Grayson Schmitz's big Top Chef adventure came to an end when her stuffed chicken dish for guest judge Pee Wee Herman was deemed... well, we don't really know what. It was big and featured multiple seasonal flavors, but it wasn't under-seasoned or undercooked, like Sarah's or Ed's. "The whole thing is so subjective and I think it was really close, but ultimately they liked mine the least for whatever reason," she tells TVGuide.com. "And that's fine. Someone had to go home and it was me." But the New York-based chef didn't go directly home: She faced off with Beverly on Last Chance Kitchen to win a spot back on the show (the winner will be revealed and will re-enter the competition on next week's episode), which didn't exactly thrill her. Find out why below.
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First of all, how did you carry that pan of chicken in your hand on the bike?
Grayson Schmitz: Um, well, I'm pretty goddamn talented. [Laughs] I don't know. I was too scared to put it in the basket because I knew it would bounce around a lot in the street. I didn't even think twice about it. I was like, "OK, I'll carry it." We looked like idiots on those bikes.
A lot of fans were surprised you were eliminated just based on the editing. Tom even said on Watch What Happens: Live that he was surprised how they cut it and didn't think it should've been you after watching it.
Grayson: Yeah. But in the moment, I felt like it was either Ed or me. It wasn't a surprise to me that it was me. But it could've gone either way. I think it was very close. And the editors have to keep it suspenseful until the end, so I don't blame them for doing that.
What kind of other criticism did the judges have?
Grayson: There wasn't anything huge or specific like [for Ed and Sarah], but the thing is, when you get down to the end, everybody's good, so it's real nitpicky stuff. With five people left, none of us are gonna make a crappy dish. You're just gonna go home for little things. We know that. I really think it could've gone either way.
Tom had an issue with you mixing summer and fall flavors, but does that warrant elimination when there are under-seasoned eggs and nearly undercooked chicken?
Grayson: Oh, yeah, he did. He really didn't like that. [Laughs] It's all subjective. ... They have to go back and go, "What was the challenge? What did Pee Wee tell them? What did we want from this?" If your dish basically matches all of those, you're safe. Pee Wee wanted something really healthy and I gave him an egg yolk in the center of mine, so maybe that's a little risky, you know what I mean?
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You didn't have any technical issues though, right?
Grayson: No, I didn't. I think it was just personal preference when it came down to it.
They also had a problem with the size and you tend to make gigantic dishes. Is that a Wisconsin thing?
Grayson: [Laughs] I don't know if it's a Wisconsin thing, but I figured for this, since it was family style, a breast of chicken on a plate wouldn't be crazy. I don't know. You'd think that I would've learned. But I didn't!
You took some challenges really literally. It worked for the Evil Queen one, but not the tribute dinner. Do you regret not conceptualizing more dishes or is this just how you cook?
Grayson: Here's the thing: I can't even regret it because it's just who I am. I'm very literal in my thinking. So when somebody asks me to do something, I'm going to do what they asked. I don't think past that. I don't regret it because I can't think any differently. With the Charlize Theron one, it worked toward my advantage. It was literal and it was crazy with the giant claw sticking out, and it kind of fit with the challenge. So it's not like being literal hurt me all the time.
What do you think of the challenges this season? They've been so Texas-based, you had to pull all-nighters and bike around looking for a kitchen in the Top 5. Do you wish there were fewer gimmicks?
Grayson: I don't think the ratings would be awesome if [there weren't these types of challenges]. I don't want to say I agree with everything they made us do. In retrospect, at the end of the end of the day, it's a television show. I think we're all very highly trained chefs that it's almost a mind game until you get to the finale. It's almost an endurance game. You have to jump through all these hoops, break your body down and then you can cook your own food. It becomes a mind game. I know when I went out that we were exhausted. I also learned a lot in Texas. I worked in Jean Georges in New York City — we didn't do barbeque. This was my first hardcore barbeque experience. It was fun and we won. I'll never forget that ever in my life. I think the challenges were crazy and fun and entertaining to watch on television.
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You got two lifelines this season: You were on the bubble at the beginning and now you can cook your way back in. What was your reaction when they told you about Last Chance Kitchen?
Grayson: I was actually kind of pissed. I'm not gonna lie. I knew where everybody's heads were at. Because it is more or less a mind game and you're telling your body to do all these challenges, it's really draining. You're pretty much cut off from the world. When Padma said, "Pack your knives and go," I accepted it, so it's hard to bring all your intensity back on a fluke. They were like, "Oh, guess what? Cook again. And go!" If I was Nyesha and got eliminated too soon — or at least I feel too soon — it might've been a different story, but being in the Top 5, I feel differently about it. I think everybody that is still on probably shared my feelings. We were really beat down and just emotionally drained. I wasn't really excited when they gave me that chance because I had already in my head accepted going home. But because me being the competitive person that I am, even if my head is not really there, when somebody says "go," I go! We'll have to wait and see what happens, but I definitely tried my hardest there, and I know Bev did too.
What are you up to now?
Grayson: Actually, I have been working a lot with my sister, which is insanity because we pretty much hated each other our whole lives! We never got along. We're pretty much night and day. Through this whole Top Chef experience, I've been booking some events and she's more or less the events planner. It's been working really, really nicely. I'm thinking maybe she and I will try to take that somewhere.
The Schmitz Sisters Inc.?
Grayson: Yeah! What do you know about it?! [Laughs] It's hilarious because we look exactly the same and sound exactly the same, except our personalities are so different. I'm basically the one that needs to be routed places. She's a lawyer, a nurse practitioner. She has a billion initials behind her name and I went to culinary school! But it actually seemed to work out awesomely and it brought our relationship to a whole other level. It's kind of awesome to know that I get along with my sister really, really well. I could never say that before. So way to go, Top Chef! Bringing families together!