When it comes to out-of-the-box ideas, Top Chef's Eugene "Gene" Villiatora is your man. But during this week's elimination challenge, the chef's warm spin on a cold dish left the judges disappointed. Villiatora gave us the scoop on why he still stands behind his daikon dish, how he climbed the culinary ladder and how he kept his eye on the prize even when he started to miss his kiddies back home.
TVGuide.com: After hearing the judges' critique of your dish, what would you have done differently?
Gene Villiatora: You know what? I probably would have kept it the same. Like I said before, a lot of people aren't accustomed to eating daikon warm — they just know it as a cold garnish for sushi dishes. I grew up eating daikon warm in Korean and other Asian foods. Everyone saw me doing Asian, Asian, Asian, so I wanted to show them I have range. I was confident because I've done that dish before, but maybe I would have explained myself more. It was a chance to show them something I do.
TVGuide.com: How do you come up with all your innovative dishes and techniques?
Gene: I don't know. It just comes out of me. [Laughs] My opinion on the culinary industry is: Why give them the same ole thing? If you stay inside the box, it gets boring. I admire Chef Morimoto a lot. He totally redid Japanese fusion and thinks outside the box — and that's the direction I want to take my cuisine. I've had my line cooks and my sous chefs do specials every week, and they really enjoyed that. It gives people a variety.
TVGuide.com: You've had a very interesting career path. How did you get started in cooking?
Gene: It started from growing up watching my mom and grandmothers cook. But there was one moment I was living with my dad and cooking for him, and he asked if I ever would be cooking for my wife if I got married. And that question made me realize I should really pursue this thing. I had a friend that was a dishwasher who got me a job as a dishwasher, and from there I worked my way up in different restaurants to get exposed to different things.
TVGuide.com: What's your family's take on all this?
Gene: They're very proud of me. My oldest daughter is eight, my second daughter is two and my son is seven months. My daughters get very hyper just seeing me on TV! My wife is very proud and was pushing me to do the show. During it, it was hard for me to push my family out of my mind and concentrate on the competition. At times I'd miss them and get down, but I'd give myself a little pep talk and get back on the horse.
TVGuide.com: If you could have a do-over, what would you do differently?
Gene: We didn't have enough time to nose around and see what other chefs were making, but now, after watching it on television, I would definitely have done more comfort food and used my grandma's recipes. But I used this opportunity to showcase what I could do, and have no regrets.