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'Top Chef': Kenny Gilbert talks about how he lost — and what he gained

He was the biggest personality and arguably the most likable cook on “Top Chef.” But after Kenny Gilbert plated two dreadful dishes — an overly complicated beet salad and a fist-sized hunk of fried goat cheese — Kenny was sent home Wednesday night.

Countless followers of the show believe Kenny was undone not so much by his cooking but by a technicality. Alex Reznik, who was on the winning team in the episode’s so-called Restaurant Wars, didn’t cook anything (and bungled the lesser tasks given him). But because Alex’s squad was victorious, he was spared from possible elimination. Kenny’s team was on the bottom and, of its four members, his contributions were deemed by the judges to be the worst.

Many had predicted that Kenny would be around in the show’s finale alongside Angelo Sosa, but instead Kenny now will be focusing his attentions on his new job in Palm Beach, Fla., where he is the executive chef at the PGA National Resort & Spa  He's overseeing a high-end club, a steak house, a pub and a pool bar and restaurant.

A few hours after Kenny was eliminated from contention, he talked about his “Top Chef” experiences, his thoughts about the judging and his surprise over how many contestants claimed they had never cooked some of the most basic dishes. He says he wished he had sprinkled some gorgonzola over his beet salad or maybe baked a pie instead, but he says he left “Top Chef” with few regrets.

Do you think the judging that led to your ouster was fair?

I do not. I take full accountability and responsibility for my dishes. If they didn’t like it, they didn’t like it. But there are rules to the competition, and the rules stated that each competitor was required to compose and prepare a dish, which Alex did not. It was very clear throughout the segment--when we were going in the van to do the shopping. He didn’t even know what he was going to do when he walked into Restaurant Depot…. I mean, bring your best. If Alex cooked and prepared his dish 100%, and I am not taking anything away from that team, I would have had nothing to say…. I thought we did a great job. It just didn’t go my way.

We’ve seen people like Alex tell Amanda Baumgarten that her food is great when we know he doesn’t really believe that.

I always give an honest answer. It’s funny how Angelo and I are pegged as being against each other. We were tasting each other’s food all the time and giving each other feedback and compliments. That wasn’t really shown. Last week, when Kevin [Sbarga] was on the top for his braised chicken curry, Angelo gave him the fenugreek for that, and I actually tasted the curry right at the end of it. And Kevin thanked us for helping him out. I could have said, “All of this is great,” when it really wasn’t — kind of like what Alex did with Amanda. I would never do that. I would never sabotage somebody. My integrity and my character as a human being is more important than trying to win a competition.

When you watched the episodes, did it feel like the rivalries were played up more than they were in actuality?

[Officious public relations person interrupts: Kenny, I just want to remind you that we’re not allowed to talk about anything that wasn’t shown on the show. You can talk about things in general.]

I mean, we’re all rivals. There was a rivalry among all 17 chefs in the house. To restrict it to just one person — you want to chop everyone off every week. But you want to do it in a way like, Hey, this is my food. If you like my food and I win, great. If I go home, that’s fine too. We are competing against each other. That’s a fact. But the reality is we are competing against ourselves and competing against the judges. What can we put in front of the judges [that will make them say], “You know what? I can’t stop thinking about this food.”

If there was a dish you wish you could bring back and do over, what would it be?

I was always really happy with all of the food I put out. But I would probably have to say the Cold War challenge [in Episode 6], where my peers voted me for having the worst dish. The dish I wanted to do was a miso-honey glazed salmon with soba noodles and a passion fruit ponzu. But I changed and did this cold lamb dish — a deconstructed barbecued lamb. I was fine with the flavor profile of the dish, but in hindsight I would have gone with my first instinct. You have to realize that when the judges are eating, they are eating a lot of different foods. So they are looking to get that perfect bite. Whereas my cooking is more balanced — you enjoy the whole dish.

What you are describing is someone who is supposed to look at a painting and can only see and judge the individual brush strokes.

Absolutely. Angelo won some challenges because of that one bite of food — that explosion of flavors. Would you want that explosion for 10 or 12 bites? But we were judged on that one brush stroke, as opposed to the whole evolution of the painting.

Did you feel prepared to compete?

I’ve always been really good at taking ingredients and putting them together based on the history of the food and different cultures. So I guess I have been in training for years. There was never a challenge that I thought was difficult. Not one. Not one intimidated me. The crazy meat challenge? I’ve cooked pounds of rattlesnake in the course of my career.

Were you surprised that so many of the contestants claimed they had never done basic tasks like make a pie or grill a porterhouse steak?

I was totally shocked by that. And they’ve gone to culinary school. Angelo made a comment, “I’ve never made a pie before.” But you graduated the top of your class at the Culinary Institute of America. Are you telling me you didn’t go through pastry and baking? Yeah, you did. Maybe you didn’t make them all the time, but you have made a pie. It does shock me that there are so many contestants who are not expanding their careers beyond just savory.

What are some of the best things you’ll leave the show with?

I look at everyone as brothers and sisters that I am going to have a relationship with for the rest of my life. We’re part of a special fraternity now. Only so many people can actually understand what we went through.

— John Horn

Photo: Kenny Gilbert. Credit: Bravo.

Comments () | Archives (16)

Sorry to see Kenny go! He's a favorite of ours and coming out for this year's San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival. Can't wait to see him in November live and in person!!!

Kenny!!!! So sad to see you go. Dunno if I'm even interested in watching the rest of the competition. The Heart is gone from the show for me. Best to you and yours!

Kenny seemed like the best one. I just wished he'd stop saying Angelo's name, he's definitely threatened by him.

I voted, "No," in the above poll. I should have refrained. Neither answer is right for me. I don't know if he is the best chef on the show. If he had not been eliminated, we might have seen more great dishes from him that would have sealed a victory for him or the opposite. Should Kenny have gone home last night? NO. Absolutely not. According to the technicalities, Alex should have gone home. Amanda should have gone home before Kenny. Kelly should have as well. I thought it was going to come down to Amanda vs. Kelly. I really like Kenny as a character and the dishes he made sounded good. He is confident but he carries it well. I didn't dislike him like I did Jason on this season's Hell's Kitchen. I hope to see Kenny again on t.v. cooking again. Maybe a Top Chef Reunion season? That would be great.

He made 2 bad dishes,he whines he was a snitch and he still can,t stop thinking about Angelo!..Bye Bye,you big baby!

I was so shocked to see Kenny sent home. From watching this show each season, I have found that one can almost predict who is going and who stays for another week based upon their drama, physical appearance and sexual orientation. I would like to see this as purely a competition that showcases a chefs talents only. They were wrong in not sending Alex even though he was on the other team. Why do we have to leave the women on a little longer even though they are clearly outclassed in the talent department. For whatever it is worth, I find Angelo so irritating and lets hope he does not win this thing. I think the challenges are so silly. Why don't they find out who can produce the best consomme or demi-glace?

I am so happy the "Alpha Male" is gone. He was consistently in the middle of the pack. He was obsessed with Angelo and was filled with excuses. He was not a beast in the kitchen. If anything he was just a big whiner and I am thrilled not to have to listen to him about taking charge and leading. Good riddance.

Episode's still on the DVR. Thanks for the spoiler.

Kenny was robbed! He was one of the more honorable and pleasant people to watch on the show. I don't even want to watch the show anymore. Should have kept him, judges. Baaaaad elimination choice.

Kenny's elimination was the nail in the coffin. I'm done with Top Chef and its conjured up drama.

I liked Kenny. But he just refuses to own that he was making bad food. The dude was in the bottom three times? And the third time he's in the bottom he wouldn't even own up to that awful cheese dish, he was just trying to shift focus to Alex.

My mother used to say that it doesn't matter that everyone on the road is speeding, when the cop pulls YOU over you're the one whose getting the ticket. You can't say.... but everyone was speeding! Life doesn't work that way.

Kenny - The food your restaurant made was awful. If you had better food, it wouldn't matter that Alex didn't do anything. You deserved to go home for that menu. Stop looking for excuses. You're lucky you didn't go home on week two for that school lunch challenge.

That being said, I wish you the best. And you were by no means the worst chef that evening, just the worst executor. Best wishes.

I'd recommend everyone to stop tuning to Top Chef, I've watched all seasons, but this did it for me, I'm not watching again. The decision to send Kenny home showed how little respect the judges actually have for food and how much they care about the chef's personalities. I've been watching the first season of MasterChef US and it beats top chef easily in many ways, specially objectivity.

Kenny is one helluva bear! Easily the most handsome fella on the show. Sad to see him leave. Oh. And the food was great too. :-)

I come from a family of allot of restaurants and chefs world wide and i think Kenny showed the most import role as a chef he was a leader something Angelo or neither of them had

ha ha. see ya Kenny!

Wether Kenny's food was worth the elimination or not, I think it's horrible that the judges completely ignored a clear breach of stated rules.

EVERYONE was supposed to make at least 1 dish, and Alex DID NOT. Thats a breach of rules, and therefore should result in disqualification, especially since they disqualified plenty of people in past quickfire challenges for breaking rules that were far less clearly stated and fundamental.

I was sad to see him go, he was a nice guy, and ran that kitchen with respect and calmness.


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