The season premiere of Bravo's Top Chef Masters will hit televisions on Wednesday, July 24, and among the contestants battling for $100,000 in prize money -- money that will benefit a charity of the winning chef's choice -- is Jennifer Jasinski, exec chef and owner of Rioja, Euclid Hall and Bistro Vendome.
I chatted with Jasinski yesterday, just before dinner service at Rioja, about choosing Jorel Pierce, her chef de cuisine at Euclid Hall, as her sous on the show, the highlights and lowlights of her time in the Top Chef kitchen and her thoughts on the judges.
How you were selected to compete on Top Chef Masters? They called me up and asked me if I wanted to be on they show, and I thought that it sounded really cool -- that it was where I belonged. And I loved the fact that I could bring a sous chef with me, and while Jorel had his thing with Top Chef, I really wanted him to come on with me. I took some time to talk to some other people to see what they thought, but I was really excited to go on the show from the get-go.
Did you feel you had any competitive advantages over the other chefs with whom you competed? There are thirteen awesome, killer chefs with great backgrounds, but I'm very confident in myself and my abilities. I don't know that I thought I had an edge over everyone else, simply because you don't know the challenges are going to be until the last possible second, but I'm fast, I can think on my feet, I've got solid skills and I don't question any of my techniques -- and I felt really good about all of those things going in.
How do you think you'll be portrayed on the show? No idea. Hopefully, awesome. All I can say is that I stayed true to myself.
When Top Chef Masters host Curtis Stone announced that there would be a battle between sous chefs that could either help you, or hurt you, you told Jorel that "he'd better crush it." It's still not clear if he actually "crushed it," but the teaser trailer insinuates that he wasn't eliminated. How did he perform during the duration of the show?? He was a great choice. I love Jorel so much -- he doesn't have to win or lose anything to earn my respect; he's worked for me for almost eight years and I think he's amazing. I don't need anyone else to tell me how he works. He has my full confidence.
What was the chef dynamic like? These are a bunch of awesome people with a lot of respect for one another. They're all competing on Top Chef Masters for a reason.
Was there any major drama? You gotta watch. There's always drama - we're restaurant people. In general, though, there was a lot of respect, but good drama always makes for good TV.
What didn't you realize about Top Chef Masters until you got into the competition? You don't know how anything works. It's really, really hard -- the competitions are difficult and real, and they really push you to see how you'll react and see how well you'll shine under pressure.
Your thoughts on the judges: It was great fun to cook for knowledgeable people who provided thoughtful commentary and did it right...they tasted our food thoroughly. Gail Simmons, especially, was always really spot-on on with her food analysis. Some of the guest judges will go down as my favorites, but I'm not allowed to say who they are.
What was the highlight of your time on Top Chef Masters? The whole thing is a package and it was all really awesome. It was great to get to know all the different chefs and just learn different styles, techniques and tricks from an amazingly awesome pool of talent; those made us all get better. And there's some really great equipment in the Top Chef kitchen that I got to play around with.
The lowlights? Getting two hours of sleep and then having to rally. You're stressed out -- the stress level is off the charts -- and the lack of sleep isn't fun.
Did you form any lasting friendships? Absolutely. People like Neal Fraser and his sous chef worked with me when I worked with Wolfgang Puck, so I knew some of the chefs going in, and it was great to see them again and rekindle old friendships.
Who do you think should win? Duh. I want me to win. I didn't go there not to win.
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If you do win Top Chef Masters, what will it mean to you, both personally and professionally? I get to give Work Options for Women a ton of cash. I've been working with them for ten years, and I love them, so that would mean a lot to me. And obviously the bragging rights would be really cool, too.