After five years away from the Top Chef cooking scene, Stephen Asprinio knew that returning to All-Stars wouldn't be an easy task. But the New York-based hospitality guru says he didn't come back for the competition. "It's a once in a lifetime opportunity to be cooking with a group of chefs like this," he says. Find out what it was like for the front-of-the-house cheftestant to jump back into the trenches of the kitchen and why he thinks he was trying to overcompensate with his final dish. Plus: What did he think about Tre calling him "arrogant"?
TVGuide.com: As someone who's been out of the Top Chef loop for so long, what was it like jumping into that Quickfire relay?
Stephen: It was really intense for me, actually. Obviously my skills are honed, but at that level, that fast, I was out of my current skill set. I don't do that on a day-to-day basis. And I think it's funny because I could have flown through the lamb a lot easier, but they gave the garlic, which I thought was hard because your hands are all sticky. It was really difficult.
TVGuide.com: What was it like have to cook a dish inspired by another chef's style?
Stephen: I'm proficient in that area of the culinary world. My first restaurant was a progressive Italian restaurant. So for me I was like, "Oh, cool. I got this." And I think that was also my demise. I'm out of practice and looking to my left is Richard Blais, to my right is Tre, and in front of me is Spike. And seeing these guys cook every day, I think I got caught up in the competitiveness and overcompensated. If I kept it simple — like I knew to do it— it would have been a different scenario. In Season 1, I totally questioned when I was getting picked on [by the judges] and would get pissed off. But I knew my flaws with the dish and I didn't question them in the least.
TVGuide.com: Did the comment Tre made about you being arrogant bother you?
Stephen: Those kind of comments don't really carry much weight with me. Tre doesn't know me. ... It's just ignorant. But my father put it in a very good way: It's like trash-talking on the basketball court. I don't think he set out to be malicious. Some people take that stuff really personally. This season was very professional. You've seen in seasons past where it wasn't. I don't think I would have ever put up with that now. I would have put someone in their place, but no one had to be put in that position — or at least from what I saw.
TVGuide.com: Why did you decide to come back if you're more of front-of-the-house guy?
Stephen: For me, it was not about the competition at all. I had an idea of who the chefs were and the level of [skill]. So, I took it as something fun and was honored to be cooking with these chefs. A lot of people thought I was crazy for doing that because it's so stressful. But ... it's a once in a lifetime opportunity to be cooking with a group of chefs like this. And it was cool. To see the challenges and what you've done and what's next — it was really great to be a part of it.
TVGuide.com: How has the Top Chef kitchen changed over the years?
Stephen: It's evolved a great deal. An example would be with Angelo and Tiffany. I was really jealous of what they had access to. We had like salt, pepper and flour. They had like every ingredient for molecular gastronomy, every herb, every spice. It was actually a little overwhelming, because I was expecting something completely different. Overall in general, what they've done with the brand is amazing.