Top Chef Mania Begins with Dale


Welcome to Top Chef Mania. We spoke to Dale today, for a long, long time, and Casey’s next. On Monday, our buddy Hung will make an appearance, and you’ll be hearing from Padma and Rocco as well. It’s fun to talk to people who are on reality TV.

What we saw this week in Aspen — the trout, the elk, the tears — happened a month ago. At this very moment, all the cooking has been done, and the judges have made their decision. Dale, Hung, and Casey are waiting, with the rest of us, to find out the winner live on Wednesday night. That sounds like torture, we said to Dale, who confirmed that it kinda was.

Here are some other highlights from our talk, which ended only when the Bravo PR woman told us to wrap it up. Gays are chatty!

Dale, who is from Chicago, where the finale will take place, has gotten lots of support and “Midwestern pride” from the locals. Cars honk, people take his picture. “It’s great.”

Of all the guest judges, Dale had the most fun with DiSpirito, who he says is “really funny and sarcastic. No matter what, he’s an amazing chef. Nothing’s gonna change that fact. I think he and I have a very similar sense of humor.”

He said the Eric Ripert trout Quick-fire was “the most fucked up” of all. “It was like x-treme camping. It was a really terrible experience.”

The Le Cirque challenge was “incredibly embarrassing” and “logically impossible.” The Le Cirque method for making the potato-wrapped seared fish dish includes time in the freezer, which helps the fish set up and helps the potatoes brown. But the cheftestants didn’t have time for that. “It was like, here, try it, because you can’t.” Being in the Le Cirque kitchen on a busy Friday night was a little bonus dose of shame. “I thrive on pressure, but I don’t thrive on public humiliation.”

On Hung: “Hung is a great guy. He’s a fierce competitor and I’m humbled by his skill, but we’re very different.”

Casey, on the other hand, is a “friend for life, the ultimate class act,” and, somewhat to our surprise, a “spit-fire and a bad-ass.”

Apparently the two of them got real giddy during the taping of the final episode, when all the pressure induced a case of the giggles. “We broke the fart barrier,” Dale told me. “And then all hell broke loose.”

When Dale talked about the cast of the show, he practically sounded like a kid who misses his camp friends. He said that dealing with certain aspects of the reality TV process bonded the cheftestants. “What television entails really shocked us,” he said. “We really banded together. Certain things made us really angry and frustrated. Very few of us were there to be a TV star, and the only hand you could hold was that of your fellow competitor.” He even said that when the clock started during competitions, the chefs were relieved, because it meant they could do their thing.

Still, Dale says he wishes it was his job to be on Top Chef every season, and that it was “by far the best thing I’ve ever done.”

Oh also, how does his mom feel about all his ball-references? “I’ve become, like, Captain Sound-byte. I keep saying things and then I’m like, oh God, I hope my mom doesn’t hear that. But we’re kindred spirits. She always says ‘You were an asshole the day you were born, and you’re an asshole now.'”

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