When does frozen mousse trump perfectly cooked halibut? When you're on Top Chef! Despite her nearly inedible, ice-hard confection, Sarah — with some major backing from Tom Colicchio — made it to the finale with Paul over her pal Lindsay Autry, whose error-free, albeit less creative, dish sent her packing. "I think they were really nitpicking at that point and it came down to doing something risky like what she did against me being great, but not risky enough," Lindsay tells TVGuide.com. "I know I didn't make any mistakes, but I guess they wanted to see more." Was she surprised that her well-made dish lost to such shoddy execution? Find out below.
Top Chef's Beverly: I definitely felt the fan support
The edit seemed like it was really close between the three of you. Did it feel that way up there?
Lindsay: I really feel like even when it got down to the four of us — even before Beverly got back — that it was a close game. One little thing is what sends you home because at the end of the day, only one person can win. But I did feel that it was really close. At Judges' Table, they all had very positive things to say. I don't know if they aired it or not since I didn't see it, but Padma said that she thought it was one of the best dishes I made all season. Then it was like, "Pack your knives and go." I was like, "Oh, OK." [Laughs] "Great, thanks!"
Well, Gail fought for you and liked your dish overall. And Tom really fought for Sarah. She, obviously, had the bigger mistake with the frozen mousse. Why do you think she edged you out? Did her doing something risky like that, even though it failed, outweigh your consistency?
Lindsay: Well, we had a break between Texas and Canada. I think that Paul and I came back staying true to who we've been all season, and I think that Sarah came back more inspired. She showed that this whole experience made her grow as a chef and made her more creative. I think that when it came down to it that it did come into play — the judges were able to see that Sarah stepped it up and took a risk and showed something. And I'm really proud of her for doing that. ... Standing in between the two of them while we were cooking — seeing Sarah pull out an anti-griddle and Paul was doing a powder and using liquid nitrogen — I knew in that moment that, yeah, I might be going home since I wasn't doing anything crazy or risky with molecular and modernist techniques. But I felt that I stayed true to what the concept was, and I think that's what Top Chef is truly about, so no regrets. Food is very subjective; it's all about your interpretation.
You did the tomato ice that they loved.
Lindsay: Yeah, I knew that conceptually that I went really far with the Fire & Ice theme. Every component of what I did fit. Ultimately, I think my downfall was my cocktail. I think it wasn't as intriguing as what Sarah and Paul did. But I also knew my cocktail was the only one that really tied in to the dish. ... In every single challenge, there was that one thing like, "Why are we doing this?" As a chef, it's important that you're part of your beverage program because food and drink go hand in hand. But I didn't think that it would come down to me going home over a cocktail. I thought it would be judged more on the food.
Were you happy you redeemed yourself with halibut after the Restaurant Wars fiasco?
Lindsay: [Laughs] Tom made a comment about that when we were in the kitchen — that I chose halibut because of what happened with Beverly and I was like, "Oh my God! I didn't even think about it!" I really didn't. I got to Whole Foods and I really wanted to use black cod, but they didn't have enough, so I went with halibut. I didn't do it out of spite. It was the only fish they had enough of for 150 people!
Top Chef's Ed: What's the point of Last Chance Kitchen?
Restaurant Wars was probably your low point. Would you agree?
Lindsay: Uh-huh. [Laughs] Restaurant Wars was definitely when I felt at my lowest. I think a lot of that had to do with the fact that I wasn't in the kitchen because it's a cooking competition and I wasn't touching my own food. I'm very hard on myself. Even though we won, I talked to Beverly and Grayson and Sarah, and none of us felt like we really won that one because it was so challenging.
Why did you choose halibut, knowing that Beverly had to cook it for you, instead of something with an easier prep?
Lindsay: I didn't think it was difficult. I knew that Beverly's dish was a little bit elaborate and I felt that after we had talked everything through, there only needed to be three steps to my dish. Obviously, it evolved into more than that to get it out. I picked my dish last. I let Sarah, Beverly and Grayson decide what they wanted to do since I was doing front of house. We obviously needed a fish course, so that's why I did it. And for the past three years, I've run a very seafood-focused restaurant, where I cooked fish every single day. In my mind, it was an easy pickup. But we're all very different in what we do.
A lot of fans didn't like how you treated Beverly there, especially since she was being picked on so much. Did you have any other problems with her like Heather and Sarah did?
Lindsay: I never had a problem with Beverly. Up until that point, I had never worked with her in a team effort. And we roomed in different rooms, so I didn't really have a lot of interaction with her, which I think a lot of people who watch the show don't understand, whether it's because of the editing or whatnot. I really didn't get the chance to get to know her. In Restaurant Wars, a lot of it has to do with editing. If you watch, I kind of lose my sh-- on everybody. [Laughs] It wasn't just her. I did get a little more intense with her because people weren't eating my dish. After seeing six people not eat my dish, it was like, "Oh my God! What's going on?" I just kind of lost my cool. But I never had any problem with her. Even after it was over, she was telling me, "I'm so sorry." And I was like, "Don't worry about it. I'm sorry I blew up." I mean, none of us had time to think this through. Four hours to open a restaurant and four executive chefs trying to work together? It's meant to be chaotic.
What did you think of Last Chance Kitchen?
Lindsay: I remember thinking when we were riding the bikes for Pee Wee Herman that there was no way that this is the last challenge to go to the finale. It can't be this, like something is happening. When we did find out, at first, I think Ed, Paul, Sarah and I were a little, I guess, annoyed. In our minds, we were done and you kind of let yourself go out of focus for a second. I think the concept was a great idea because in certain circumstances, chefs go home early for other people's mistakes or whatever. I think Nyesha really proved herself there, but even though she had a good run, it would've been difficult for her to come back after winning so much. I think the thing that upset us at the beginning is that we never stopped. We kept doing all these challenges and even though they did their own challenges, they already dealt with being eliminated, and I think that only makes you stronger.
Top Chef's Grayson: I wasn't excited about Last Chance Kitchen
Since they do simpler challenges on Last Chance Kitchen, do you think it's fair that someone could win Top Chef without going through all the challenges on the actual show?
Lindsay: Well, I think it was great that Beverly got to come back and redeem herself. I think that she came back a stronger chef, but I think that it ended up the way it needed to be. Even bringing her back, it just kind of worked itself out that the people who are left have been here the whole time. We'll see what happens if they continue it.
Speaking of the bike task, what did you think of all the wild challenges this season?
Lindsay: When I found out that we were going to Texas, which was just a few days before we went, I knew that there was going to be a lot of barbecue and chili type of challenges. I was surprised at how many group challenges we did. I did feel that a lot of the challenges were very physical, more so than in past seasons. Sometimes I felt like I was on Survivor. [Laughs] Like, "Oh my God! I should've done that PX90 before I left! Maybe I could run faster!" But I think that's what Top Chef is all about. They put you in these surreal situations to test how good a chef you are. Even though none of what we did had anything to do with the day-to-day life of being a chef, flexibility and your ability to adapt is something we deal with every day and I think that this whole season was just taking that to the extreme.
What are you up to now?
Lindsay: I'm doing a lot of dinners and appearances. I recently left my position in Palm Beach and I'm pursuing some other opportunities, so we'll have to stay tuned and see!