Euclid Hall's Jorel Pierce on being booted from Top Chef Seattle
I keep threatening to break up with Top Chef, the Bravo reality show that pits "cheftestants" (Bravo's word, not mine) against one another in a string of often ridiculous challenges and theatrically contrived snippets that force the chefs to look into a camera and say really stupid shit -- things like "My restaurant is number one on Yelp." But considering that three chefs from Colorado -- Tyler Wiard (Elway's Cherry Creek), Eliza Gavin (221 South Oak, in Telluride) and Jorel Pierce (Euclid Hall) -- were appearing on this season's Top Chef Seattle, I felt compelled to watch and cheer for our homegrown talent.
The premiere, which aired on Wednesday night, showcased all three chefs, and while Wiard and Pierce made it through the first elimination process, meaning that they're actually going to Seattle (the first episode wasn't filmed there, but at various restaurants across America owned by the judges, including Tom Colicchio, Emeril Lagasse, Wolfgang Puck and Hugh Atkinson), Pierce, whose tasks were judged by a cranky Colicchio, was sent packing, even though his handlebar mustache made for must-watch TV.
Here's the short version of what transpired: Colicchio ordered Pierce to butcher a chicken, and then snapped that he didn't do it right. He then asked Pierce to make a beurre fondue, which Colicchio deemed too salty. At the end of the battles, Colicchio, whose group of chefs were tossed into the kitchen at Craft, his Los Angeles restaurant, sent two chefs packing. After Colicchio delivered the bad news to Pierce, the Euclid Hall chef politely thanked him and went on his way, but Pierce has plenty more to say about his short-lived Top Chef experience, including a few choice words for the judge who pitched a knife in his bird.
What would you like people to know about your food, since we only got to see a snippet of how you cook on Top Chef?
There are some major differences between what I do at Euclid and what I was asked to do on the show. I like to do things the way that I think are appropriate -- and I cut chickens all the time at the restaurant, and I know what I'm doing. My food is unique, creative and innovative, and I do things with originality in mind. People expect that of me at the restaurant, and at the end of the day, it's all about what people perceive. Everyone loves the food here, and we're doing a good job. I cook from the heart and I cook to inspire thought and appreciation.
Top Chef judge Tom Colicchio scolded you for butchering the chicken incorrectly. What went wrong there? Was it miscommunication?
There was definitely a nervous aspect going on there. I'm confident at the restaurant, and I'm comfortable being the center of the attention, but this setting was completely different. A lot of it was nerves -- not because it was Tom -- just nervous to be out of my comfort zone, and I probably glazed over his instructions, not on purpose, but because I was nervous. But to be honest, his instructions weren't very explicit. Still, I knew at that point that I definitely had a strike against me, and I knew that wasn't good, but I've never been that competitive, which is one reason why I resisted applying to be on Top Chef for quite a while.
Your mustache is currently trending -- people are talking and writing about it -- what's up with that?
If my on-camera presence, or my resume, didn't set me apart, I knew my mustache would. I decided if they were going to typecast at all, I may as well separate myself from the pack. It was kind of wild watching it on TV, though, but I'm goofy like that.
After this experience, would you ever do reality TV again?
The results didn't really attack my confidence; I just needed the nerves to go by the wayside, and I think that would have happened. And, yes, I'd definitely do it again.
After being exposed to reality TV, what are the biggest differences between that environment and being in your own kitchen at Euclid?
There are so many differences. On Top Chef, I was a guy vying for an opportunity on a national stage, but what I found is that all the things I love about cooking were missing and out of balance. Here, I'm in an environment where I have familiarity and passion, and I have a connection with my crew and my guests. That wasn't there in the Top Chef kitchen -- there was no camaraderie. At Euclid, I don't cook for just one person -- I cook to make a lot of people think about food differently, and I didn't have that opportunity on the show.
There was no doubt a lot of pressure, knowing that your fate was in Tom Colicchio's hands. How did that affect you?
While the pressure was intense and intimidating, I know now that I learned a lot about myself and why I do what I do, and it's an experience that's helped me to recenter my purpose in cooking and my goals and motives in the kitchen -- to be progressive and thoughtful and playful and to inspire people both on my staff and the people who walk in the doors expecting something different. For me, it's about the thought-provoking aspect of cooking, and it was kind of frustrating for me that I couldn't be thoughtful or playful with the tasks that Tom gave me -- I couldn't create. Instead, he asked me to do a routine thing -- cutting a chicken -- that I do my way, and he does his way. That said, I don't know who died and made him the fucking be-all and end-all of butchering chickens.
Once you knew you were a contestant on Top Chef, what was your strategy? Were you going on to play the game, so to speak, or cook your heart out?
I was going there to prove something; I was the young guy who would kick ass and win with my technique. I definitely went on to win, as anyone would, because it's a time-suck if you don't get something out of it. And then I fucked up.
Do you regret the experience?
No, and I know a lot more about how I'd approach it at this point. I feel like I understand why the others were successful, and why I wasn't. The nerves -- they killed me. Even on my worst days here, I'm fine, but there, it's such a shakedown.
The chef from Dallas -- John Tesar -- whom D Magazine deemed the most-hated chef in Dallas: What were your impressions of him?
I thought he was a dick. He's cocky, demeaning and rudely outspoken, which he embraces. He's not a bad cook, but I couldn't go to the bar with him and have a beer. I had to deal with him on a few car rides, and he always found an opportunity to be irritating.
Who's the best chef left?
I like Micah Fields. I thought he was a real nice guy. He has something special going on, and he's innovative and passionate.
Who do you want to win?
I want my boy Tyler to win. For sure. A win for Denver would be awesome.
I've had your food -- and I love it -- but Colicchio called your beurre fondue too salty, which ultimately got you eliminated. Was Colicchio's assessment wrong?
When I added the first round of seasoning, it was super-light. And I asked Tom what the purpose of the beurre fondue was -- for pasta or to finish vegetables -- and he waved me off, like, whatever. Had its purpose been to coat vegetables, it would have been perfect, but I guess he wanted me to make it for universal use, in which case, yeah, it was probably a little too salty. And maybe I just didn't ask the right questions. I was pretty beat down by the time that task came around.
Everyone goes on Top Chef presumably thinking they can win -- but going in, what did you think were your biggest strengths? Weaknesses?
I think my biggest strengths were humility, my grasp of classic techniques and my level of comfort with a wide variety of ingredients; there aren't a lot of ingredients that I haven't played with at least once or twice. And my weakness was the ability to take direction. I'm kind of own boss now, although I take chef Jen's advice all the time, because she's proven that her advice is valid. But I had no idea how Tom rolled, and the first day of any job is always the shittiest...and all I got was that first day.
What's your greatest disappointment?
Getting cut the first day was really hard. But I felt the same way that Tom did -- that I'm a good chef, but maybe just not good at this whole competitive thing. You can be a great cook, but not a good fit. I've done the same thing that Tom did to me to two dozen others. I get it.
When you were eliminated, you simply thanked Colicchio and walked off with your knives. What did you really want to say?
Thanks for the opportunity -- now go watch chicken butchery videos on YouTube videos and fuck yourself.
What happened once you were kicked off the show?
I went back to my hotel room, drank a couple of whiskeys, and kind of stomped around, verbally abusing myself, but I didn't break anything. At least I can go back to Euclid and cook and be back at home with my wife.
What's the feedback been like since your elimination?
It's been oddly positive. Everyone at Euclid still supports me, and I'm still proud of myself. You can't lose without trying to win. I can say that I tried, and I don't mind being just one of 21 chefs being cast on the show; I feel pretty good about that.
Who from Denver would you nominate to be on a future season of Top Chef?
I'd like to see chef Jen or Max MacKissock. They would both crush it, and as far as young guys go, I think Hunter Pritchett from Luca, or Blake Edmunds from the Squeaky Bean, would both do really well.
Any parting words?
To Denver, family and my crew -- I love you guys, and thanks for being so supportive. I love what I do, and I'll continue to do it. And to Tom Colicchio: We'll see each other again.
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