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A time-traveling challenge on Wednesday’s Top Chef Seattle required the chefs to re-create an item on the menu of Canlis, one of Seattle’s oldest and most revered restaurants. The hitch: The items all appeared on the restaurant’s first menu, from 1950, a half-century before such terms as “foodie,” “sous vide” and “molecular gastronomy” would become a familiar part of cuisine culture. The results were mixed, offering the perennially frazzled and trailing Tyler Wiard a chance to shine with a dungeness crab salad and model-turned-chef Kristen Kish a surprising win for her perfectly executed mushrooms and onion rings.
But the double elimination brought bad news for Carla Pellegrino, the Brazil-born, Las Vegas-based chef whose booming voice never failed to cut through all the clatter and whose grilled squab were either underdone, overdone or completely inedible, depending on who you asked, and Chrissy Camba, the “spunky Filipino,” according to her Bravo bio, who runs the restaurant offshoot of Chicago’s Pastoral wine and cheese shop. The Hollywood Reporter chatted with both of them the morning after.
The Hollywood Reporter: How did you think you came off on the show?
Carla Pellegrino: When I decided to go, I knew it was a risk. More than anybody else I know my personality. It could come across really strong. People would love me or hate me. There’s nothing in between. I do worry about my reputation, because I have a great reputation as a chef. For someone without TV [experience], I do very well for what I do.
THR: You definitely brought a new energy. I like the brazen way you said you want to have a nice ass and be a James Beard winner, too.
Pellegrino: Those came out as quotes and people liked it, started to tweet it. I don’t think people realize when we talk to the camera that we’re being interviewed. They kept coming back to me about looks, so, “OK. I like to work out and have a nice ass.” I wasn’t trying to make it a quote or a statement, I was just trying to answer their questions about looks and working out. Usually I am funny no matter what I do, because I am too foreigner for my own good. I have this heavy accent.
THR: A common complaint among the other chefs was that you talked too loudly and too often.
Pellegrino: That’s just my way. I talk through the whole service in my kitchen. I’m very bossy, and I’m used to being the queen of my space. I never cooked for anybody. I started my career as a chef. There I’m working with other chefs, and it was very hard for me. I am very loud. That’s just natural for me. But I don’t spend a minute of my day trying to harm anybody. I consider myself a pretty good person. But I know it can be tough to be around me in the kitchen.
THR: Are you married?
Pellegrino: I am divorced.
THR: Maybe the show will somehow introduce you to your next romance.
Pellegrino: I am not shopping for anything. It’s been two years now. I’ve been married three times — my whole life, basically. Different husband but always married. This is the first time I’ve been single. I’m trying to get to a point in my career where I can feel secure enough to focus on my personal life. I do have little things here and there, of course, but I do not have the time required to devote to a real relationship right now.
THR: Do you like living in Las Vegas?
Pellegrino: Vegas loves me, and I love Vegas back. I know how hard it can be to love me, and Vegas loved me at first sight. The press, the critics, everybody became big fans. I think I’m so grateful for that because as you see on TV, it’s not easy to love me.
The Hollywood Reporter: How are you?
Chrissy Camba: Pretty good. Lots of stuff happening right now.
THR: Like what?
Camba: I’m trying to save myself. Cook, do interviews, Twitter, all this other social media crap.
THR: Did you ever think you’d be on a reality show?
Camba: No! Not ever! I mean, sometimes you hope. And maybe they’d be like, “Cuttin’ Up With Chrissy.” But I’m not that interesting and not that good looking. It would never get to pilot stage.
THR: Who convinced you to do Top Chef?
Camba: A bunch of friends told me to try out for the show.
THR: Were there a lot of hoops to jump through?
Camba: Not really. I had to send an audition tape in, and I didn’t think I was going to get picked. I was a hot mess in that tape. My boyfriend taped it, and he really doesn’t bring high-energy. So he was like, “What are you making?” I’m like, “Kimchi.”
THR: So about last night’s challenge.
Camba: You mean my nightmare?
THR: Describe your nightmare.
Camba: I picked the salad. I thought it would be a challenge, because they made a note that it hadn’t been on the Canlis menu since the restaurant’s inception. I looked at the ingredients and thought, “I can do this!” But apparently I couldn’t!
THR: How specific were they in telling you how to re-create it?
Camba: They were kinda vague, kinda specific. I looked at the items in the dish and just had questions about the dressing. So I asked the Canlis brother and he said, “It’s a thick dressing.” That stuck in my head, and I made a thick, Caesar salad-ish dressing. Turns out the dressing is not supposed to be thick at all! It’s light and lemony.
THR: Do you feel were you led astray at all by the brother?
Camba: Yes! And I don’t know why that happened.
THR: Are you happy at all with what you did accomplish? You made it to third round of competition.
Camba: Not really, because I had gone on the show to win. And then to get kicked off for a salad that’s the golden child of the restaurant is annoying.
THR: How intense are those judges’ table sessions?
Camba: They look so angry. I had only been in the bottom three once, but it’s very intense, and you think you’re going home, and I’ve never seen a frown so large on any person than was on Emeril [Legasse]. It touched his toes it was so large.
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