Virginia Sherwood/ Bravo
Top Chef's Ousted Cheftestant Chuy Valencia
From big hair to even bigger twists, Top Chef: Texas served up its first shocking elimination, sending fan and cheftestant favorite Chuy Valencia packing. We caught up with the fun-loving, fast-talking chef after his surprising departure.
Meg Swertlow: How do you feel about getting sent home so early?
Chuy Valencia: It was a bit of a bummer just because it was so early. But it was totally fair, I understood. I picked a tricky dish, so I understand completely.
Meg: What did you guys think about the Quickfire? It was a pretty crazy one but at the end you came out in the top 3.
Chuy: I was really freaking out when I opened that [survival] pack. There is a lot of stuff that I could see myself pigging out on but I’m not one of those guys who tries to take things apart and reinterpret them. I was thinking someone like Chris Jones has the advantage because at [his restaurant] Moto hey think about this stuff all the time. For me I was like crap what am I going to do to make this stuff taste good. But once you start seeing stuff like black eyed peas, rice or something – [you think] ‘these can be southern’ and think "what else can you throw in there’? Then I just kind of ad libbed and it sort of worked along the way."
Meg: You were on top in two team challenges, top of the last Quickfire, were you surprised to be in the bottom three at Judges Table?
Chuy: I guess. That’s the thing … you never know with Top Chef. It’s the one little decision you make or little mistake here and there that ultimately can just send you home. So no, I wasn’t so much surprised, I was just disappointed in myself. I should have focused a little more or picked something that consumed a little bit less time for the challenge so I could have done stuff better for the challenge.
Meg: The progressive dinner party clients were very picky and very “Texas”, what did you think of them?
Chuy: It’s a little bit repulsive. The husbands seemed alright. The women seemed uptight and a little bit nitpicky. I didn’t get it – none of them liked cilantro. One lady didn’t like raspberries, it was just strange. It kind of feels like the things kids don’t like about food. … It’s kind of insulting sometimes as a chef.
Meg: With one client loving gummy bears another who doesn’t want anything that may get stuck in her teeth, the clients had some weird eating habits. Is it a challenge when people have so many strange cooking restrictions?
Chuy: It’s kind of like cooking for a kid. … It’s definitely really hard. It’s hard enough with allergies and things that are legitimate but when people start adding in things they don’t like and they don’t want to try even if its something they might like if its just prepared differently, it’s frustrating
Meg: The other cheftestants seemed to love you, what was it about you that people gravitated towards?
Chuy: I guess I’m just the one that likes drinking the most and there was a lot of beer in the house! I think we were all really funny together. The guy who I thought was the funniest was Ty-lor – he was just hysterical to me … And Edward was really funny too … both [Chris Jones and Chris Crary] are really funny. I just think it’s a combination of [all of us]. We just turned into a big play pen in the end.
Meg: How has the Last Chance Kitchen experience been? Chuy: It’s a big twist. Just because you back up and you start thinking you are going to head back. This is something totally new to the show, so just when you think it’s over and you get this note and it makes you nervous and you think, "Oh great what now?" And you kind of come to a sense where you are all done, and you think: "Now I can relax, I’m gonna keep my guard down," and then all the sudden its back to that feeling of going 100% again.
Meg: How did it feel getting that second chance again?
Chuy: It sort of stressed me about a bit. I started panicking a bit but I figured whatever, give it the best shot I could. We will see how it goes for me next week.
Meg: What's is your food guilty pleasure you are embarrassed to admit?
Chuy: As much as I am this humungous advocate for authentic Mexican and for the flavors of Mexico and all the history, I kind of have a guilty pleasure for really cheesy Mexican restaurants, [like] places that serve hard shelled tacos, not Taco Bell but chains like Chevys or something like that. Sometimes I get a big craving for it. [I like] Chipotle – although I’m not embarrassed to say I like. I think fundamentally Chipotle is a really good chain.
Meg: What’s your cooking motto?
Chuy: I like being all about seasons. I like keeping things simple … I like proper seasoning. My biggest thing is seasoning. My favorite ingredient is salt, I think it’s a very important thing.
Meg: Did you find that players were backstabbing and throwing people under the bus?
Chuy: The way I went out there was no one to blame. It was the first challenge where it was individual. It also doesn’t help with the embarrassment but ultimately that’s why I’m more comfortable with it because if it would have been someone else’s fault, like in the group challenge, I probably would have had more of a problem with it. I have to deal with it just myself, which is probably the better part. I got along with everyone, they were really cool. I can’t say anything bad about anyone.
Meg: So what is next for you?
Chuy: [I'm] looking for the next big thing. I’m open to a lot of ideas, expanding different restaurant concepts. Not necessarily just staying in Chicago but moving on and just going somewhere different and new and going all over the place … I have ideas, I just need money at this point.