Photo: Barbara Nitke / Bravo
As the first season of Top Chef All-Stars revs up, Slashfood is taking the time to talk with each cheftestant who is asked to pack their knives and go. In an effort to avoid spoilers, we've put our exit interview with the latest exiled cheftestant after the jump -- click through to read it.
Most of us can probably agree that veal loin and French toast don't really belong on the same plate, but Chicago-based chef Dale Levitski gave the combo a whirl during last night's episode. Not surprisingly, he was sent packing. Levitski's team challenge was to emulate the over-the-top style of David Burke's Townhouse restaurant, and in an attempt to stand out Levitski concocted a dish of roasted veal loin with peanuts, popcorn, French toast, corn and thyme caramel. While the judges gave him points for technique, they couldn't get past the presence of veal in what was essentially a breakfast dish. Levitski, who was the Season 3 runner-up, admits the dish had flaws, but insists it was the best concept of the bunch.
What does it feel like to have to re-live your elimination on television?
DL: The weird thing is that I was never eliminated in Season 3. We had a live finale, so I had never been through what it means to be eliminated. My sous-chef at Sprout [Levistski's Chicago restaurant] is Sara Nguyen, and she was eliminated halfway through Season 3, so she's been my rock. Five or six million people watched the show last night and I've never been eliminated. It's kind of embarrassing.
How do you feel about the dish that sent you home?
DL: It was a concept dish that I had to make for another restaurant -- it wasn't something that I would normally do. Our challenge was to cook in another chef's style, and that style was so not me. I went for it. His restaurant [Burke's Townhouse] is a circus and he makes it work for him. I think the rest of our team was very conservative. I was the only person on our team to really try to embrace the style. I went in with a "go big or go home" type of attitude, and -- I went home.
Was it a fair challenge to ask you to cook in another chef's style?
DL: Yes and no. I think it was less of a challenge and more of an experiment. If any challenge was going to send me home, this is the one that I'm most proud to go out on. Because it proves that I have my own style and I cannot copy someone else's style. Basically if you slam my style together with his, it doesn't work.
We have to know: Why in the world did you choose veal for a breakfast-themed dish?
DL: I didn't. The original dish I wanted to go for was pork tenderloin. I was going for a breakfast kind of thing, because [Burke] did some appetizers that were playing with the idea of breakfast. So I wanted pork, but when we were at Whole Foods at midnight, they didn't have pork. At all. Nothing. The only thing I could fit into the concept of my dish was veal. There was nothing else available. If you look at the girls on my team, they all went with fish or vegetables because the store had nothing. I said 'Screw, it, I'm going to go for it, I'll pull the veal loin off.' I was definitely thrown under the bus for that choice, but it was a last-ditch effort. It would have made much more sense with pork as a sweet-savory breakfast dish. With veal it made no sense, and I understand that.
So you're not bitter about getting stuck with veal?
DL: Not at all. In every challenge, everything you do is last minute. The entire name of the game at Top Chef is 'how good are you at your worst?' And think I actually did a really good job. I came up with a concept for the restaurant better than anyone else on my team. I executed my technique perfectly. But I didn't compose the dish as well as I could have, and that was my demise.