Top Chef, Robin

Top Chef's Robin Leventhal wasn't exactly the most popular among her fellow cheftestants, and she has a theory about why. TVGuide.com chatted with the self-taught 43-year-old to find out what triggered her tears during judging, why she felt "victimized," and who she thought was the ring leader of chefs who "loved to hate" her. 

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TVGuide.com: Why did you get so emotional during judging?
Robin Leventhal: It was me being frustrated with myself that I pushed myself to do a culinary dish I have little experience with. I was beating myself up because I knew better and was disappointed in myself.

TVGuide.com: If you knew better, why do you think you made a dish you weren't familiar with?
Robin: Well, it was down to the best of the best chefs. I didn't think making safe food was going to dazzle the judges, and the safe food is what I know. I wanted to wow the judges. It was that simple. And I don't feel wowed by my food I've been making for the last five years in my restaurant. It felt too safe.

TVGuide.com: After hearing the judges say they were basically repulsed by Eli's dish, do you think you deserved to go?
Robin: I don't feel it was unfair. Eli challenged the flavor profile a little more, granted it was an unaesthetic and texturally repulsive dish. Maybe he reflected his willingness to take a chance. I was making panna cotta and the judges felt it was something I should nail and bang out at this point in my career. I know the texture of the panna cotta was too firm, but I was happy with a lot of how the dish turned out. But it wasn't perfect and you need perfect.

TVGuide.com: A lot of the chefs wanted you out. What was that like?
Robin: You saw reality TV with a big dose of reality. Whether they all would have hated me in a normal context is hard to say. They wanted to make me the scapegoat. I just really put my distance and tried to stay away from their juvenility and rise above it and be strong. I did feel victimized by the chefs.

TVGuide.com: Why do you think they targeted you?
Robin: I'm pretty intense, I'm not going to deny that. I take life very seriously and I like to have fun, but not absurd and stupid fun. I didn't embrace a lot of their shenanigans, and that made me uncool. I didn't want to break things. I didn't want to be malicious. There was a destructive energy I did not want to be a part of. That's not my spirit. I did my Pilates and wrote in my journal. I felt like a total nerd, but that's how I release my frustration. And a lot of my frustrations came from other chefs. I spent my time taking deep breaths, letting go and ignoring.

TVGuide.com: Who would you say was the ring leader of this anti-Robin club.
Robin: [Laughs] That would be Jersey Turnpike — Mr. Mike Isabella. He really loved to hate me. I think it was just convenient more than anything. We both have loud voices and loud personalities, so I think he just wanted to put me down in my place. I stood up for myself, but then I just stopped. I was like, "I'm just going to keep my mouth shut and let it go."

TVGuide.com: What are you up to these days?
Robin: I'm putting my art lifestyle back to the forefront of my goal and doing design work that will hopefully transform into a dishware line. As a ceramics artist, I never really made functional ceramics. My pieces were sculptural. But now I'm really embracing the notion integrating food and the dining experience.