Zagat: Would you do Top Chef again?
Sarah Grueneberg: I would do Top Chef again because it was an experience that I grew from and I think it’s something that put me outside my comfort zone and allowed me to figure out what I was really capable of. It was hard and stressful but I would do it again because overall you meet great chefs and great friends. It’s really like an abusive relationship, you just keep going back and you don’t really know why.
Z: How much time did competing on Top Chef take away from your kitchen?
SG: It took 2 ½ months. Not all at once. I also took time off for research and to study some recipes. Our season was longer because we had the traveling aspect. I think other seasons it was like three or four weeks. But ours was like seven or eight.
Z: What’s been your favorite part of this weekend?
SG: Aspen is a great setting. And it’s great being with people from the industry and it’s been great meeting fellow Top Chef participants from past seasons. People like Jen Carroll, Eli Kirshtein, Kelly Liken and I are really close. As is Mike Isabella. He really helped me.
Z: Your mentor, Tony Mantuano, seems like an especially great mentor to women like you and Missy Robbins.
SG: You know, at the end of the day, what female chefs bring to the table is a great sense of organization and I think Tony likes that. He’s really done the most for me than any other chef.
Z: In general, do you think that the kitchen is a boy’s club?
SG: Not really. It is to some extent but not for me. I run a restaurant with mostly men in it. The thing about female chefs is we can get down with the best of them.
Z: What’s next for you?
SG: I’m looking to go to Venice for a month or so, and learn to work with the local ingredients there. Hopefully down the road I will do my own thing but nothing right now.
Z: Is there a downside to your travel?
SG: I just flew to Venice and the chicken thing I had on the plane might have been one of the worst things I’ve ever eaten. I don’t know why I ate it. And the roll was stale. How do they expect people to eat this stuff? You are paying so much for an airplane ticket and what they feed you tastes like it was made in a factory.
Z: Is there an ordering strategy that people should employ during air travel?
SG: That's the hard part because if I say just order vegetarian, then you’re getting the pasta. And I just can’t handle the plane pasta. Just grab something and carry it on.
Z: What do you like to carry onto a plane?
SG: Frontera tortas at O’ Hare. I get the rajas and eggs torta. It’s so delicious, with a green tomatillo salsa, and the bartender there knows us because we always have tequila. It’s Tony’s tradition to have tequila when we travel.