Last night on Top Chef 5, both Eugene Villiatora and Melissa Harrison were sent home in a double elimination. New judge Toby Young joined the panel, and sending home two cheftestants reflected the new take-no-prisoners tone he seems to be striking.
Today, we talked with both Melissa and Eugene to get their take on the episode, this new judge, and their feelings about the show possibly being “rigged.”
In general it appears that hearing the real-time negative feedback from the diners as well as Toby Young was a pretty tough pill to swallow. Eugene did comment that he had initially thought the other chefs would use the chance to criticize their competitors to a more strategic end, but it appears they did feel like the criticism came from the diners’ actual reactions as opposed to any kind of game play.
Both Melissa and Eugene seem to think that Toby’s main contribution to Top Chef 5 is drama, with Melissa saying he was “hired to be harsh.” She hadn’t heard of him prior to the show, so couldn’t really form an opinion about his qualifications.
Eugene had some faint praise for him, saying the movie about his book (How to Lose Friends and Alienate People) was “all right” and joking that Toby’s efforts during judging to keep Eugene in the competition did endear him to the chef a little. Overall, they both still seemed somewhat stung by the very critical comments, and do not appear to be big fans of this new judge.
Melissa also still seemed to be dealing with the harsh criticism from Tom Colicchio that she was suffering from a lack of imagination. She says that her creativity is something that she’s known for, so for the judges – especially Tom, whose opinion holds a lot of weight for her – to not see this in her seemed very disheartening. When asked for some examples of the creativity she has to offer, she didn’t give specifics, but did say she likes to always focus on “doing something different.”
They were both somewhat happy with their portrayal on the show. Melissa did ruefully joke that she would have liked her portrayal better had she won, but otherwise had no issues. Eugene laughed that he was glad the editors didn’t make him look like an “a**hole” saying that role seems to be filled by another cheftestant. He was also glad to be on the show to demonstrate how well a chef who got his education on the job – rather than in culinary school – can do. He thinks the highly corporate world of the food biz is too focused on degrees and so was glad to provide an example of how successful you can be if you “put your head down and bust you’re a**.”
Despite those positive elements, the two did seem to have some lingering bitterness towards the show, with Eugene calling it “rigged.” Eugene said he didn’t want to say any names, but then noted specifically that since Padma had spit out someone’s food (one assumes he means Ariane Duarte’s), it seemed like that would be a much worse dish than anything they had served up.
Melissa agreed, saying that spitting out food is the “biggest criticism” a chef can receive and it seems like a greater offense. She seemed to be agreeing with Eugene that Ariane should have been sent home for that. I had forgotten at the time that it had appeared that Tom spit out Melissa’s spicy habenero shrimp in the “Today Show” episode, so unfortunately I wasn’t able to ask her to clarify what had actually happened if that wasn’t the case.
As to their final dishes, they both still feel like there was merit to them, despite the criticism. Eugene clarified that daikon is something that is served warm in Asian cooking, and that if rinsed well, it actually “has no flavor” and so can be more adaptable than maybe some were expecting.
Melissa said the challenge for her was that she was pleased with her dish before sending it out, so it would have been hard for her to make any adjustments to it before getting the feedback. Eugene chimed in that Melissa was in a tough position; since he had gotten flak from the judges for trying to salvage his rice, had she made more of an effort to “save” her dish, who knows, he wondered, what kind of criticism she would have received?
As to their future plans after Top Chef 5, Melissa is going to be sous chef at a new Asian place in Boulder called Happy Noodle House. She says the restaurant management is more “family-esque” than corporate and is happily anticipating the opening at the beginning of February.
Eugene recently developed a menu for a casino restaurant, and interviewed for a spot as head chef at a new establishment at a high-end resort. He couldn’t give any details, but folks in Las Vegas should keep an eye out for where this chef lands next.
– Leslie Seaton, BuddyTV Staff Columnist
(Images courtesy of Bravo)