While most food lovers are seen in restaurants clamoring to get the best shot of whatever dish is placed in front of us, there is some down time in spite of it all. For myself, that down time is usually spent catching up on my favorite shows. Love and Hip Hop, The Profit, and of course: Top Chef. Watching season after season is a great way to wind down from the busy day, but it becomes truly exciting when a local chef is part of the cast.
When I found out that Chef Bruce Kalman of UNION (Pasadena) and Knead & Co. Pasta Bar + Market (Downtown LA) would be joining season 15 of the Emmy and James Beard Award-winning series I was excited. Partially because his food is amazing but really because seeing an Angeleno on TV feels like a win for me too.
Would I receive any of the glory? Of course not, but a girl can pretend right?
In season 15 of Bravo’s Top Chef, 15 contestants will compete for the coveted title in Colorado running through Denver, Boulder, Telluride, and Aspen. With loved host Padma Lakshmi, lead judge Tom Colicchio, and Gail Simmons and Graham Elliot the chefs will rely on everything they’ve learned throughout their culinary career to stay in the competition. To get a perspective on the show itself, I spoke with Chef Bruce Kalman. Authentic, straightforward, and driven he describes his experience and what he has learned while in his own kitchens.
FMG: Have you ever auditioned for Top Chef before?
BK: I did the process of Top Chef about eight or nine years ago and I wasn’t the right fit then.
Follow My Gut (FMG): What made you want to compete in this season of Top Chef?
Chef Bruce Kalman (BK): Maybe I was a little nuts. No, I’ve done a bunch of other competition shows but they lasted for about one day. Even competing on those shows, I kept saying I could never do something like Top Chef because I could never live in a house with a bunch of people and their egos. But I know a lot of people who have done the show and I saw those chefs step up their skill since the show. That’s where I wanted to be.
FMG: Was there anything you hoped to gain from joining the show?
BK: I thought a lot about it and the reason why I did it mainly was because doing TV can help my restaurant and brand. The outcome is: when the show airs the restaurant gets busy.
FMG: Have you learned anything about yourself and your style of cooking since auditioning for Top Chef in the past?
BK: Throughout my career I worked in so many different types of restaurants and I learned that fine dining was where I wanted to be, but I never really understood the business side of it. Since then I went to work with a restaurant group for about seven years and learned a lot about the business and about leadership. I experienced a lot, but I lost my mojo from working on that side.
FMG: How did you get your mojo back?
BK: I had to look at everything very differently. I started to view being in a restaurant as a way to lead people and develop them, and not massaging my ego with creative food. What the restaurant group did for me was it made me well rounded and now I no longer cook for my ego but for people.
FMG: How serious of an ego did you have?
BK: All chefs have a healthy ego, but I was getting arrogant because I had a lot of success early in my career and I was one of the “ass-clowns” you see on Top Chef. I did cook great food, but that didn’t give me a right to be that way.
FMG: With this season of Top Chef, was there a moment where you felt you were pushed beyond your comfort level and how did you get through it?
BK: Always. The show is constantly challenging and that’s the idea of it but it translates into the kitchen because that’s how you grow.
FMG: Did you have a competitive advantage over the other contestants?
BK: Not really because it’s such a diverse group of people that it didn’t really matter. In this kind of situation you’re judged on how well you cook.
FMG: Did you have any special techniques that you used to stay focused when competing?
BK: I was given advice which was, “Just cook the food you cook” and that was my philosophy.
FMG: Was there anything that helped you with this competition?
BK: Just years of training, thinking on your feet, and knowing what to do because you’ve done it hundred times. You really have to think on your feet because you’re constantly being pushed in fifty different directions. I came back invigorated and inspired by the other contestants to cook more. We’ve had such amazing conversations and it really pushed me to do more.
FMG: If you could leave this interview with one sentence, what would you say?
BK: I want to make people happy with food hospitality and service and this is the best time for people to come to our door.
The new season of Top Chef airs, December 7th, 2017 at 10PM EST/PST on Bravo with a 75-minute episode. To catch a first look, click here!