This week's Top Chef paid homage to Goodfellas with an Italian-themed challenge and the film's Oscar-nominated actress Lorraine Bracco serving as guest judge. The cheftestants were split in three teams and tasked with making a dish for the one of New York's quintessential Italian-American restaurants, Rao's. But the group charged with the secondi (better known as the pasta course) failed to deliver on arguably the most important dish of an Italian meal. Unfortunately for Tre Wilcox, his overly thick risotto was the worst offense.
Find out why the Texas native coined himself as the "Black Italian" and what he really thinks about Anthony Bourdain's judging style. Plus: How does he always manage to stay out of the drama?
What did you think when you heard about the Italian challenge?
Tre: I thought it was cool. The "Black Italian" name, I sort of made that name up for myself four or five years ago. I used to be a chef over a restaurant call Atticus, and at one point a couple of my sous chefs looked at me and were like, "Dude, we're going home every day covered in flour. We feel like we're working at an Italian bistro. Have you looked at the menu?" And I'm like, "What's wrong with the menu?" There was gnocchi, ravioli, handmade pasta. I just love Italian food and have great success with it.
Do you feel you were at a disadvantage compared to the Italian contestants like Fabio or Antonia?
Tre: No. When you start thinking about your competitors around you and that they have an advantage, you're thinking about the wrong thing. You got to think about what you're going to do.
What did you think of judges' critique about your risotto?
Tre: I think it was a little harsh. Anthony Bourdain is great at throwing slanders out about people's food. I think he's the ultimate guy who delivers that effect of, "Ohhhh, did you just hear what he said?!" That's what he makes people out there watching feel. I still love Anthony to death.
What was it like about competing the second time around?
Tre: I had a better time than I did the first time around. The first time I was so foreign to Top Chef. I never watched it. I was quiet and reserved. The second time around it was like, "What's the challenge? I'm ready." It was the same kind of kitchen environment, same kind of setup. But the greatest part of it was they had 17 of the greatest chefs and that to me was huge. I came out of the kitchen everyday saturated with more knowledge than I ever had.
You always seemed to avoid the big conflicts and drama. Why is that?
Tre: I always surround myself with all kinds of people and never judge. I love people. People are entertaining. I don't try to ever make them change. So I'm able to sit and listen to them and not judge. If they show an emotional side to me, I'm not moved by that. It's very important to stay grounded.
What's next for you?
Tre: I'm opening a new restaurant in Dallas ... and we're opening hopefully March 14.