Wednesday, November 7, 2012
Getting to know the 3 Dallas chefs on Top Chef: Seattle Wednesday night
Tune in Wednesday at 9 p.m.
Although the 10th season of Top Chef takes place clear across the country, it still manages to contain more than a dash of Texas flavor.
Three contestants on Top Chef: Seattle, which premieres Wednesday night on Bravo, are Dallas residents. But that’s among the few things they have in common: One is a transplanted Okie and family man, another is a relative newbie to the culinary world, and the third has an extensive résumé and reputation for drama.
Or as judge Tom Colicchio described him in the premiere, “He’s a bit of a hothead and not always getting along with others, so I’m watching him.” They're talking about John Tesar.
Get to know them better below.
Auditioning for the show wasn’t Valentine’s idea, he said in a recent phone interview.
“I was getting home from work one day and my wife said, ‘Hey, they’re having auditions for Top Chef in Denver,’” recalls Valentine, the pastry chef at the newly opened FT33. “I was like, ‘Cool.’ Then she said she bought us plane tickets, so I had no choice at that point.”
Originally from Oklahoma City, Valentine, 32, discovered his love of food by reading cookbooks in high school. His culinary career has included stints at Stephan Pyles’ namesake Dallas restaurant as a line cook and sous chef, and now at FT33 with Matt McCallister.
“For me, I’m kind of living my dream,” he says. “I can be there 16 to 18 hours a day, and it doesn’t feel like work.”
But competing on Top Chef was another story. It might not have felt like work exactly, but it also wasn’t just another day in the kitchen.
“It’s funny – when you’re sitting on the couch watching the show, you’re going, ‘Why did they do this and that?’ You have all the answers on the couch. But when you’re actually there, it’s a whole other ballgame. You have no idea what’s coming.”
At least he had a familiar face to cook alongside him; he and fellow Dallas contestant Danyele McPherson worked at Stephan Pyles at the same time.
“It was kind of comforting that I wasn’t in it all by myself at that point,” he says.
Valentine, who has three young daughters, has no big plans for a watching party on Wednesday; it’s back to reality after reality TV.
“I’m sure my wife will be recording it, but I’ll be here at the restaurant working,” he says. “There’s no rest for the wicked, as my grandmother used to say.”
When she was 14, McPherson announced to her family that she was going to be a vegetarian.
“My mom was like, ‘Oh, great, I have no idea what to cook for you,’” recalls McPherson, who grew up in North Carolina. “My mom makes only red meat and pork. So I started cooking for myself a lot, from those chintzy Betty Crocker cookbooks – 100 favorite recipes – that you could get at the grocery store.”
One of those favorite recipes called for pesto. Her mom didn’t know what it was, “and you couldn’t go to Google back then,” she points out, so McPherson ended up buying something called “pesto oil” at the store.
“Thinking back, I don’t even know what that was,” says McPherson, 31. Her love of cooking has taken her to her current position as chef de cuisine at the Grape in Dallas.
McPherson, who is no longer a vegetarian, says she decided to go to culinary school after realizing that a regular office job wasn’t her thing. After college, “I was working in kitchens part-time, and that was the best part of my day,” she says. “I loved the people and the environment, so I eventually found a way to make that part of my day my whole day.”
Was the Top Chef experience everything she expected?
“It was a lot more stressful than I thought it would be,” she says. “I always try to plan everything out and be really, really prepared for everything. But if they did that on the show – ‘Here we go, all the prep is done and you have extra people to help’ – it wouldn’t make a fun show. People want to watch us run around and be crazy. But it’s not normal kitchen life.”
“I did my best to be me, and to cook my pants off every day.” That’s how Tesar sums up his experience on the show – and if both are true, prepare to be entertained. Tesar, whose storied career includes stints as the executive chef of The Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek and opening chef at The Cedars Social, is known for his talent in the kitchen and his tell-it-like-it-is style.
In other words, “I do have a personality that lends itself to television,” he says. But it doesn’t always lend itself to perfect harmony with the other contestants, which was revealed in a preview for the show.
Still, Tesar says the experience was spectacular. “And I have no animosity against any of my competitors at all,” he adds. “I have respect for all of them – regardless of what they may say behind my back.”
Tesar, who plans to open the seafood-focused Spoon Bar and Kitchen in Dallas this week, knows that he has much more experience and fame than most of the contestants on the show. Some might say he’s overqualified. But he wanted to do it “because it’s the best competition cooking scenario on television. Yeah, there’s Top Chef Masters, but it’s more exciting to be around young chefs with all of their energy and wanting to change the world rather than with 10 old men running around deciding who’s the most famous and talented.”
And it seems to have paid off well for him.
“I really went through a lot of life-changing moments on Top Chef, and I’m not just saying that,” he adds. “You learn who you are. It was really a soul-searching experience for me at my age.”
Speaking of age, the show revealed to him “that I’m finally getting old,” he says with a laugh. “There were days that I actually felt 55, and that doesn’t happen very often.”
Top Chef: Seattle
9 p.m. Wednesdays, Bravo. 1 hour.
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- 10 reasons why Dallas ruled the small screen in 2012
- Top Chef: Seattle is a battle between awful and abysmal