This season, Top Chef‘s producers are promising a fiercer competition than ever–and Wednesday’s show made good with a double elimination. While chef Lauren Hope was ousted immediately, the remaining 16 competitors got to experience New York–venturing out into the city’s diverse neighborhoods and cooking up ethnic food in a head-to-head challenge. Unfortunately another chef had to leave. After failing to inspire the judges with his Chinese cuisine, culinary student Patrick Dunlea, 21, was sent packing. Calling from New York, the chef talked about being big man on campus (for a day!), why being a student caused some to doubt him–and answered our five burning Top Chef questions. –Brian Orloff
Can you describe the feeling of almost being cut right away. And what it was like to see your friend Lauren go? It’s such a surreal moment. You can barely hear anything, and then all of a sudden once Tom Colicchio said my name, I was just so happy to be staying. But I could just feel Lauren squeeze my hand and knew she was going home. It was a very emotional 10 seconds.
Looking back on the challenge, were you happy with what you presented? Part of me was thinking, “Okay, it’s Top Chef, I’ve got to try something creative.” They’re looking for inspiration from this borough, so I can’t just rely on what I know about Chinese cuisine. I’m going to go out there and use something that will inspire them. The last thing I wanted to do was take white rice and serve with it. I tried to take a chance, and unfortunately not every chance works out as you expect it to.
What did you think of your competitor Daniel’s food? I didn’t get to taste his food. I had seen his preparation. It looked good. He had a foam on the plate. I was like, “Oh gosh I’m going up against a foam and I’m totally not a foam type person.” It seemed like he had a pretty strong idea about what he was doing . . . but I too had seen a Chinese chicken salad like that before so I didn’t know what the judges reaction was going to be.
What was the reaction of your fellow culinary students when they found out you made it to Top Chef? I had to take a semester off for the show, so I wasn’t on campus actually until two days ago. I kind of showed up and everyone was all excited. It was the big news on campus. I only had to deal with it for two days. And knew that I had auditioned, so I came up with this rumor that I didn’t get it and I was really upset so I was taking time off for personal reasons.
Was being a culinary student an advantage or disadvantage for you on Top Chef? School is such a positive learning environment based around food, so that was a strength for me. I knew going into it a lot of are going to be having uncertainty about what to expect from me, and may feel that perhaps I need to go and get some more experience before I go back to taking on an endeavor like that.
Our Top Chef 5 Burning Questions Describe your Top Chef experience in one word. Quirky.
What is in your refrigerator right now? I just moved into my dorm room but right now my refrigerator is empty, but pretty soon it’s probably going to have a lot of white wine in it.
Name one food you cannot stand. Artificial non-dairy whipped topping because I have no idea what it is.
Pick your favorite fast food restaurant. I actually don’t eat fast food. The closest I get is I go out for Chinese buffet food sometimes.
Best thing about cooking in New York? It literally is a melting pot. You turn a corner and there’s an entirely different culture and it’s incredible to see how they all hold their own identities but can work with each other.
Tell us: Did Patrick deserve to go home? Who do you think will go far this season?
Michael Lavine /Bravo