Antonia Lofaso, Top Chef
After cooking an overly seasoned bento box "last supper" for Masaharu Morimoto, Antonia Lofaso had to endure one final Top Chef: All-Stars twist before learning her fate: cook a "one last bite" to earn a place in the finale. Unfortunately, the Season 4 alum's flavorful grouper fell to Mike's surf-and-turf with beef tenderloin and lobster tail. "[The judges] were really torn," Antonia tells TVGuide.com. "Mike and I knew it could be either one of us. We both knew we had flaws and there were some excellent points in both our dishes. Sometimes you have a feeling hanging in your stomach of [getting eliminated], but I didn't feel that here." See what else the Los Angeles-based chef has to say about the challenges, what went wrong with her hamachi and why she's OK losing to Mike.
Top Chef's Tiffany: My dish wasn't strange by any means
Mike had a lot of control over assignments in the Quickfire and elimination challenge. Do you think that was fair?
Antonia: It is what it is. That's the whole idea of a competition. There are going to be advantages and disadvantages, and it's about who prevails in those moments. If he won the elimination challenge the previous day, there's sometimes an advantage given out in the next challenge. From the standpoint of if everyone wants to talk about what a big, bad chef they are, he should've chosen Morimoto for himself! [Laughs]
Why did he have it out for you? You're cousins.
Antonia: [Laughs] He didn't have it out for me in a mean way. I think he just wanted to stick it to me for whatever reason. It's all playful. You have to remember in those moments, you're not given a lot of time to decide. We're asked to choose and he chooses. If I had to choose first, I probably would've given him canned foods [in the Quickfire]. We had a very playful rivalry through the show where we liked to nudge each other. By no means was it disrespectful or hurtful. ... I don't know who I would've given him.
What happened with the hamachi? We didn't see you shop, so were you provided with a bad batch?
Antonia: Yeah, and actually it wasn't bad; it was going bad. It just started to slime. It was discolored and it just wasn't good. That wasn't, by any means, why they didn't like my sashimi. I actually made a ponzu that I overly spiced. If you look back at all the dishes I made when I was in the Bahamas, I was really inspired by the peppers they had out there. I was just inspired by the heat of the island, I guess, but I just made it a little overly spicy. I think Tre said it best in our second challenge: I'd rather be called out for something that's highly seasoned and overly flavorful than for something that's bland.
And you over-salted the miso soup?
Antonia: The miso soup was a hard one because it was hard to regulate dashi. I had a lot of smoked fish and salted fish that went into the dashi. I think, in the end, it just felt short and was a little overly seasoned.
Top Chef's Carla: I would've sent myself home too
Did you have a feeling you would have to cook again when Padma whipped out the envelope?
Antonia: I don't know if we were expecting it, but it was in the back of our minds. We've seen it before where they send them back to cook one more dish. At that point, you're tired and broken. There's so much anxiety that goes into the challenges before we start cooking that it's more emotionally draining than it is physically. By the time you're out of there, you start to crash. I would come out of challenges and drink two Coca-Colas because I needed sugar. So to crash and to get the anxiety to come back up and get back into the kitchen — I think I came home and slept for four days.
Why'd you decide to go with grouper?
Antonia: It's a great Bahamian fish. As Morimoto said, it's a very meaty fish that can stand up to a lot of flavor because that's what it's meant for. There's not a lot of flavor to it, but there's a lot of flesh to it. When I was in there, that was my idea. I wanted to give them something that was like, "Holy s---! That's a mouthful of flavor." And that's what they said. I did exactly what I wanted to do.
So were you OK losing to Mike since they praised some of his technique and sauces?
Antonia: They didn't really praise him for much! [Laughs] They said the meat was under-seasoned, they didn't like the sauces on their own, but together it worked. I really don't know. I'm OK with that because sometimes with food, you don't know why someone prefers one over the other and that's what happened there. C'est la vie.
Top Chef's Dale Talde: I could not get in gear
You took a few knocks for cooking "simple dishes," but you've made the finals twice.
Antonia: Yeah. I even said this during one of our challenges: Good food is good food. Tom has said it in his blogs and on the show. It doesn't have to be something that can walk over to the table, kill itself, slice itself and then you eat it and you're like, "Oh my God! How did the chef do that?" It's funny to be praised as a simple chef in that sense because I don't think of myself as that. I just want to cook good food and cook good food that pleases people. I'm proud that I got to the finale twice. That was my definitely goal coming into this.
What are you up to now?
Antonia: I'm working on a cookbook for the working parent — sort of the dichotomy of my life ... that will hopefully be out by the end of the year. I'm very passionate and skilled at what I do, but at the same time, I come home, I have an 11-year-old. What do I do to get food on the table so that we can have a great meal together and have those memories that I had when I was a child with my parents? ... There are so many memories I have over that dinner table and that's what the book is for: to inspire people and to help build memories for families because so many of those memories are cherished for me.
Will it include any of your Top Chef recipes?
Antonia: [Laughs] Now that I have, I think, over 50 dishes, I'm more than sure there will be versions of the recipes you've seen in there!