Top Chef 5: Conference Call with Jill Snyder
On last night's episode of Top Chef 5, cheftestant Jill Snyder made an Asian-inspired hot dog and an ostrich egg quiche, but the judges found that her actual food didn't match up to her high concepts, and she was sent home.

We spoke with the chef today to get her take on the competition, the judges, and whether or not she'll ever attempt to cook with an ostrich egg again.

Like many of the viewers, Jill says she was a little surprised that it was her, not Ariane, who was sent home last night. Besides Padma Lakshmi spitting out Ariane's dessert, Jill pointed out that this is a cooking competition, and the dessert didn't really include cooking skill. Jill says that despite the “dog food” and “glue” comments made about her dish, her plates came back with the food eaten, so she feels it must have been a little more palatable than that. She also noted that her quiche contained cheese, asparagus and mushrooms, ingredients that commonly go together, so she doesn't buy the idea that the flavors were off.

Good points, and I asked Jill if she thought she would have had a better chance at staying had she been able to articulate this kind of defense in the judging room, since part of the judges' comments centered on her inability to outline her point of view. Jill's answering was a laughing and emphatic yes. It appears she had one of those classic and frustrating instances of thinking of all the right points only after the confrontation is over.

It turns out that making an entrée was actually not Jill's first choice. She would have preferred to be on the dessert team, but there were apparently too many chefs trying to get on that course. She moved to entrees, thinking the complexity of that might help undo some of the bad impression made by her hot dog dim sum in the Quickfire.

This was surprising to hear, considering the way that most Top Chef chefs have avoided desserts on previous seasons. It was also surprising to me, as I thought I'd heard Ariane commenting during the show that she wasn't very familiar with desserts. I asked Jill how Ariane wound up on the dessert team if – as it appeared – there was a battle to get there and she didn't seem too comfortable with that course. Jill seemed to think that was just part of the rushed flurry of competition.

If she could do it over again, she would either try a dessert or make a dish like lobster crab cakes that harkens to her current city, Baltimore. Despite the bad luck she had with them in the competition, she hasn't sworn off ostrich eggs and would like to try to cook with them again in the future.

She also explained some of her thinking with her Quickfire dish. She notes that she was a little unsure as to whether or not making a homemade sausage would fit the bill for a hot dog challenge. She knows how to make sausage, but thought the judges would be critical if she made something that didn't have the finely ground texture of an actual hot dog. She also thought that her dish was more in line with the concept of a “gourmet” hot dog, thinking that a hot dog or sausage on a bun slathered with toppings is not a gourmet presentation.

As to the behind the scenes in the competition, she thinks that Stefan and Fabio have the self-confidence to go far, and some other chefs' lack of confidence could be their undoing. She found the judges intimidating, but notes that's to be expected when you are in front of people who are famous for being critical.

Jill said she has been warned by former Top Chef contestants like Richard Blais to avoid reading the blogs about the show, but figures you can't take things too seriously, and so has been looking at the coverage a bit. She probably wouldn't do a reality show again, she said, but, possibly thinking of that meandering defense, she wouldn't mind being in front of the cameras again if it were a scripted show.

She hadn't seem to yet venture out to see how her loss is being received, but thinks overall, her time on Top Chef will be good for the food scene in Baltimore, and hopes it's help the town gain some additional exposure for its food scene.



- Leslie Seaton, BuddyTV Staff Columnist

(Image courtesy of Bravo)