Team Fire was on, well, fire on Wednesday’s Top Chef. Asked to cook a first course for a Meals on Wheels benefit and guest judge Ming Tsai based on one of four elements–fire, water, air and earth–the remaining chefs divided into teams and got cooking. After some initial squabbling over the menu, Team Fire (Dale, Lisa and Stephanie) came together and won the challenge, impressing diners with spicy grilled shrimp, bacon and a pickled chili salad. And while they obviously went for heat, the real heat (read: drama) this week happened after Zoi–from Team Earth– was sent home. Her elimination set off a torrent of swearing, crying, chair-tossing and general hurt feelings by everyone from Jennifer (her girlfriend) to Spike (her at-risk teammate). Interestingly, Zoi was the only one who seemed to weather the storm–ha!–with grace.
And her early exit hasn’t slowed down Zoi at all. Back in San Francisco, the chef has given us her exclusive recipe for cucumber and almond gazpacho. Practice making the dish, then check back later for a Q&A with the ousted chef. Zoi’s Cucumber and Almond Gazpacho8 English Cucumbers — diced 1 Bunch of parsley — chopped 1 Bunch of mint — chopped 1 Bunch of dill — chopped 2 Bunch of green onions — chopped 1 Red onion — julienned 1 Cup of extra virgin olive oil Cup of champagne vinegar 1 Tsp of salt 1 Tsp of pepper 32 oz. of yogurt 2 Cups of almonds 4 Coups of ice
1. Combine all ingredients in a 12 qt container except yogurt, almonds and ice. Marinate over night. 2. Add yogurt, almonds and ice, and blend, adjust seasoning.
Talk about the recipe you’ve shared. It seems like a fun twist on gazpacho.Original gazpacho is white and it’s made with almonds. People always think of gazpacho as being red tomato-based, and it’s not. So, I took that and then put a Greek twist on it, making it kind of like a tzatziki because you’re taking cucumber and yogurt. It’s super simple. And it’s so deliciously refreshing and reflective of my style of food–that you take really good ingredients and you don’t fondle them that much.
There’s been lots of talk this season about the fact that no woman has won Top Chef yet. Was this on your mind during the show?Yes, the best person will win. And, let’s be realistic, you don’t want a white guy winning every season. Or a white woman winning every season. So, yes, this year everyone was aware of the fact that .. . a woman hadn’t won yet and it was basically time for a woman to bring it. It was definitely discussed. We joked around about a lot of stuff. In the first days in the kitchen, we’re all making fun of Dale because we’re like, ‘Dude, you’re totally not going to win because you’re Asian. An Asian dude won last year!’
After you were eliminated, a lot of contestants seemed to take it hard–and there was a lot of drama in the kitchen. But you remained calm. How do you explain your attitude?Life goes on, it’s not the end of the world. But … everybody was very, very emotional that day. As far as last night, I definitely don’t and didn’t agree with the judges’ decision. I feel like personally–and might say you’re being a little crybaby about it – but I feel like I, for whatever reason, was thrown curveball after curveball on that show.
You were also in a unique position having your girlfriend Jennifer on the show. What was it like competing with–and against–her?Obviously, we both felt very lucky to have each other there. When we found out we were both getting on the show, we were both ecstatic. Although we were competing against each other, you know she’s not going to be behind the scenes talking s— about you. And at the same time, it was incredibly distracting having her there for me.
Has the show changed your relationship?It has changed our relationship, definitely. Because the whole time you’re having to defend yourself whether you win or lose, and so when you go home from that you realize that you do have a very specific point of view. So she and I have both realized where we need to be professionally . . . Jen is one of my favorite in the world. She’s an amazing persona and an amazing chef — and that’s not ever going to change. Chuck Hodes/Bravo