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Chewing the fat with the ''Top Chef'' winner

Ilan Hall dishes on his relationship with Marcel, his plans for his $100K, and more

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Top Chef
Carin Baer

The giant blog machine stirred up a whirlwind in recent weeks as spoilers leaked that Spanish-influenced chef Ilan Hall would defeat his nemesis, molecular gastronomy enthusiast Marcel Vigneron, in Top Chef‘s final challenge. The frenzy made the 24-year-old Hall’s eventual victory somewhat anti-climactic (for the blog readers, anyway). Spoilers aside, the New York native is now $100,000 richer, and, for the moment, a lot busier. We spoke with him last night after the season finale.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I just saw you and Marcel, with whom you constantly butted heads on the show, do an interview on BravoTV.com. Are you guys friends now?

ILAN HALL: It was sort of a weird situation, both of us watching the [finale] together [before the interview]. It was a little uncomfortable, but I dunno. We’re fine with each other… we get along.

Do you feel like he’s been getting a lot more of the attention — particularly because of the hazing incident — even though you’re the winner?

Yeah. [But] I mean, it’s well deserved. He’s a very lively character, compelling to watch on television. I like watching him on television.

Did you think you guys were portrayed accurately?

Yeah, absolutely. You can show a limited amount of things from so much footage, but I think our personalities came through.

Have you been getting more hate from fans, or more love?

I’m getting a lot of love. I’m getting a lot of hate on the Internet, but to my face, everybody’s been really nice to me.

So you’re keeping up with things on the Internet, then?

I mean, people send me things. My friends send me things here and there. What can you do?

In the final challenge you got along really well with your team, while Marcel had problems with his. Do you think your leadership skills were underrated on the show?

No. I’m very young. I haven’t really been in a management position at all. I don’t have much experience managing people. I hope people want to do what I ask them because they respect me and they like what I’m about.

Would you hire anybody from the show to work for you?

Their personalities are too strong to be employees of mine. I’d love to cook with them at events, but I couldn’t tell anybody else on the show what to do. Everybody’s got their own clear vision. Otherwise, I’d hire almost everybody, but I think everyone needs to run their own place.

Okay — as they say on Top Chef, let’s talk about the food. Did you taste anything inedible on the show?

The only thing I tasted that I thought was really disgusting was the [chocolate candy with chicken livers] dish that I made for Chef [Eric] Ripert in the Quickfire. That was absolutely disgusting. Other than that, I tasted what other people did, but I tried to really stay focused on what I was doing.

What was your favorite dish that you made?

Honestly, I think it was the first elimination challenge [in which contestants made dishes using weird surprise ingredients]. My mystery box [had] the baked snails with American cheese and artichokes and bar peanuts. I thought it was really creative and probably the dish I was most happy with. It came absolutely out of nowhere…. [But] I wouldn’t make it again. I mean, it was weird.

You’ve mentioned in several interviews that you want to travel soon.

I’ve always lived in New York or outside of New York City, and I grew up traveling all of Western Europe. I think in May, I’m going to go to Spain with my parents. My ultimate goal is to make my way all the way over to the Far East in that one shot…. I went to Hong Kong, Japan, and China for a very short period of time last year, and I really want to go back and really sort of learn more about Asian food.

Back to your parents: Your father was the cook of the house when you were growing up.

We have different cooking styles. I’ve surpassed him in some ways, and in other ways I can’t touch a dish that he does. He’s been roasting chicken for 30 more years than I have.

And where did he learn to cook?

He taught himself, actually. Completely. My mother, they got married, and like four days into it, she didn’t make him anything, so he started getting hungry. He just started cooking.

Do you cook for your girlfriend?

Yeah, I do.

Does she do any cooking?

No, not really. She just eats a lot.

How did she feel about having a third of the restaurant that you, Mikey, and Sam created for that elimination challenge named after her?

She was very honored, and then upset with me when she found out that it failed.

Have you always been so skinny?

No. That’s a funny question. No, actually. Toward the end of elementary school and through junior high school, I was quite heavy.

And then what?

Then I started working in a kitchen.

Uh, you’d think that the opposite would have happened.

Well, when you’re in a kitchen, especially in New York, you’re working really long hours on your feet. My first real New York restaurant job was really intense. I lost 25 pounds in 2 months. Very quickly, just from sweating, running around 16 hours a day, 6 days a week. It’s pretty hectic, no matter how much food you eat or how much fat you’ve got in your diet. It really makes you lose. If anybody wants to lose weight, start working for a kitchen.

Speaking of the sweat, how do you deal with those glasses?

They fall off my nose. They edited all the parts of me pushing them back up.

Have you ever done anything risqué while on the line, Kitchen Confidential-style?

[Laughs] I’m not gonna tell you that…

Okay then, a few quick-fire questions for you: Favorite protein?

Pompano fish.

Favorite fruit?

I don’t know — these are hard! Honey crisp apples?

Vegetable?

Scallion.

Beer or wine drinker?

Both, but I drink wine more.

Describe your style of cooking in five words.

Simple. Salty. Clean. A little greasy. Is that five words?

Your game plan for the next five years: Go.

I want a restaurant. I’m not exactly sure where. I’m thinking the East Village area [of New York]. That’s where I live right now; that’s where I love. I don’t know, we’ll see. That’s where rent is still a little bit outrageous.

One last thing: Will you blow the prize money, or spread it out?

I’ll probably invest it. In pork belly!

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