Top Chef Lindsay: People Are Calling Me a Bully
February 29, 2012
With bold flavors, wild challenges and unending interpersonal drama, this season of Top Chef: Texas was the most high-octane season of Bravo's hit show to date. From Restaurant Wars to dealings with chef Beverly Kim, Lindsay Autry was no stranger to controversy. TheInsider.com caught up with Lindsay to discuss how she felt watching herself on TV, being a "bully" and getting kicked in the halibut. And tune into Bravo tonight for the finale of Top Chef: Texas!
The Insider: How did it feel to leave right before the finale?
Lindsay: For me, I was at a point where I was just so grateful to have gotten so far. I knew that it was really going to come down to nit-picky things, so I was actually okay. Obviously I wanted to go on and do one more, but to be able to say that I did every single competition except for one was enough for me.
The Insider: I feel like the women were really dominating this season. That seems very unusual for Top Chef.
Lindsay: I think that throughout the entire season, we stayed pretty even with the boys. You don’t see that a lot in Top Chef, and then to go into the finals as three women, that’s awesome, and I think that the women in this season were actually maybe some of the tougher competitors.
The Insider: What do you think went wrong with the halibut?
Lindsay: I think that Tom [Colicchio] had an issue that I used raw kale in my celery salad. Overall, I felt good about the dish. If I had to go back and do the challenge again, I probably would have done exactly what I did. In my own mind, conceptually, I really followed through with what the challenge was. I felt good about it, but even looking and seeing that there was even an anti-griddle and seeing what Paul [Qui] was doing, I felt like maybe I wasn’t risky enough. I could have done something that was really far out there that could have made me stand out a little more.
The Insider: In Restaurant Wars there was an issue where Beverly [Kim] cooked your dish and then you cooked it again -- do you feel like you needed to redeem yourself?
Lindsay: I did not think about that. I went to Whole Foods initially looking to get black cod, but they only had like twenty pounds, and it wasn’t enough. What they had a lot of was halibut, so that was all Whole Foods had for 150 people, so I took it.
The Insider: Have you been watching this season so far?
Lindsay: I started out watching it, and I kind of stopped for a little bit. It’s like a train wreck, because if you haven’t seen any of it, all you know is that you lived it. You have to watch it to know what everyone else did, because for me, I was always so focused and nervous about what I was doing that I never really paid attention to anyone else, especially in the beginning. There are so many people in the kitchen that you can’t watch what they’re all doing.
The Insider: How has it been to watch yourself?
Lindsay: For me it’s absolutely awful [laughs]. It’s always hard to watch yourself, I hate hearing my voice now, but in general I think that it did portray me for who I am. I am very focused and serious, but I don’t like that I kind of got grouped into all of the stuff that a lot of people on the internet are calling “bullying”’ because in no way do I feel that it was bullying at all. It’s smart editing to make people think that there was a little bit more than their actually was.
The Insider: How do you feel about the way you have been edited and what people are saying about you?
Lindsay: I’ve talked to a lot of the contestants about it, and we all get stuff online, messages on twitter that are calling us bullies and bossy, but we’re executive chefs. We’re in charge from anywhere between 20 and 100 employees, and we have to be strong. It’s not about being mean, but about being strong willed and determined and focused. I don’t agree that we were nasty or bad people by any means. What I think people don’t understand is that you watch the show and then you don’t see us again for another week, so it’s like why didn’t they have time to get over what just happened? For instance, the barbecue challenge took over 40 hours where we were awake and sweating and cooking all night, and 8 hours later we were doing Restaurant Wars. You haven’t really slept nor had time to relax and kind of recompose yourself. So I think people don’t understand how high of a stress level there is.
The Insider: Do you have regrets about anything that happened with Beverly?
Lindsay: I don’t have any regrets. I’ve talked to her on numerous occasions and I don’t feel like I ever personally attacked her. If you’ve ever watched Restaurant Wars, I feel like it was edited in a way that made it look like I was really upset with her. I pretty much lost my cool with everybody in the kitchen, not just her. I didn’t get upset at her personally, and we even talked about it -- I had put a lot of faith in them to cook my dish, and it’s a cooking competition, and they had put faith in me as well. I’m not even sure what it showed because I have not watched Restaurant Wars, but I had been in the dining room, and six tables weren’t even eating my dish because it was so overcooked, they said it didn’t taste good. In that moment, with all the stress that’s been going on I definitely lost my cool. If I have any regrets, it’s that I wish I wouldn’t have gotten that upset. I also know that if I didn’t get upset we probably would have lost. I kind of felt like I needed to go crazy, but I wish it had been somebody else so I didn’t get all the hate for it. It’s water under the bridge, let’s move forward. We won, but even in our minds it didn’t feel like we did because it was so stressful. I’ve talked to Beverly since, and we got along very well during the finale, and I think she’s a lovely person. I just think that with editing, the people watching it formed their own opinion.
The Insider: What would you say was the hardest challenge?
Lindsay: For me I think it was actually the Pee-wee Herman challenge. I hadn’t written a bike in forever and somehow I won that one, but for me it was very challenging. Every kitchen I got to it just felt like I was struggling that entire time.
The Insider: What would you say was your favorite challenge?
Lindsay: I think my favorite challenge was the one with Charlize Theron because that was the one right after Restaurant Wars, it was so positive that we were all able to just cook our own version of food, and we didn’t have to work as a team. We all did very well and had a great time.
The Insider: Do you think that the right people are in the finals?
Lindsay: Even with Last Chance Kitchen and all that other stuff, I think that it worked out the way it was supposed to. There’s a lot of stuff that you see on TV, and the way that they edit, but I really wish Ed [Lee] would have been there, but I understand. I think that Ed was a great chef.
The Insider: What do you think about Last Chance Kitchen?
Lindsay: I think that it’s a good idea. I understand because a lot of chefs went home early for mistakes that weren’t their fault, and I think that was true with Neyesha [Arrington]. She really fought her way back and overcame a lot of people. Of course when it got down to Ed, Paul and myself, and Grayson [Schmitz] had just been eliminated in the Pee-wee Herman challenge, and I knew in the back of my mind that there was no way this was a determining factor in the finale. There’s just no way that Pee-wee Herman will decide who moves on, but none of us knew that that was going on. So as soon as that was done and Grayson was eliminated, all of us kind of took a breath for the first time since starting the entire show and just it was over for a little while, and that’s when we found out. All of us were a little irritated at first because its like, “hold on a second, I’ve been riding a bicycle and cooking for 300 people out in the heat by myself,” and once someone told to pack your knives and go, I think that only makes you stronger. You no longer have the fear of being eliminated. I do think that of all the people to come back, I think it was awesome that Beverly got the chance, and I think that she came back as such a strong competitor and an even stronger chef. I was really proud of her for who she was when she came back.
The Insider: Who do you want to win?
Lindsay: I don’t know. I’m really on the fence. I love Sarah [Gruenberg], and I think that Sarah has worked really hard, and I think that she showed that in the most recent episode where she was eliminated. We had a break between Texas and Canada, and I think Paul and I both came back staying true to who we are and Sarah had come back and pulled out an anti-griddle, she was doing Asian influence, and I was just so proud of her for using this experience in Top Chef to take her out of her realm which is classic Italian cuisine. So I’m really proud of her for turning this experience into something very positive for her.
The Insider: What is your food guilty-pleasure?
Lindsay: I love anything pickled. Until Top Chef, I used to love a bowl of dirty chili with sour cream and jalapenos.
The Insider: What’s next for you?
Lindsay: I’m just trying to figure out the different opportunities that I’ve had come my way and just figure out what the next step is for me now. I definitely am looking to open my own restaurant, but that may be something that will take me another couple of years. I’m working on a lot of stuff; I’m working on a pop-up restaurant right now, so everybody should just stay tuned and see what happens.