2/27/2013 03:10:00 PM

5 Pre-Finale Questions With Top Chef's Brooke Williamson

It's finally here! After months of (fish) blood, sweat and tears, tonight LA's sweetheart Brooke Williamson goes head-to-head against Boston's Kristin Kish to win the Top Chef: Seattle crown. Williamson, who owns the South Bay's Hudson House and The Tripel with hubby and co-chef Nick Roberts, was a silent giant in the competition, staying the course throughout the first have of the competition and then really shining - and winning quickfires - in the last half. She's got skills! But it's no wonder - she's been cooking in professional kitchens since she was a teenager, having gained local notoriety when she became the exec chef of Zax in the early 2000s (yes, she would've been on our 30 Under 30 list).

It was pretty early in the season when we spoke to Williamson, and she never once hinted that she was in the finale (that gazillion dollar non-disclosure agreement might have something to do with it), but we couldn't be more excited for her. Tonight she and Kish cook a five-course meal LIVE in front of a studio audience, the first for the show. If you're not securely planted on Team Brooke yet, check out what she has to say about young chefdom, the growing scene in the South Bay and what's next for her and Roberts.You just can't help but root for her.

You were considered a prodigy when you became executive chef at Zax. What do you think about that?
It was unusual then but not so much any more. It’s not the norm to have an exec chef at 22 or 23 back then. Cooking has become more popular as a passionate career, and it’s much more acceptable to be a young chef now. Cooking is a lot more glamorous than it used to be. I knew I always wanted to be a chef form the time I was a little girl, not because it was a cool thing to do. With all the shows and blogs and foodies, and the dining scene in LA has gotten better, it’s more widespread than it used to be. Then French chefs used to open the hot restaurants, but it’s just not like that anymore. It’s definitely a much younger scene.

Why do Top Chef and why now?
I have a lot of putting out fires, a lot of paperwork in my daily routine. I thought this was a way to immerse myself in the cooking world, which I haven’t had to do in a lot of years. I know I can be creative and still hang in the kitchen, but I assumed I’d go into battle with people who worked the line on a nightly basis, that the kitchen was their main focus as their careers. I was asked before but I was never in the position to do it. The first time I had a three-month-old, and then we were opening Hudson House and I didn’t want to jeopardize that. The third time we were opening the Tripel. It was just never good timing. I also wasn’t sure I could leave my son. I’m never sure about that. The timing was finally right, my husband was able to take care of my child and our two restaurants. Not many people can say that.

What do you think about the growing dining scene in the South Bay?
It happened super quickly. I feel like there were very few gastropub-style spots in the South Bay. It was either a super casual dive bar or full sit-down restaurant. We were one of the first in-between places, I think. I love the emergence of South Bay reputable food establishments that could stand up to anything in greater Los Angeles. It’s really cool.

Do you think the casual will go out and fine dining make a comeback?
I think people appreciate not having to go to a stuffy restaurant to get great food. There’s this level of ease and not having to be dressed a certain way, and the approachability of the spaces. They’ll be around for awhile. I don’t know what the trend will be, but I don’t think this casual trend is over. Chefs nowadays, and maybe it’s the age group, chefs want to create places that they want to go to. That’s really the case for Nick and myself. We love being a part of places that we’d love to go to.

What’s next for you and Nick?
I didn’t do the show for a free ride of anything. But we are always looking for the perfect spot for another concept. We’d like to do something different. We have a couple of ideas in our head, but what we do will be depicted by the location. We love the neighborhood spots, the go-to spots where someone can go four or five nights a week. We want to keep it small and manageable. We’re not ruling out anything.

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