It was a day of highs and lows for Chris Jones on Top Chef. After winning the quickfire with Grayson, he came up short in the head-to-head elimination challenge with his healthy, but ultimately dry and underseasoned, take on a chicken salad sandwich for a 200-person block party. "I did everything I was supposed to do in prep and was way ahead of schedule, but I didn't think about a 110-degree day in the heat and having sandwiches sit out there with no refrigeration," Jones tells TVGuide.com. Find out why he knew he would get cut, why he was disappointed in the challenge, and the story behind his half-ponytail.
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You said you knew you would go home. Why?
Chris Jones: It was really between me and Ed. They really liked his side dish. A lot of the judges said they got chunks of ice cubes in the smoothie that I made. I couldn't use my blender very well because of all the bees around it. Sometimes you just know in life. I did my best. I really, really tried to embrace the challenge and make it healthy. I had a bad feeling about everything. It was one of those things where things just didn't go right.
The judges had problems with your seasoning and the dryness of the bread. Was there nothing you could do at the party to fix it?
Chris: I think going into the challenge, Grayson and I both had the idea to make our sandwiches to order. I was moving so far ahead in my prep that I was able to build my sandwich beforehand. I over-prepared. What I should've done is just build them out there. I should've set up a subway station and made it to order. That's why the bread got dry. That's why the chicken was dry. Everything was done too far ahead and there was nothing I could really do. We didn't have refrigeration out there.
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At this point with so few chefs left, do you think you guys should be doing these types of catering challenges? I think we all prefer to see something like last week's challenge when you guys are free to craft a dish without any big twist and with all the tools you need.
Chris: Oh, I absolutely agree. At this point in the competition, it should focus on our style, doing absolutely beautiful dishes, which I think people want to see. It's been Top Chef Extreme this whole season, between barbeque pit wars and chili cook-offs. I thought after the Charlize Theron challenge last week that now we'll really get to shine and show our stuff. And then the next challenge I have to make a chicken salad sandwich. [Laughs] I've eaten one chicken salad sandwich and I've made one chicken salad sandwich, both in the same day. It's not something I cook. Even if we had picked something like meatballs [like Sarah and Lindsay], it's a meatball! Look at what's been done in the past — all those beautiful plates. And they're wondering why some fans are disappointed with the season. It's not the chefs' fault. Give us the opportunity and we'll create a wonderful dinner. I think we created one of the best dinners that's ever been on Top Chef [last week].
You didn't want to do a chicken salad sandwich. Why did you give in?
Chris: My first suggestion was a sandwich. I said we could do BLTs, wraps, something simple because it's 200 people. You've literally got two or three minutes to decide. Every suggestion I made, Grayson was like, "No, no, let's not do that. How about chicken salad sandwich?" Then they were like, "Time!" So I was like, "Uh... fine. Chicken salad sandwich it is." I wish we would've done something else. Honestly, I make one of the best burgers on the planet and that's what I would've love to have done, but with the challenge parameters, you couldn't really make a burger. There were 200 people and no grills, no refrigeration. That's why we all picked the dishes we did.
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Grayson said she felt guilty for making you do chicken salad sandwich. Do you believe her?
Chris: Oh yeah. I loved working with Grayson. As the season went along, we all got closer. It's a bonding experience. Only 200 people on earth have gone through what we've gone through. I think both of us were kinda like, "Chicken salad sandwich? I wish we didn't pick that one."
I loved when she defended chicken salad sandwiches to Tom after her ripped on them not being good enough.
Chris: Oh, that was awesome! "Like a meatball?!" And he was like, "Yeah, that doesn't make any sense now that I think about it." [Laughs]
You had a lot of high-concept ideas, like the cigar dish, but most of them didn't pan out or blow the judges away for whatever reason.
Chris: Yeah, well, at Moto where I work, I have tons of time to prep a dish, refine it and make it a Michelin-caliber dish. On Top Chef, you're doing something for the very first time with very little time and sometimes things don't go right. Sometimes it's a home run like the apple dish. The cigar dish might've been a better dish had it been in a different setting. It really depends on the situation. I just went for it. I wasn't there to be unseen.
Explain your half-ponytail.
Chris: [Laughs] Well, Richie and I applied together and I really didn't think I would get on the show. And every opportunity I get, I grow my hair out for Locks of Love. So during the competition, my hair was in an awkward stage where I couldn't wrap it up with a bandana because it'd fall, so I just put it up in a ponytail and I rocked this look the whole time. Now my hair is almost 12 inches, so when the reunion show comes out, my hair will be much longer. And in a couple months, I'll shave it off and donate it to Locks of Love. I'm getting all these questions, "What is up with your ponytail?!" I'm like, "It's for a good cause." This is my third time doing this ... and then I'll do it all over again.
What are you up to now?
Chris: We're working on getting a second Michelin star at Moto. I'm also working at Ng, our sister restaurant, doing flavor tripping, a tasting menu, using miracle berry, which I used on the show. Hopefully we'll be opening a new restaurant soon in the Green City Market.