Jorel Pierce on redemption and his time on Top Chef Masters
Last year, on Top Chef Seattle, Jorel Pierce, chef de cuisine at Euclid Hall, was the first contestant booted by judge Tom Colicchio, who had dubious issues with Pierce's chicken butchery skills. And that could have signaled the end of Pierce's presence on the national screen. But it didn't. On Top Chef Masters, which debuts in LA on Wednesday, July 24, Pierce is back in the national limelight, this time as the sous chef of Jennifer Jasinski, the executive chef-owner of Rioja, Euclid Hall and Bistro Vendome -- and one of just thirteen chefs battling it out for supremacy on Top Chef Masters; if she wins -- with the help of Pierce -- she'll be awarded $100,000, which she'll donate to Work Options for Women, a local nonprofit.
Yesterday, I spoke with Pierce about his time on Top Chef Masters, his second chance at redemption, the most memorable dining experience he had in Los Angeles and the differences between Top Chef and Top Chef Masters.
You were ejected from Top Chef before you really had a chance to cook, but if the teaser trailer on Top Chef Masters is any indication, you cruised through the first round. Redemption? Yeah, there's a little bit of that. I'm ready to be comfortable and do my thing. On Top Chef, it was all about the nerves, but I'm not nervous now. Failing the first time around taught me pretty quickly what not to do next time. This time around, I didn't let the failure come into my head at all. I've written it off; it doesn't concern me.
Before filming for Top Chef Masters began, what did you do to prepare? I bought a bunch of different molecular stuff - but never used it or practiced with it. I just did what I've always done -- cook good food.
What did you take away from Top Chef that may give you an edge in this battle? You know what? I love failing sometimes, because it teaches such good lessons. Getting eliminated from Top Chef taught me to save face and be proud of myself. The way I internalized that failure -- it made me a feel a lot more comfortable this time around; I don't have anything to be afraid of.
Did you feel you had any competitive advantages over the other sous chefs? I wanted to, but it was quickly apparent from the get-go that these guys aren't just sous chefs -- they're some of the best chefs out there, period, and I'd say that it was a pretty fair playing field.
How do you think you'll be portrayed on the show? Tall and goofy. I hope the camera captures the passion. It's so weird, because passion is one of those things that's not so much an emotion as it is a trait. It can manifest itself so many ways, and I never know how my passion is going to be received.
When host Curtis Stone announced that there were be a battle between the sous chefs to determine who would be the first to exit the kitchen, Jennifer warned you that you'd "better kill it." What was the pressure like to perform? I was there with my girl, and we've worked together for eight years. It's not the first time she's told me that. I've felt this pressure before -- and then some. And, hey, I'm the world's best runner-up. I'm really good at last place.
What did you think about your competition? I made lifelong friends with everyone on the cast. We all got pretty tight. I didn't dislike one person.
How is Top Chef different from Top Chef Masters? The Masters is so much cooler, because the competing chefs that are already successful -- they're not in this for the money, and that significantly changes the climate of the competition. There's zero attempt at sabotage and a lot more respect for one another. It's a unique situation, getting to watch these chefs and see what's made them great. Watching Douglas Keane, the former chef of Cyrus, was so cool -- I've been to his restaurant and it was one of he best meals of my life, so watching him cook was just amazing. For a guy like me, watching the master chefs is like move through the concept of a dish, then to production and then plating; it's like eating at their restaurants but watching and learning in the the process -- and there's a huge added benefit to that. Since being on the show, I put a 35-gallon liquid nitrogen tank in Euclid Hall -- it's the biggest one in Denver, and we use it cool down all of our meats so we don't have to rely on freezers. That's a trick I learned from being on the show and watching all these guys.
Your musings on the judges: Curtis seems like a good guy; he was fun, goofy and he's hard to figure out, which I love in a judge.
Can you tell me about a memorable experience you had during your time on Top Chef Masters? I went with five or six of the chefs to Ruen Pair, this incredible Thai restaurant that has the most fucking amazing food I've ever had -- things like pork organs and this insanely bizarre green papaya salad with raw blue crab that showed up all wild and twitchy. I also loved hopping on the bus and heading out to play on the par 3 golf courses, right in the middle of concrete lock-down. There was something very cool about taking my shoes off and having my toes in the grass.
What was most difficult for you? I missed my crew at home and not being with my wife, but there really weren't a lot of unhappy moments out there.
Why do you think Jen should win? She's a rock star and she deserves it; she's got everything it takes.
Overall, was the experience what you thought it would be? The experience was fantastic -- I expected it to be great and it was. It was good to get out of my kitchen and learn how I stack up compared to these other guys; it was a barometer of how I'm doing within my own kitchen.
Any last words? People should be proud of Denver. Check us out -- were doing some great things on a national scale.
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