All season on Top Chef 5, watching Jeff McInnis has been a chance to see how one’s will or ego can sometimes get in the way of the one’s own innate talent. This isn’t using “ego” in the usual sense of the word, i.e., conceit or arrogance. More the Eastern take on the concept: the idea we have about ourselves and how the world should be that sometimes prevents us from seeing how the world actually is.
In Jeff’s case, it seemed like his fixation on presenting a complex dish that would showcase his broad range of skills and ideas sometimes meant the underlying quality of his flavors was lost to the judges in the noise. In the episode last night, that battle was finally lost according to those judges, and he was sent packing.
Jeff spoke today about his time on the show and what he’s doing next.
Jeff is still clearly bummed about his exit, saying he’s a better chef than this represented and he had expected to make it to the final. He seems very surprised that Fabio wasn’t the one sent home, noting that the judges had very specific execution issues with Fabio (the overcooking of the venison, the overdressed salad), whereas his critique seemed vague. He noted it was hard to take away any improvements when the most pointed comment seemed to be that he had a “watered-down version of a ceviche.”
Regardless of what went down between the two of them as contestants, Jeff and Fabio are still friends after the show. Fabio was a good guy to bunk with in the Top Chef 5 house, saying he wasn’t a “slob.” He also shared that Fabio cuts his own hair, clearly a man of many talents.
They’ve stayed friends after the show. Both are working on cookbooks, and Jeff said Fabio’s helped him with his.
The cookbook Jeff has been working on is called Natural Course. While his location in Miami precludes the possibility of going entirely organic, he cooks with organic products and the book is focused on “clean, good food.” He says it’s divided into chapters of “Farm, Ocean, Garden” and a “Final Chapter” that has desserts and cocktails.
I asked him about his penchant for using a savory sorbet as part of the meal, an element that seemed to go over well when he used it in the competition. He said the dining room in his current restaurant at the Ritz-Carleton in South Beach is outdoors on the beach. So when it’s a hot summer day, incorporating the cool element of a sorbet is refreshing to his diners. He also likes making concoctions that transform as they melt, noting a sorbet that melts into a sort of vinaigrette on a salad. He uses liquid nitrogen for this, so doesn’t need the sugar, salt or alcohol usually used to keep sorbets smooth.
Speaking of Miami, he said he so far hasn’t heard any flack about not winning the challenge for his hometown. He said being on the show has seemed to bring positive attention so far to his restaurant. He notes that he never got any of Toby Young’s little bon mot criticisms, and thinks that could be tough to deal with if you have customers coming in talking about your “cat food” entrees.
He didn’t find Toby as abrasive as some of the other chefs did, but he did still like Gail Simmons better. He found Padma Lakshmi to have a good palate and to be intelligent. In addition to Fabio, he’s also rooting for Hosea Rosenberg to regain his focus and pull ahead in the competition. He said it was fun to compete against the other chefs, but by that point in the competition, the schedule and uncertainty meant you kind of just had to be ready to “hunt a unicorn and put it on a grill.”
He would consider doing television again in the future, but for now, he’s focusing on his current job and his book. He might want to open his own place someday, but right now there are a lot of new spots in Miami, and he’s not sure this is the right economic climate in which to try a new venture.
Jeff’s cookbook Natural Course will be out this summer, so if you can’t make it to Miami, you can pick up the book and try out his flavors yourself.
– Leslie Seaton, BuddyTV Staff Columnist
(Image courtesy of Bravo)