Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012 | 2:32 p.m.
You could call tonight’s first episode of Season 10 of Bravo’s “Top Chef” a slaughterhouse for the contestants, including our beloved and sexy chef Carla Pellegrino.
We do know that she almost didn’t make it when her email invitation wound up in spam. However, just after the deadline, she discovered it, and producers OK’d her late arrival. She immediately flew to L.A. and wound up in a group of five chefs asked by new judge and chef Wolfgang Puck to make a simple omelet.
Three other teams of the total 21 cheftestants had first-episode challenges from Tom Colicchio, Emeril Lagasse and Hugh Acheson. Tom challenged the chefs to a full dinner prep in his L.A. kitchen, Hugh had them prepare a salad in Atlanta, and Emeril filmed them making soups in his Las Vegas kitchen.
Padma Lakshmi returns as host along with Gail Simmons as one of the other judges, while Tom will host Season 2 of “The Last Chance Kitchen” and vote on each week’s Tweet Battle at BravoTV.com.
We don’t know which chefs made the cruel cut to continue to Seattle for the 10-week series, and that includes Carla, whose lips are sealed because of the TV contract. Chefs who receive a jacket from the judges tonight move forward.
I did get Carla to admit: “It may have looked simple, but to make an omelet in 1 hour can become challenging. I couldn’t find a nonstick pan in his kitchen, so I had to use a regular pan. That could have been a trick! I’m not used to being under the clock and improvising, but I think it wound up as a nice omelet.”
Each week, the “Top Chef” Seattle kitchen kings and queens will be pared down until the winning chef takes the $125,000 first-place prize and earns a showcase at Aspen Food & Wine Classic and a photo feature in Food & Wine Magazine.
At 43, Carla is in the middle of the pack age-wise, with John Tesar from Dallas the oldest at 54 and Stephanie Cmar from Boston the youngest at 27. Other chefs came from New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Colorado, L.A. and Hawaii.
Ahead of tonight’s debut, I talked with Carla about the experience:
Robin Leach: First, what made you decide to enter “Top Chef”?
Carla Pellegrino: I was in the middle of a divorce and leaving Rao’s at Caesars Palace, so I had no idea where I would go. Without a restaurant, it seemed silly to do it, so I turned down the first invitation. Then this year, they emailed me again, but it ended up in spam. I found it months later just as the deadline to answer passed.
I sent back an email to apologize, saying I didn’t mean to be rude, but it went in my spam box. They called me, and I decided to do it because of my Italian restaurant Bratalian in Henderson. Bratalian is a mom and pop place; it is small, it is out of the way, it is not on the Strip, so I thought it would drive business to Bratalian. [I interviewed Carla before a Henderson Boys & Girls fundraiser dinner at Bratalian on Monday.]
R.L.: You obviously weren’t nervous about doing this show because you are a pretty feisty girl, but was there any fear?
C.P.: I was afraid of how my image would come out. I was worried because I know the way I am. I know I am loud. I know the way I manage my kitchen, and it is hard to be in a competition in a race environment because I am used to being the boss -- and I’m Brazilian!
This was the first time that the “Top Chef” season was filmed this way, the first time split into groups and put in the judges’ kitchen. I was assigned to Wolfgang Puck’s Cut in the Beverly Wilshire Hotel.
I was happy because I like what he does, and I admire him as a chef. I thought it was great to have him because I like the type of cuisine that he does. It is nice. I knew it would be fair. He keeps it clean and simple. That is what I try to do in my food, too, so I was very happy.
R.L.: Was everybody in your group given the surprise omelet task?
C.P.: Yes, I think it was such a simple task. It was funny because he gave us an hour to make an omelet -- such a simple task. Sometimes it gets tricky when somebody gives you something that is simple like that because that is usually when you catch most of the chefs. They try to be so creative that they lose track with the basic cuisine. There are a few points that can make an omelet right or wrong. It was actually challenging.
Some got very lost. I was lost that I couldn’t find anything -- that was my first challenge. The biggest, though, was the clock and improvising. I don’t like improvised food under a deadline. I didn’t complicate the omelet. I never complicate anything that I cook. I made it very simple. I used lots of vegetables, and I tried to have some kind of starch because that is just a rule to follow.
I had some salad, and I made some roasted potatoes. The only thing is, everybody was running at the same time, and I couldn’t find the right pan to make an omelet, so I ended up doing it in a regular pan. That was very challenging. I was running around and counting my time, but I ended up with what I thought to be a nice little omelet. There are so many details to what makes a good omelet; it is not as simple as it sounds.
R.L.: Was the experience tougher than you thought it was going to be? Did it put all your skills to the test? Did you wind up enjoying the experience?
C.P.: It was much tougher than what I thought, for sure. I think I should have done more homework, but I didn’t have the time. I had to prepare to leave my two restaurants without them being able to contact me for up to 10 weeks. It was much tougher than just cooking. I forgot that it is a game, and at the end of the day even if you have culinary skills, there is a strategy.
Top Chef Season 10
I think in the beginning it is tough to get used to it; I was scared, and I was surprised. I am very territorial, I am very bossy, and I am not used to having people telling me what to do. I think that was the hardest part. At some point, you start to get used to it. I think overall it was a good experience because I got to see something that I’ve never done. I got to get out of my world and out of my kitchen and see what people are doing out there.
R.L.: What did the “Top Chef” experience teach you?
C.P.: I was confused for a while, but what I got was a confirmation that I am on the right track. I am going to keep doing what I do because I think, even at the end of the day, it is important. I like what I do. I got out of “Top Chef” respecting new things like molecular cuisine and liquid nitrogen. It is not something I would do, but it is an art, it’s beautiful, and, at the same time, I am reassured that I am on the right track and doing something that people don’t care to do anymore, which is traditional food.
R.L.: We know that you have a fiery personality and are on fire in the kitchen; have you mellowed as a result of competing in “Top Chef”?
C.P.: I don’t think I will ever mellow! I am too old, I guess. I am an old wolf. I will lose my hair, but not my habits. It is too late to change me.
Carla, as you can see in this YouTube clip, joined the contestants to make a music video of all 21 of them dancing and applauding:
She summed up: “At the end of the shooting, all the chefs were reunited to make this music video as a promo shoot. It was really fun; we were banging the pots and pans. Very cool.”
Win or lose, we’ll have a report on Carla here at Vegas DeLuxe on Thursday. If she moves forward, we’ll continue to report her progress.
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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