Zagat: Top Chef Seattle is debuting very soon - what was filming in Seattle like?
It was great, we had a great summer Seattle, we were there at a great time of year. It was just so vastly different from last season which was in Texas. The weather alone made the show completely different - the food and ingredients were so so different. It was just great to be somewhere new, I think that's my favorite part about Top Chef is that every season we're in a different place which totally changes the feel and the vibe of the show.
Zagat: How would you gauge the competition this season?
It always gets more intense every season, the chefs get better, they're more interesting they have more experience, and this year is no exception. The chefs this season are really strong - they're from all over the country and they're just sort of this great group. It's funny every year when we first meet them it's dizzying to try and remember who they all are, and when you get to know them it's really through their food. I don't associate them with their personalities at all I just associate them really with what I ate from them and if that's any indication, it's going to be a really exciting season because the food was really good - different than we've had before.
Zagat: How was Wolfgang Puck as a judge?
He's incredible - he is pretty much the original gangster of food on television, cooking on television. He led an extraordinary life, moving here from Austria when he was very young, and he totally changed the way America eats I think. He totally changed the way America felt about fine dining certainly in California and his reach spread across the country. He was one of the first chefs to have really high level dining venues but also be accessible to people at grocery stores. And I think that he set that standard in both places. It was really exciting to hear his stories and his input on the chefs and his thoughts on their food. He's just so creative and so energetic. And he looks amazing, like the man doesn't age.
Zagat: What other projects are you working on - any new TV shows?
Not that I can talk about. The big thing that I'm thinking right about for the new year is this crazy Top Chef Cruise that I'm going on and Tom with about 15 or 20 former contestants which is going to be pretty great. It's just this wacky idea that we're all getting on this ship together. Some of my favorite contestants are going. It's a great kind of way to bring the show to life three-dimensionally for our fans - to have this really intimate experience for all of us.
Zagat: Too bad they're not filming it - that'd make a great reality show as well.
Ha I'm not signing on for that!
Zagat: What chefs/restaurants in NY are the most exciting to you right now?
There's a lot. It's been a great fall so far and there's so much going on in NYC. I traveled for so much of the spring and summer and even into the beginning of fall that I didn't get that much of a chance to do that much eating right now. There's a lot of great openings and smaller restaurants. I recently had a really great meal at Calliope, small unassuming restaurant. Battersby in Brooklyn - I ate there last week was so excited to eat there - I loved it. It's so creative and fun, for the tiny space that they're in they're producing really great food. I'm still excited for places that have been open for a little while also, places like Perla and Pok Pok and Il Buco Alimentari.
Zagat: What food trends from 2012 did you love/hate?
There's nothing that I dislike that hasn't already been said before. I think that I still love the trend that restaurants are getting more casual in their settings but more ambitious in the food they're cooking. I think interestingly the tasting menu is sort of coming back. For awhile you associated them with really fancy restaurants, and then for awhile people were less interested in them because of the economy, people wanted more comfort and less expense. Those fancy expense accounts from the earlier part of the decade sort of disappeared, and now I feel like there's a lot of interesting small places where all these cooks that have trained at great places have moved and are doing really comforting food but it's still really interesting and ambitious. It's very vegetable-focused, that really excites me - also sustainably for the earth as well as for ourselves and our health. There's been a lot of vegetable-based cooking in non-vegetarian restaurants which is really exciting.
Zagat: You've accomplished a lot already - what's left on your list?
I'd like to do a show where I get to sort of play myself, and sort of discover things that otherwise people don't get access to. I don't mean in an adventure food/outrageous kind of way, but I think there's so much great cooking going on in this country and there's so much left to see. So travel is always something that's really important to me. I'd love to do more work to that end. I'd like to write a cookbook, the first book that I wrote wasn't a cookbook very specifically, I feel like the cooking I'm doing right now and the stuff I'm interested in cooking would be relatable to a lot of people.