Gail wasn’t around for last night Paula Deen/southern cooking extravaganza, so we gave the booted cheftestant a chance to explain what exactly went down. Check it out after the jump, but SPOILER ALERT! If you haven’t yet seen the episode, do not click ahead! As for everyone else, here we go!
Top Chef fans, we give you… Dale! (As told to Archana Ram)
When I walked into last night’s episode, I had an uneasy feeling. Sometimes you can feel like you’re in a flow and that things are going to work out the best. But there was something that didn’t feel right. My mantra this entire season has been — not to be the cliché Asian but — to flow like water, like Bruce Lee. I read a lot of his books coming into this season to try to center myself. I feel like a lot of that really helped me. My first time on the show, I was an emotional roller coaster. It was an up and down of self-loathing, deprivation, and drink as much as you can.
I literally went to therapy, sometime after season four. I had some issues unresolved from my childhood. There’s a part of me that wants to succeed so much and I don’t know if it’s that Asian overachieving syndrome, but I just couldn’t shake the fact of losing. It bothered me to no end. Primarily, it was issues from growing up that I needed to deal with. That’s what spurred me in season four. A lot of those things that everyone saw then came to light. But there was an explanation for a lot of my behavior. It was probably the best thing I’ve ever done for myself, and I one hundred percent handled myself differently on All-Stars. In my first season, there was no one to talk to about it. I burned a lot of bridges. There weren’t people to say, “Hey this is why that happened.” This time around, I was really able to talk to people. I just wasn’t in a good place the first time I went on the show. It was embarrassing, especially my behavior on Top Chef: Masters. All-Stars was my opportunity to show the world that I’ve been able to change. Also, to be honest, I’m just competitive. I wanted to go on to show that I can be better than most of these dudes here.
Going into this season, I said, “Stay even,” because that’s how I feel when I’m the best at what I do. The calmer I can be, the better I know I can make decisions. But it was really a struggle to try and stay even going into the next challenge from the night before. You try to come off such a high of winning $30,000 and you’re on cloud nine. I felt like that fed into a little bit of my anxiety and feeling that things weren’t going to go well. For the Quickfire, I love carpetbag steaks. My idea — an oyster wrapped around beef — was the opposite of a carpetbag, which is a filet stuffed with oysters topped with hollandaise. I wanted to do an oyster wrapped around a sheet of egg yolk, then deep-fried and served with sauce. But it was under-seasoned. I ate it and it was weak. It’s funny because when you look back at it, you can see where you made a mistake. Hindsight is 20/20 obviously. You look at that thing and you can say, “That’s what sent me back.” I should’ve charred the filet.
What I thought was weird was that Mike confessed that he saw the oyster dish in Blais’ book and said he took it. I thought that was bizarre. Why would you even confess to that? But Blais didn’t create that dish. That dish has been out. Go on Ideas in Food and hit it up. That’s where that dish came from. It’s a cheeky play on that. Blais might’ve been writing it down and had a concept for it, but that dish has been done before. But for Mike to say that, that was like, “Dude why would you say that? Just say you got it from somewhere else!” But “chef code”? Really? Come on. To me, it doesn’t exist. You can’t put a patent on food. Food has been done before, no matter what anybody says.
Angelo tried to tell me I was going to make it, but Angelo was all hype. He’s a hype machine. I knew I was f—ed from the beginning. I knew I was in the juice. That’s a kitchen term I use to mean that a lot of pressure is getting applied and I’m getting squeezed. I couldn’t recover from a couple of mistakes. But that’s what the show is. Sometimes it boils down to who makes the least mistakes.
I was not a fan of the previous contestants coming back, but I think that’s part of the challenge. This person, who you don’t trust and think doesn’t care, do you give them responsibilities? Are you going to fully execute the dish by yourself or trust someone else to help you with it? It’s hard, but I love Angelo. Obviously, how could you not? Stunning man. Absolutely an Adonis. And this is coming from a completely straight person. But, put yourself in Angelo’s position. Fifty-two straight challenges. Fifty-two! It sucks. Hard. I would’ve wanted a break, a mental timeout. I wouldn’t have wanted to come back and push for somebody else. I couldn’t choose my sous chef, but I liked his protein. I do like Tre, so I might’ve picked working with him because he pushes hard.
Overall, I mismanaged my time. I just put in the juice because I didn’t have a burner and I had a hot dish. At that point, I should’ve re-concepted the dish, and I didn’t. It was a nightmare form then on. In the dim sum challenge, I was in control. It was my element. That was what I do, and I’m not trying to brag, but you give me a wok, rice, onions and eggs, and I’ll make you something good. Put me in a Chinese kitchen and I know my way around. It’s what I do. Being put in flavor profiles and dishes out of my element kind of got in my head. I got spooked. Not being able to pick my protein really shook me. I felt like the last kid picked at the dodgeball game. I already felt like I was at disadvantage and I was so pissed off. I was never able to shake that.
I’m thinking about running that Elimination dish here [at Buddakan] on Thursday as an amuse bouche and flipping it completely. I would’ve done an sashimi of amberjack, taken that andouille sausage and turned it into an oil, crisped up the sausage like a crouton, turned that oil into a powder , [used] a little bit of that powder as an accent, and then the holy trinity as a garnish — diced onions, diced celery, diced peppers, pickled that and then a little blackening spice on the fish. I would’ve then seared the fish à la minute to seal that spice on. I wouldn’t necessarily go back and change my old, poorly judged dishes. Those dishes are like your drunk uncle who shows up at Christmas. He gets into a huge fight and causes drama. You don’t ever really want to see him, but you’re connected to him because he’s your blood. But if you never saw him again, that wouldn’t be too bad because you don’t know him too well. It’s the equivalent of that. I don’t know those dishes very well. I don’t need to see them again. And I’m OK with that. I should’ve waited to serve the dishes to the judges. I was pretty confident it was going to me to go. I know when the food isn’t great, and it wasn’t my best dish. You’re used to putting up good food or not serving it at all. And I served food that wasn’t great.
Looking back on the season, the fishing challenge was my favorite. It’s something my family does. I’ve been to Montauk with my family. Two, three years ago, we did the exact same thing — chartered a fishing boat, caught black bass, blue fish, and it was awesome.
Wylie was one of my favorite guest judges. He’s what we all want to be. He’s one of the reasons I started cooking. We don’t do the same food, but this guy is cool. I’m not knocking anybody else though because Sesame Street was a close second. To me, Sesame Street is probably the most famous, recognizable people that have ever been on the show. To get recognition from them was phenomenal. I love all the notoriety and the stuff that comes with the show, but I’m a chef. I want to cook. I want to own a restaurant. And I want to be a restaurateur. The rest is a way for me to get there faster. I’m not going to dog it but I want to be a chef and I want people to see my vision on the plate.
It’d be a tough decision to come back to Top Chef. As competitive as I am, it’s tough. I really am trying to start my family. I’m going to take that money and go get a ring and get engaged, and try to start building my family. I want to lay my roots down and start having kids and have that restaurant. If I had a restaurant, it’d be different because being on Top Chef is a lot of good publicity for the restaurant. One of the best things that happened out of this was hopefully that I was able to change people’s perceptions of who I am now because I was really not happy with who I was before. I wasn’t a happy person. Hopefully, I wasn’t as embarrassing and polarizing of a personality as I was the first time.
If I had to put my bets on a winner, I’m season four all the way. Hopefully it’s my boy Richie [Blais]. For me, I look at food and I’m pretty comfortable with everybody’s styles. If you give me a little while I can do Italian food, soul food, comfort food, all that. But it takes a lot of intellect and a great sense of humor to get what Richie does. Not to say it’s intellectual, like he’s smarter than everybody else and if you don’t like his food, you don’t get it. There’s a wit to his food that’s charming. I like Rich, even though I whooped his a– in basketball.
Photo: David Giesbrecht/Bravo