Someone’s gotta go first. On Wednesday’s premiere of ‘Top Chef: All-Stars,’ Elia Aboumrad was eliminated after a failed attempt at the dish that sent her packing in season 2: Red Snapper steamed in Ti Leaves. On Thursday, the Los Angeles-based chef discussed history repeating itself, why the judges surprised her (it’s not what you think), and whether she’d ever consider shaving her head again.
Does the elimination still sting? Or has your perspective changed?
I do feel very upset about it because this is what I do for a living. It’s not just a hobby or an outlet. This is my profession and I take it very, very seriously. But I’m not mad about it. I was sad and then I just realized I had to stop. The truth is no one is promised anything, and you just have to deal with it. You can’t have expectations of something you have no control of. It is what it is.
You tasted the other chefs dishes. Should someone else have been sent home instead?
Yes. I think there were a couple of dishes that weren’t even talked about that were off – overcooked, undercooked, over-salted, under-salted. Some didn’t use ingredients that they were supposed to use. I’d prefer to talk about the ones that I like, though. I really think Dale should have won the challenge – Dale from season 3. Out of everything else I tried, he should have been on the top. It just goes to show how at the end of the day it’s really personal whether you like a dish or not. But they are the judges and they sent me home, so it doesn’t really matter what I say!
Was there anybody you were surprised to see back in the competition?
I was surprised to see that it wasn’t people who’d made it all the way through the end. I was told it was going to be the top people and there were definitely a lot who’d made it halfway. I was surprised because that was one of the reasons why I decided to come back.
Was returning to that environment – the Stew Room, the house – totally bizarre? Or did you enjoy it?
I have to say that I had fun. I came with a totally different attitude. I packed my snacks so I would never be hungry or moody. And I came with an attitude of not to get angry and not to take it personally. Minus the long hours, I knew what I was getting into and I prepared myself for that.
You were so uncomfortable when the table critique popped up on the TV.
Well, I was just so disappointed. It made me realize a lot of things. The dishes are served and they [the judges] don’t try them [in order]. They don’t eat seafood, then meat, or what’s cold and [then] what’s hot. They also don’t try every component of the dish. I was very surprised at that. These are people who are supposed to be connoisseurs. They’d just grab a tiny corner of something, and sometimes there’s no sauce, no vegetables — they’re not trying all the components of a dish. I was surprised by the way they judged us. There’s no washing of the pallet. At the end of the day very few of my colleagues were staying true to what they believed. A lot of them were just agreeing with Tom, or with Tony. It’s disappointing to see that people do not stay true to who they are – that they’re being influenced.
What was going through your mind when you told the judges not to eliminate you at Judges Table? That was a pretty bold move.
I was very upset at their comments. I saw that they were truly thinking of eliminating me and I wasn’t just in the bottom for good TV. When I got called in, I thought, Oh my gosh, they’ve made up their mind. That’s why I said that. I was like, ‘Come on – you know me as a chef, and this cannot be it.’ I was pretty sure of myself and my dish. I truly didn’t believe I deserved to go home.
It’s doubtful you’ll ever make this dish again, right?
I love Red Snapper, but I’d never cook with Ti Leaf. It was a Hawaiian dish. I was asked to do that [previously] in the finale because we were in Hawaii. I had those ingredients. That was a technique I used because of those circumstances. I don’t think I’ll make it again because it’s not my style of cooking. I’m definitely going to use Red Snapper again but not in that dish.
There was a clip where you said you’ve matured a lot since your first time on the show. Does that mean your head shaving days are done?
No! Not at all! That was just weird editing. I was talking about something else when I was talking about maturing. They just put it there with my head shaving. It was something I really enjoyed doing, and had always wanted to do. I’ve shaved my head again a couple of times after that. I’d definitely do it again. I enjoyed it. It’s not something that I look back on and think, Oh my God I was such a child. I don’t think it was out of immaturity.
Do you feel like your first ‘Top Chef’ appearance helped bolster your career?
Here’s the thing: From the TV exposure I’ve been recognized on the street, and I’ve been very lucky that I’ve never had a bad comment. But professionally – I have to be honest – it hasn’t given me anything. I’ve never gotten a job because of ‘Top Chef.’ I know there are some people who have truly benefited from this in their careers. It hasn’t had that impact in my career. Even today, getting my restaurant [Avec Moi], my investors didn’t even watch ‘Top Chef.’ I think a lot of people who come to the restaurant are going to be people who watched ‘Top Chef.’ But I’m not doing it to expose myself. I think our profession is a profession of service. We are so lucky to bring pleasure to others. You’re feeding them and that’s intimate. That’s why I’m doing this restaurant. I truly love serving people and I truly love cooking. I’m sure it’s gonna help me for my restaurant, but I don’t know to what extent.