After a Quickfire challenge that entailed hammering a nail through the head of a still-moving eel and a tricky dish recreation, a side of salty celery is the only thing that stood between cheftestant Jamie Lauren and the next round of Top Chef. We caught up with the San Francisco-based executive chef to find out what she thinks of Toby Young, what inspired her many tattoos and why buying tampons is a hassle these days.
TVGuide.com: What was it like getting kicked off for a dish that wasn't your own?
Jamie Lauren: The challenge was difficult. I thrive on the creativity of being a chef, so I had a hard time recreating someone's creative innovation. But the way I look at it is if I had to go home, I was happy that it was cooking someone else's dish badly and not my own food!
TVGuide.com: It sounded as though you weren't a fan of Chef Eric Ripert's food at Le Bernardin?
Jamie: No, that wasn't true. I liked the meal we had, but I didn't like the dish I got stuck with. I got the one that was sort of lame — and I wasn't the only one who felt that way. I would have rather done the one Hosea got because the flavors in that one are really cool and I work with them a lot, or the dish Fabio got.
TVGuide.com: How did you feel about the Quickfire fish-gutting extravaganza?
Jamie: I thought it was a cool concept. I wish I could have gone further in it, but I just could not fillet the goddamn sardines. [Laughs] It was hard to do in five minutes because your hands are shaking while you're trying to get these little bones out. I looked at Eric's fillets and they were gorgeous. And I looked at mine and was like: eh. Whatever. If you look at my track record from the show, I've cooked a lot of seafood. It's actually one of my favorite things to cook, but I've never filleted a sardine before. I serve them whole.
TVGuide.com: Toby, who wasn't a fan of your dish, seemed to be a bit vocal throughout this season. What did you think of him?
Jamie: I think Toby is the Simon Cowell of Top Chef; he's there for shock value. I think they wanted someone to get annoyed about and just say things to say things. He was always really cool to me, so I don't have anything bad to say about him. I just don't think I'd take what he says as much to heart as I would Gail.
TVGuide.com: From what we saw this season, it seemed as though Stefan had a little crush on you, no?
Jamie: Stefan and I were there to just support each other as chefs, and I think we have a lot of mutual respect for each other and the talents we have. In terms of it being a crush, maybe it is a little bit true. Though in all honesty, I think he just admires me as a chef and a person. And I feel the same way about him. But putting up with Stefan for the past couple episodes has made me a more patient person. He's great, but he's a pain in the a--. [Laughs]
TVGuide.com: Tell us about your tattoos. They're hard to make out on television.
Jamie: I have two sleeves. The full one is a sleeve of jellyfish. I was toying with the idea of doing an octopus or fish of some sort, but I went down to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and they had the most beautiful jellyfish exhibit. I knew right away that's what I wanted. The other is orchids and a lotus flower, which I really like. I just wanted them to be really bright and colorful.
TVGuide.com: Now that you're a reality star, how are you handling all this extra attention from strangers?
Jamie: It's interesting to not be anonymous anymore. It's definitely changed my life, for sure — not just with people coming in to meet me at the restaurant but everywhere. I live in the The Castro in San Francisco, which is the gay area, and I can't even go down the street without someone screaming out a car window at me. It's definitely great, but there are times I just want to go the drugstore. [Laughs] I feel awkward going into Walgreens and, like, buying a box of tampons, and people being like, "What is Jamie buying?!" [Laughs] But at the same time, I signed up for it by signing up to be on a reality show.
Watch full episodes of Top Chef in our Online Video Guide