Jason Stratton explains how Top Chef is so much more than a cooking show. During an interview with SheKnows, he reveals how he thinks Season 13 impacted the LGBT community as well as dished about his favorite judge and discussed his recent elimination.
SheKnows: Who is your favorite Top Chef contestant of all time and why?
Jason Stratton: I loved Kevin Gillespie from the Las Vegas season. I thought his food was soulful, delicious and really spoke from a point of view. I think I shed a couple tears when he was taken out of the finale.
SK: Were you surprised by your elimination?
JS: I was not surprised. It was difficult to watch, but under-seasoning is a crime. I bet all the cooks that have worked with me were pretty gobsmacked that it was a light hand with salt that got me booted. I tend to ride the line of highly seasoned. I love salt and acid.
SK: What was it like working with all of the judges on the show?
JS: Pretty spectacular. They all have incredible palates and a wealth of knowledge. Hard as [the] judges' table is to sit through at times, it was invaluable feedback. Padma is not just an iconic fashion gazelle, but she's a complete super-taster. It's uncanny how she can pick out individual flavors. I love Gail, she really delves into what each chef's style is, what they are going for. Tom is Tom is Tom, not to be all Gertrude Stein. He understands solid technique and immediately cuts through anything unnecessary. It's nerve-wracking when he walks into the kitchen, but mostly because no one in the competition wants to have him see a fault with what we are doing. Any good line cook knows the feeling when you let Chef down. It's very much like that.
SK: Which contestant do you think deserves to win? Or who are you rooting for?
JS: I ate at Myers + Chang in Boston a few years back and absolutely was smitten with it. I really love Karen. You can tell that she's good people by the way she speaks so highly of her staff — a thing that is way too often overlooked in this industry. There's a lot more that makes a chef great than the food they cook. That said, her food packs a lot of punch, a lot of soul and flavor. She's my pick.
SK: Who did you consider your biggest competition?
JS: Silly to say, but obviously, myself. The level of pure talent in this season was daunting from day one. Especially on this last episode, really anyone could mop the trophy. I knew that to win, I had to just cook the best that I could and not make a mistake. My style tends to be a little minimalist, but in the field and especially against the clock, I tend to overthink and over-complicate. Classic ignoring Ms. Coco Chanel's advice about accessories.
SK: Was there anyone on the show you really clashed with? Who was it and why?
JS: I wouldn't say that I clashed with any one person. I did have issues with the "bro-ishness" of the group, which I just find irritating in general. But one-on-one, those guys are all sweethearts. It was disappointing to see the ladies fall from the group. I appreciate working in a more evenly balanced group in a kitchen.
SK: Who is your favorite out of the judges and why?
JS: Gail for days. I met her in 2010 from my Food and Wine Best New Chef year, so we have some history. She is passionate, thoughtful and adventurous as a diner. I also appreciate the fact that she is willing to go out on a limb if something is delicious. She is also very fair and measured in her critiques, but she doesn't pull a punch when she wants more from a dish.
SK: Who do you think deserved to go home on last night's episode?
JS: I did, absolutely. Under-seasoning breaks my heart; not as bad as too much salt, but c'mon. I know that Kwame had a hard time with this challenge too. I am pretty sure we both said to each other in the stew room, "No, I know I'm going home." A lot of the critiques, though, from the week before at Juniper & Ivy still rang true in this challenge. I needed to relax and show a little more Jason Stratton, and I overthought it all.
SK: What was the best experience you had on the show?
JS: Big Fat Gay Wedding. It was a very emotional day for everyone, but especially in the context of that moment for those 25 couples. The whole team really wanted the day to be perfect for everyone. It felt like a truly historic thing. When marriage equality happened across the nation later that summer, it felt like we had been a small part of the turning tide. I'll never forget that day. Bravo, Bravo!
SK: What was the biggest challenge for you on the show?
JS: Man, that clock is the real deal! Carrie Mashaney, my longtime collaborator and Top Chef New Orleans contestant, told me that time would be the hardest thing for me to tackle in this competition. A lot of the dishes that I'm known for are long, slow braises, processes that can take days to make. I had to brush up on booking it in my clogs.
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