Ilan Hall Ilan Hall

There will be blood — and it's likely to end up in a recipe. Top Chef Season 2 winner Ilan Hall is the host and judge of Esquire Network's Knife Fight (Tuesdays, 10/9c), a food competition show on steroids where renowned chef s must out-cook one another using an array of mystery ingredients, ranging from the quirky (sea cucumbers, nasturtiums) to the epic (one-quarter cow) to the downright disturbing (cold pig's blood). Welcome to Hall's Kitchen!

TV Guide Magazine: Not only is your show insane, but so are the spectators. They're like Romans at the gladiator games. What's pumping them, besides a lot of cocktails?
Hall: We're all animals. Deep down in our DNA we're still hunter-gatherers. We want to see giant pieces of meat hacked up. One chef cooked an entire pig's head in under an hour — and it was edible! The crowd went wild. Of course, the drinking helps.

TV Guide Magazine: The show is filmed after hours at your popular L.A. restaurant, The Gorbals. Isn't this like opening up your beautiful home to a frat party?
Hall: We were doing late-night competitions in my restaurant long before Esquire got wind of it. Chefs from other restaurants would come by after work, have a meal and get rowdy. Some brought along their own followers. [Laughs] Surprisingly, adding TV cameras to the mix hasn't made all that much of a difference!

TV Guide Magazine: Crazier still, this show has no prize money for the winners. Just a cheapo carving knife. What's really in it for the chefs?
Hall: All they get is a three-dollar cleaver and bragging rights, but these people don't need money. These are top restaurant owners, Michelin Star chefs and James Beard award winners. They want the experience, the energy, the people getting all riled up and cheering them on.

TV Guide Magazine: Do they actually perform better under these circumstances?
Hall: They do! It's like that final skating exhibition at the Olympics, after the medals are handed out, where the skaters get up and do their thing. Even the ones who screwed up and fell during the competition suddenly skate flawlessly. It's the same way with chefs. When the pressure is off, they open up and do the most amazing things.

TV Guide Magazine: It's hard to imagine your average PBS culinary star working under these mad conditions. Do many chefs turn you down?
Hall: Oh, a few. But you'd be surprised how many of those tame TV chefs aren't really that way at all. I got to meet Julia Child when I was in culinary school and she was quite the badass. Trust me, if she was still with us, that lady would throw down on Knife Fight!

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