Last night, Top Chef's Gregory Gourdet was told to 'pack his knives and go,' losing the competition to Mei Lin. Season 12 of the reality cooking show took place in Boston, but in the end, the top chefs competed for a trip to Mexico where the final battle to cooking glory took place. We caught up with Gourdet today to talk about his journey in the kitchen, life after Top Chef, and advice for young chefs who want to follow in his footsteps.
What was the first dish you ever learned to make?
The first dish I learned to make, I think it was eggs actually, just cooking at home when I was a kid with my sister, trying to make some breakfast back in Queens.
What is your favorite dish to make at home?
My favorite dish to make is simply a roasted chicken that is very flavorful over vegetables. So I take the chicken, take the backbone out and I lay it out—it's called spatchcocking—and I roast it over some sweet potatoes, some onion, some garlic—it's a one-pot meal, it's very simple, very comforting, and it's also very delicious and comforting.
Do you have any cooking scars?
I have tons of cooking scars, I've cut myself the first day I cooked on the line, I got 6 stitches here, I got a burn scare here when I was cooking on the line. As you get older you try to want to have more finesse but when you're younger and you're scrappy and maybe you're hungover as a young chef and a young cook you definitely cut and burn yourself a lot.
Do they [scars] remind you of your different experiences as a chef?
Oh yeah, definitely, I have scars from pretty much every restaurant I've ever worked at so its kind of funny to remember those days and kind of regret and kind of poke fun at them as well.
Who was more intimidating…Padma or Tom?
I think Tom was more intimidating that Padma. Padma is just so gorgeous and graceful and she has this motherly aspect about her—even though she is the one who ultimately sends you home, I think she was there for us early in the mornings when we did the quick fires and just her grace was calming. Tom feels like a dad as well, he just wants us to make straightforward food, but he's like the big daddy so I would definitely think Tom was a bit more intimidating.
You and Mei Lin seemed like good friends on the show even though you were competing against one another; was that TV magic or did you really form a bond?
No, Mei and I were both very competitive, we're both fierce competitors, we both really wanted the prize. In the beginning we all kind of kept our guard, kept our distance, we didn't really talk to each other, but as a few of the chefs went home we realized that we were pretty much in it together and there's nothing someone else could do or say that would kind of get in your way.
It's a very traumatic situation and it's very awkward. You do need someone to talk to, so a lot of friendships formed through that experience. You know, when you work with someone so closely and sometimes you're their biggest competitor, you guys see eye to eye on a lot of different things, so Mei and I actually do have a lot of things in common, we actually bonded throughout the experience very much so.
Do you have any regrets from your final Top Chef meal?
You know, I was definitely criticized throughout the season for playing it safe and not taking risks and for relying on the same flavors, so I really wanted to prove to the world that I was a dynamic chef and I was willing to take a risk and I am inspired by the locality of where I am. I don't want to go to Mexico and try to find a bunch of Asian ingredients. I really wanted to work with what was there and have that inspire me.
Looking back, that probably wasn't the safest thing to do but that's what I was feeling at the moment. I wanted to live in the present. I wanted be in Mexico and be cooking Mexican for the finale. Um, you know, not the smartest move because I made some things that I've never made before and they didn't all work out to my advantage, but at the end of the day I got to make molé which was really amazing, you know, the octopus dish was really thoughtful and I have a newfound respect for Mexican ingredients. So, for me it was a very important learning experience and um I have a great respect for Mexican cuisine after - throughout the whole experience.
What's next for you after Top Chef?
My life is actually really full—we are developing my restaurant concept into other concepts around the country, that's the major plan. But I am opening up a restaurant in Denver in 2016. I've never opened a restaurant as an executive chef, that's a major life goal of mine, seeing something from the ground up, a major project, and being full front in terms of the creativity and vision and work with an amazing team to execute major plan. I am looking forward to training a new staff and building something from the ground up that I know I am very much responsible for.
Will you take lessons from Top Chef with you as you start your own restaurant?
Oh definitely, Top Chef, I've learned to look in different places for inspiration, I learned you can never have too many ideas, so I'll take those lessons and apply them to any new challenges or projects that I work on.
[This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity]