joke of them.
Do you design the desserts at Julian?
CT: Oh yeah, I write the entire menu. I don't have a pastry chef.
One of the things I was fascinated about, was the way you cooked the fish off the side of the grill -- that it wasn't directly on the heat.
CT: It was so delicate and it didn't need much heat. The front of the griddle was pretty screaming hot, as far as not being an actual cooking surface. I just put it on there and cooked it unilaterally.
Going into the last episode, who did you see as the favorite?
CT: I'd have to assume that the public thinks Marco's the favorite. I think he and Bryan and I were never on the bottom.
What's good at Julian this fall?
CT: That's like asking a mom to name her favorite child.
Then something new and amazing.
CT: I have a crispy pork shoulder with sweet potato purée that was inspired by Maneet, in fact.