Chuy Valencia

Chuy Valencia won the first two elimination challenges on Top Chef, but he couldn't make it a three-peat. Instead, the Chicago-based chef got the boot after overcooking his salmon with goat cheese dish. "I knew I was screwed so I was expecting it," he tells "It's hard to forgive overcooking something." Find out when he realized it all had gone wrong and why he's happy he got eliminated.

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The judges usually punish the overcooked dish, but they seemed to be pretty harsh on all of you guys. Did it feel like it close between the four of you or did you think it was going to be you?
Before the episode [aired], I thought it would be so apparent that it would be me, but when I watched it, it did seem like they were evenly grilling the four of us. I don't know. Standing up there, they critiqued all of us, but I wasn't surprised it was me. I knew I f---ed up, so whatever. [Laughs] It is what it is.

How did you end up overcooking the salmon?
Well, I think I should've just picked a dish [that required] less attention to detail, something easier to execute in that amount of time. I had to make filling and do a lot of butchering, plating these little pouches. It was definitely a down-to-the-last-minute type of thing for me and at the end you just sort of start panicking. I left it way too long in the oven, so instead of it being at a medium temperature, it was overcooked. I totally understand why I went home. The dish was overcooked. There's no getting around that. It's not a big deal, but it's something, of course, I learned from. It was still fun to be part of the whole thing at the end.

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When did you realize it was overcooked?
I knew it was overcooked when I got them out, but I think it was more after [the service] that I realized how bad it might be. When we were cleaning up and packing our knives and getting ready for elimination, I remember seeing the pouches on the dinner table and it looked like no one really ate much of it, so I kind of figured I might be on the way out.

Tom sounded incredulous that you make this dish at your restaurant.
[Laughs] Yeah, we make versions of it with sockeye salmon or trout. They usually sell very well, but obviously in a restaurant you have more time to pay attention and do things as opposed to when you're in a competition of this nature.

Did you pick this dish because you knew it?
Sort of. It was something I was comfortable with. But also, since the party was kind of family style, I felt like everyone could have their own individual pouch instead of picking stuff up off the main plate. It would be less work for the guests.

How bummed were you that your bromance with Chris C. ended this early?
I wish I [had] stayed longer, but it's cool. I love Chris and Chris Jones from Chicago and Ty-Lor. They're all really cool guys. I didn't want any of those guys to go home. They're awesome. I mean, you might think Chris C. might be one of those stuck-up, good-looking California guys or whatever, but he's a really cool, down-to-earth individual. I'm glad I met everyone. I kind of was happy that it was me leaving instead of them because I love them and I want them to do well. It was like being part of a fraternity almost.

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I'm bummed you left because I wanted to hear more stories about your dad making stuff.
[Laughs] Oh, there are lots more stories! Maybe I'll tweet one out each week. ... My dad's just one of those guys that just does everything himself. He never bought anything. He was that guy. He did all the gardening, made cabinets, furniture, painted and roofed the house. He worked crazy hours at his job. He's retired now, but he's still making stuff and doing the hardwood in the house. He's an all-around handyman.

Does he still have that handlebar mustache?
Oh, totally! Well, it doesn't have the handle anymore, but it's still a cool mustache.

What are you up to now?
I'm still at Chilam Balam. It's definitely been busier here. I'm trying to figure what the next thing is, maybe expand with a new restaurant or bar or a food truck. Just seeing what else I can do with my time.